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Killing Monsters - Gerard Jones

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1 Review

Paperback: 272 pages / Publisher: Basic Books / Published: 15 April 2003

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      08.03.2013 17:46
      Very helpful



      Presents the theory that media violence is cathartic, but fails to support this.

      I bought this book, because contrary to what the experts tell us - I believe fantasy violence can have a cathartic effect in some cases. Finally, an "expert" comes along who seems to agree with me, although the author's expertise may be called into question. Neither searching through this book, nor searching with Google has really yielded much information on the author's qualifications. he is - by trade - a comic book writer -who later turned to a study of American culture. I'm not quite sure what type of qualifications there would be for this an American Culturologist just doesn't sound right does it? Perhaps cultural anthropologist, sociologist or cultural or even child psychologist would be better terms, but I do not believe the author holds any of these titles. Not a major issue - you don't need a title to be a real expert a subject, but reading this book I do feel a trained anthropologist or sociologist would have treated this differently. He does have some actual experience with children and violent media, through running graphic arts workshops with children, but these are by nature short term with little opportunity for follow up or prolonged observation.

      As a parent he also has his experience with his own child. I do hesitate to credit parents appraisal of their own children as empirical evidence though. After all, we do see our own children through different eyes than the rest of the world. Of course my own boys are the most beautiful, intelligent, wonderful children ever born - I am a mother - I'm allowed to think that! But so is every mother. We can't really base child development theories on my opinion here though. I can't advise parents to raise their children just like I do. I love that he sees his own son as brilliant, beautiful and wonderful - but it doesn't always make the best reading.

      He tells us quite a bit about his child's own violent war games, which do sound like fun over all - but while I feel that rough and tumble play should be encouraged - limits should be set as well. When he describes a child on a school trip punching him repeatedly and leaving bruises while waiting on a street car - alarm bells went off in my head. Yes the child was having fun. Actually I'm sure she was having a blast. But while a bit of rough housing can be fun - there is a time and a place for everything. Perhaps I am ignorant of the location, but I am assuming that waiting for a streetcar in San Francisco implies waiting near a street or road. An adult in charge of a group of very young children needs to be vigilant near traffic and can hardly do this rolling about wrestling. But also, once a child is actually hurting someone, adults should not serve as punching bags in my opinion, but should say "Ow that hurt" and end the wild play if the child can not moderate their blows. Part of violent games is learning to moderate impulses, and this lesson seems to have been missed here.

      This sets a tone for the book - there never seems to come a point where it is OK to set limits and impose any restrictions on the child's play, use of media etc... He almost seems to be blaming parents for problems if they do restrict their children's access to media. The schools get a lot of blame for youth anger too. I can understand some points, especially the fact that many children feel imprisoned by schools. I had some wonderful teachers who brightened my life immensely, but over all school was very like a prison sentence to me and I do think we need to make schools better and more flexible places to learn. But there also seems to be an underlying feeling that neither schools nor parents have a right to impose rules ona child. It is if if all authority is bad. Schools must exercise some authority to function and as much as I despise being in a position of authority, I believe must parents as well.

      Jones accuses the authors of past studies of setting out only to prove their point and disregarding all evidence to the contrary. He points out that every American study on media and violence is funded on the basis of looking to prove that media violence causes real violence and so is skewed from the beginning. I agree completely, but I think he has done the same thing, just from the other side. He uses primarily anecdotal evidence to prove his point, but does not seem to want to see that media violence can have a negative effect - and while I agree that violent or scary books, films and games can be cathartic for many children - I most certainly will not say they are beneficial for all children. I think you have to judge by the child's reaction. I also feel a healthy well adjusted child is apt to react very differently than a child who already has serious problems.

      Gerard's book has chapters dealing with violence in comic books, violence in film, violence and sexuality in music, violent toys ( or stereotypical toys) and of course, violent video games, especially first person shooters. In each incidence he gives us personal stories of people who found these mediums a useful way to cope in real life. In each case he makes clear the parent needs to accept and validate the child's decisions rather than try to restrict them. Up to a point - I agree - but I also feel as an adult that I times I must make a decision for my child. I rarely forbid my children to read a book or watch a film, but having read several reviews - I have refused to allow my son to watch a popular film now - Ted. Will he be scarred for life by this? I doubt it.

