Let’s Ban Bowling, Too

Samhita has picked up the story about Britain’s censorship binge. Missing from all the discussion about whether porn should be dealt with by censorship or by other means of discouraging consumption is one key problem.

In response to the violent murder of a woman by a man that was obsessed with violent internet porn, the British government ruled that violent internet porn is now illegal. Now, I am glad that the government took a stance on the issue and responded to the outcry, but I don’t know how much the banning of internet porn is going to actually stop violent behavior. Violent imagery may incite violence, but is far from the cause of it. What about a culture that normalizes violence for men? What are they going to do to stop that?

The difference between porn/murder and bowling/Columbine isn’t that there’s evidence that men murder women because they watch violent porn but not that highschoolers shoot up their fellow students because of playing bowling. The evidence for both is the same as the evidence for intelligent design.

No, the difference is that there’s a sizable contingent of sex-negative conservatives (fortunately, “sex-negative” is no longer redundant) who will bend reality to esoteric shapes in order to justify censorship, since “I don’t like it” is not considered an acceptable argument anymore. If American censors had considered bowling immoral, they’d have said Columbine was the result of bowling rather than DOOM.

As for “What about a culture that normalizes violence for men?”, there have been many attempts to reduce crime via increasing socioeconomic equality. Stephen Levitt argues that legalizing abortion alone has caused the American crime rate to freefall in the 1990s, for example. There have also been attempts to reduce crime via cultural crime control – basically, Giuliani’s policy of cracking down on graffiti in order to reduce murder – but they’ve failed.

6 Responses to Let’s Ban Bowling, Too

  1. Terry says:

    Personally I’m also against censorship. But, just because censorship doesn’t work,
    doesn’t mean that violent imagery has *no* effect.

    The science is very clear that exposure to violent imagery increases aggression.




    The solution isn’t censorship, but it also isn’t to deny the science and argue that violent movies, tv and games have absolutely no effect (which is what a lot of anti-censorship people are doing).

    I believe the solution is for people to be aware that if they want to make themselves more aggressive they should watch violent movies and play violent
    video games. Also parents should be aware that if they want their kids to be more aggressive (and more likely to bully) they should encourage lots of violent tv, movies and games.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Terry, the government has a history of tweaking studies to get the results it wants, when it comes to censorship. Some of the most famous studies about porn were explicitly built in order to produce a positive correlation between porn and rape – for instance, at one point the US government buried a study that proved no correlation, and asked a known pro-censorship hack to repeat it to get favorable results.

    As for the “1,000 studies showing a causal connection,” the one specific study you link to shows no such thing. The CS Monitor study shows a correlation between watching TV and being violent; it doesn’t prove causation, and in fact the other direction of causation, that is that more violent kids are more prone to watching violent movies, is likelier.

    Studies that try to show desensitization by separating people into two random groups and only showing one violent images get mixed results.

    Finally, media influences don’t have to come by way of violent movies and shows. I’ve seen an argument that violent video games have a tension-release effect, just like porn (though I’ve only seen evidence that this is the case with porn). It should be relatively simply to study whether the media reporting attacked in The Culture of Fear contributes to crime.

    There may be a way of checking if the idealization of violence as a way of solving things, which causes people to go to The Governor’s movies, causes violence. Michael Moore disparages that view in Bowling for Columbine in his section on violent history, but he fails to distinguish between the history of individual violence in the American West versus the history of state-sanctioned violence in Europe and Japan.

    It’s entirely legitimate to ask why the effect that gets studied the most is this of watching violent media, as opposed to living in a violent neighborhood (think conformity to role), absorbing an idealization of violence from one’s peers, watching endless news reports about crime, watching TV at all rather than socializing in real life, being poor, or going to church.

  3. Terry says:

    Other risk factors for increasing aggression have
    also been extensively studied, such as violence
    in the home, violence in the neighborhood,
    socio-economic levels, etc… Media violence
    is just another risk factor. Obviously how big
    the exposure is also very important. 30 min
    of violent tv/games for 4 years will have much
    less impact that 3 hours per day for 20 years.

    When researchers looked at the health effects of
    cigarettes, there were some studies that showed
    no ill effects from smoking cigarettes, but the
    preponderance of studies did show ill effects.
    It took 30 years of the tobacco industry putting
    out false info, and criticizing the research before
    the public really became aware that cigarettes really
    do greatly increase a smoker’s chances of getting
    lung cancer and other lung diseases.

    Here are some studies looking at the *same* people
    before and after exposure to violent tv and/or games.

    “Two studies show that prolonged exposure to gratuitous
    violence in the media can escalate subsequent hostile
    behaviors and, among some viewers, foster greater
    acceptance of violence as a means of conflict resolution.”


    “Playing violent video games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D
    or Mortal Combat can increase a person1s aggressive
    thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory
    settings and in actual life, according to two studies…”


    “Reducing the amount of time that grade-school children spend
    watching television and playing video games can make them less
    aggressive toward their peers, say researchers at Stanford
    University Medical Center.”


  4. Faith says:

    A few months ago, I was pretty adamantly anti-censorship. After seeing the very real violent images that are swimming around the internet, I’m pretty happy that someone is finally taking a stance against the truly hard-core violence.

    I do believe that it is likely to increase violent behavior. It’s basic operant conditioning. A man jerks off constantly to violent porn, he’s going to develop a certain psychological programming that is very likely to lead to a desire to act out the violence.


  5. Faith says:

    “It’s basic operant conditioning.”

    Ahem…make that Pavlovian conditioning.


  6. Alon Levy says:

    Well, it’s basic Pavlovian conditioning for which there is no evidence. The reason Pavlov got anywhere is that his experiments worked. Similar experiments about porn and psychological programming, even when it’s violent porn, only show a link when the researchers are rigging them.

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