Author Archives: Tom Fogarty

About Tom Fogarty

I'm 20 years old. I live on the South Coast. I'm currently studying a double degree in Media and Communications at UOW. I'm in a hardcore band called Pariah. Thats about it, as far as I know anyway.

Never Again…

“The practice of representing atrocious suffering as something to be deplored, and, if possible, stopped, enters the history of images with a specific subject: the sufferings endured by a civilian population at the hands of a victorious army on the rampage” (Sontag, 2003, p. 38).

Since the dawn of time mankind have found reasons to wage war with each other, and, through song, story and sketch, glorified and romanticised the notion of warfare and every great conflict along the way. This is evident throughout history in pieces such as The Alexander Mosaic (100BC), a Roman floor mosaic depicting the armies of Alexander the Great defeating Darius III, Theodore Gericault’s An Officer of the Imperial Horse Guards Charging (1812), and Carle Vernet’s 10th Regiment of Hussars (1812). I mean, what’s not to love? Honour, love and sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, heroes fighting for God, country and freedom… They’re basically the cover art for every great action narrative. So really, its no wonder for thousands of years we kept passing down through art the same admiration and idealisation of war.

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Left: Theodore Gericault (1812), Right: Carle Vernet (1812), Bottom: Roman floor mosaic (100BC).

This began to change around the mid-19th century as warfare started to evolve into a mechanised affair. The shift was led by artists and collections such as Francisco de Goya’s The Disasters of War (1810), Eugene Delacroix’s The Massacre at Chios (1824), and Elizabeth Thompson’s The remnants of an army, Jellalabad, January 13, 1842 (1879). However, sentiment towards conflict still varied drastically from country to country depending on the degree of their recent exposure.

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Left: Eugene Delacroix (1824), Top Right: Elizabeth Thompson (1879), Bottom Right: Francisco de Goya (1810).

And then there was the Holocaust.

Over 6 million Jewish people, which represented around 70% of Europe’s Jewish population, and included 1 million children, were systematically annihilated between 1941 and 1945 by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany regime in what was one of the deadliest and most organised genocides in human history (Niewyk & Nicosia, 2000, p. 45). A combined network of around 42,500 facilities and 200,000 perpetrators throughout Germany and its occupied territories were used to concentrate the victims for various purposes, including slave labour, mass murder, medical experimentation, and various other heinous abuses of man’s most fundamental human rights (Lichtblau, 2013). It was conducted in several stages, beginning with state sanctioned social exclusion and culminating in what was intended to be the complete extermination of Jewish culture in Europe, an outcome the Nazis termed, “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (Niewyk & Nicosia, 2000, p. 46).

If every armed conflict from the Mesopotamian war of 2700BC to World War I wasn’t enough to persuade military art to reconsider its destructive position on this subject, the unprecedented catastrophe that was the Holocaust grabbed it by the throat, held it to the ground and forced it to. Never again could we allow this to happen. Never again could we install into the next generations’ minds a naïve, distorted thirst to rush into the front line. And never again could we allow such needless, rampant death.

And that is why artistic representations of war, painted, photographed and otherwise, are so important in contemporary society. In the words of Scottish war photographer Alexander Gardner, “pictures… convey ‘a useful moral’ by showing ‘the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry… Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity” (Gardner, 1863, cited in Sontag, 2003, p. 47).

Obviously it’s not a perfect solution. Plenty of powerful war photographs have been staged or doctored, and plenty of wars and conflicts have ravaged this world since 1945 whilst anti-war art was exhibited left, right and centre. But this does not mean that artwork has not had an impact.