      The most shocking story was about a child named Kip Kinkle. It seems his parents did not allow any violent toys like guns, they weren't even allowed to watch Bugs Bunny. When he got older he wanted real guns, and his behaviour was so worrying his parents took him to a psychologist. He was in trouble in school, there was an issue with ordering a book on how to build bombs, and he could not control his anger. The therapist had a grand idea - get him a real gun! I can't be the only one who is wondering what this idiot was thinking - even if they don't know the outcome. The psychologist had suggested taking gun safety courses together, as a father and son thing and they did. Jone's seems to feel that the fact that the they stopped these classes was the problem, but I would assume you take gun safety, get your pass certificate and you are done. I tend to think buying guns for a violent child was just a bad idea - but I'm no expert. Anyway, Daddy bought more and guns and wee Kip was happy for awhile - until he killed Mommy and Daddy, 2 other children at his school and left 25 wounded.

      But as interesting as this story is, it doesn't really tell us anything about the media and violence. True the Kinkles had refused to let him watch Bugs Bunny when he was little, but I don't think it factored into what happened. And there are several other areas that don't really have that much to do with the topic. I now know the traits and powers of various Pokeman characters, and that the authors son invented his own stories with characters who were half teletubby and half power ranger - but I don't really care.

      I grew bored with so many stories very much the same. Violent films, comics, games, etc.. helped a child deal with a troubling time. But we are still only going by a limited number of children and poor Jones believes everything they say. He does include some info on Belfast, and the poor man has it all wrong. Someone fed him a good story and he bought it - hook line and sinker. He has no grasp of the fact that people here enjoy a good wind up. But he does have one thing right. Children exposed to excessive amounts of real violence do tend to develop a taste for violent books ( if they can read), films and games. At one point he is speaking of children growing up exposed to violence and says "it is unreasonable to ask them to be satisfied with with make believe that is more sanitised than their reality". I really would have liked him to explore this more. I do feel that my own children use violent games and films as a way of slaying the monsters in response to local upsurges in violence. They can't control what goes on outside, but they can control the game and in the film the goods guys always win.

      Jones, raises many very valid points, and I agree with the man 90% of the time. He pokes holes in the correlation = causation studies of many other researchers, but sadly he falls into the same trap himself when trying to prove his own points. I liked the fact that Jone's pointed out one of the biggest flaws in the violent cartoons cause violence studies is the failure to define violence. As rough housing and wild play were defined as violence - I think this does throw the results quite a bit. So many studies tell us that young children - usually under age 7 - can not differentiate between fantasy and reality, and this makes watching violence on TV much more damaging. I can assure you, my own children do know fiction from non fiction and are much more disturbed by real violence or harm to any living creature. But apparently the researchers were unable to distinguish real violence from play which invalidates their findings in my opinion.

      I also like that he does stress talking to the children about why they like a game, comic or film. I think this is one of the most important issues here. If the child gets a sense of release from slaughtering the bad guys in a game, fair enough. Most will tell you that they get bored very quickly with shoot em up only and enjoy a strategy - again fair enough. If the child tells me they would like to do that to real people - I worry. But if you really know your children well, you'll usually have a feel for their motivations. Most children love telling you about their minor victories in video gaming. If you listen to them, you'll know what is going on in the games too. I do think he could have mentioned here that parents should read the comics, watch the films and listen to the music themselves if they object. If often is not as bad as people assume. Comic book heroes are usually very moral, and do not resort to violence easily. The context of the violence is every bit as important as the nature of it.

      There are so many things I really think the author had spot on, but then it just goes into stories again. I found the book repetitive, and I can not honestly say I learned anything from it, which is disappointing. I do believe he is on to something here but the presentation was poor, and the facts terribly subjective. There are several good studies done on fantasy and play being an important part of childhood development, and I feel with a bit of research he could have cited many of these. There really is not anything in this book I could hold up as good science - clear objective evidence - instead it is primarily opinion. There is also no sense of objectivity at all, no fair analysis of both sides, and while I do agree with much of his theories, I do not believe things are as black and white as he sees them. What is best for one child is not always best for another.

      I'm giving this book 3 stars, mainly for having the courage to tackle such a controversial subject and express a view completely contrary to the norm. I do think there are several points worth reading in this book but you have to wade through quite a lot of muck to get to them. After paying nearly £7 for a used copy I do not feel that I had value for money.


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