A tapestry copy of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937), arguably the most famous contemporary anti-war artwork, has been displayed within the United Nations building in New York City since 1985, serving as an ever-present reminder of the brutal consequences of war to those who function to preserve global peace (Conrad, 2004), Nick Ut’s photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc (1972) accelerated a wave of anti-war sentiment ultimately resulting in the US withdrawing from Vietnam a year later (Asselin, 2002, pp. 155-156), and the photos and videos taken during the Allies’ storming of Germany’s concentration and death camps in 1945 was critical in sentencing the inner party members of the Nazi Party during the Nuremberg military trials, as well as showing the whole world what really happened behind the closed doors of Nazi Germany (Roland, 2012).

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Left: Nick Ut (1972), Right: German death camp (1945), Bottom: Pablo Picasso (1937).

But the ramifications need not be this extreme. All it takes is a single piece stirring within a person a sense of horror, shock or disgust about the devastation of war, and the ripple effect just within that one person’s life may extend outward, having a potentially infinite effect. And that honest power is why military art is so important within our society.

 

References

Asselin, P 2002, A Bitter Peace: Washington, Hanoi, and the Making of the Paris Agreement, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, pp. 155-156.

Conrad, P 2004, ‘A scream we can’t ignore’, The Guardian, 10 March, viewed 20 March 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2004/oct/03/art.

Lichtblau, E 2013, ‘The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking’, The New York Times, 1 March, viewed 19 March 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/sunday-review/the-holocaust-just-got-more-shocking.html?_r=0.

Niewyk, D & Nicosia, F 2000, The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 45-46.

Roland, P 2012, The Nuremberg Trials, Arcturus Publishing Limited, London.

Sontag, S 2003, Regarding the Pain of Others, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, pp. 36-47.


War Games

If you’ve read Karl Marx’s ‘theory of alienation’ you’d understand his view that from the first moment that mankind placed a piece of machinery between itself and the end product of a task we have become an increasingly disconnected, disillusioned and desensitised species (Marx, 1964). Fast forward a hundred years or so and we can see that the recent explosion of technological advancements has led to some contemporary examples of what this not-so-merry looking Santa doppelganger was talking about –Barack Obama, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and David Cameron pausing to take a somewhat disrespectful selfie during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela (Soal, 2013); a 14 year old Florida school girl boasting online “Yes ik (I know) I bullied REBECCA nd (and) she killed her self but IDGAF (I don’t give a fuck)” after her relentless cyberbullying lead 12 year old Rebecca Sedwick to take her own life (Sherwell, 2013); or scores of young males throwing away their savings with the touch of a screen whilst using online gambling services with faster turnarounds, minimal spending limits, and a layout that blurs the line between reality and gameplay (Redondo, 2015, pp. 584-596).

One of the most recent and harmful developments, however, is Microsoft’s partnerships with the US and British militaries. This unprecedented deal has resulted in modern military personnel using video game technology, namely an Xbox controller, to control various unmanned vehicles and weapons, including a High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, which is essentially a giant laser cannon, UAV reconnaissance and weaponised drones, and various unmanned ground vehicles (Maunders, 2008). Now, obviously this may develop into a highly effective and efficient military program, but at present there are three major issues with this program that are having disastrous effects amongst those piloting these devices.

  1. The initial desensitisation

The chronologically first issue facing combatant pilots within this program is that they often feel somewhat desensitised to the impact of their initial operations because of a combination of the geographic distance between themselves and the war zone, and the likeness of their work to video gaming. This is particularly the case as a result of highly popular military games such as the Call of Duty series (2003-Present) being able to accurately replicate deadly strike missions without any real-life consequences, which can result in the pilots of these unmanned vehicles and weapons to be “massively disassociated from reality” when conducting their earliest missions (Brignull, 2010).

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Left: A pilot’s display taken from an MQ-9 Reaper training mission. Right: A screenshot from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

 

  1. The diffusion of culpability

The next issue is the diffusion of culpability for the deaths caused by drones, paired with the increased safety of those within the “kill chain” (Beauchamp, 2016). The vast majority of the logistical, maintenance and other technical bureaucratic work that allows combatant pilots to pull the trigger is done by civilian contract pilots. These contract pilots will never directly engage in anything more than “reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering”, which they will do from the comfort of an office they commute to each morning, however, they will facilitate the killing of potentially hundreds or thousands of enemy personnel (Beauchamp, 2016).

  1. The psychological trauma

Modern warfare has produced a number of mental illnesses, so it makes sense that this next stage of warfare has produced a variety of new issues for those involved. Firstly, a combination of lower-status and a lack of respect within the military (Marwick, 2013, pp. 83-86), three to six times more logged piloting hours annually than regular Air Force pilots, and a close-up, high definition view of the violent and bloody horrors of war, where, unlike any film or video game, the real-time kills and the devastation are all very real (Chatterjee, 2015; Watson, 2014), has resulted in the outbreak of an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress disorder amongst drone pilots who often see more sides of war than the soldiers on the front line (Chatterjee, 2015). And secondly, because the morality of war and being a soldier is predicated on the reciprocal right for enemies to kill each other – in order for a soldier to kill, they must also place themselves in a situation where they might be killed first (Pfaff, 2003, p. 9) – these Xbox drone pilots have also been found to struggle with a brand new, as yet unlabelled form of psychological strain emerging from a sense of dishonour and cowardice for fighting from behind a screen, thousands of miles from harm’s way (Chatterjee, 2015).

If you listen to anything that the US or British governments have said about drone warfare you’d believe the appeal in this sleek, new, no-casualty form of battle being used in the war on terror. However, after taking a closer look it is quite clear that, just like every new form of war before it, this remote controlled warfare has a whole list of severe problems and repercussions for those involved. The only question remaining, then, is what governments will do in the future to address the psychological issues brought on by technology’s increased involvement in war.

References

Beauchamp, S 2016, ‘Can Drone Pilots Be Heroes?’, The Atlantic, 23 January, viewed 13 March 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/can-drone-pilots-be-heroes/424830/.

Brignull, H 2010, ‘Xbox controllers used in the military – life mimicking art?’, 90 Percent of Everything, 21 January, viewed 13 March 2016, http://www.90percentofeverything.com/2010/01/21/xbox-controllers-used-in-the-millitary-life-mimicking-art/.

Call of Duty 2003-Present, video game, Activision.

Chatterjee, P 2015, ‘Drone Pilots Are Quitting In Record Numbers’, Mother Jones, 5 March, viewed 13 March 2016, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/drone-pilots-are-quitting-record-numbers.

Marwick, A 2013, ‘Leaders and Followers: Status in the Tech Scene’, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity , & Branding in the Social Media Age’, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 83-86.

Marx, K 1964, ‘Notes on James Mill’, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, International Publishers, New York City.

Maunders, P 2008, ‘Army fly UAV Spy Plane with Xbox 360 Controller’, Pyrosoft, 29 April, viewed 12 March 2016, http://www.pyrosoft.co.uk/blog/2007/11/04/army-fly-uav-spy-plane-with-xbox-360-controller/.

Pfaff, W 2003, ‘The soldier is both executioner and victim’, The Register-Guard, 23 March, p. 9.

Redondo, I 2015, ‘Assessing the risks associated with online lottery and casino gambling: A comparative analysis of players’ individual characteristics and types of gambling’, International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 584-596.

Sherwell, P 2013, ‘Teenager who killed herself over cyberbullying sparks soul searching in US’, The Telegraph, 16 October, viewed 11 March 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10383635/Teenager-who-killed-herself-over-cyberbullying-sparks-soul-searching-in-US.html.

Soal, J 2013, ‘Barack Obama and David Cameron pose for selfie with Danish PM’, The Guardian, 11 December, viewed 11 March 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/nelson-mandela-world-leaders-selfie.

Watson, J 2014, ‘Military Drone Operators Can Feel Emotional Strains Of War’, Huffington Post, 29 September, viewed 13 March 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/29/military-drone-operators_n_5899478.html.


The Word That Shall Not Be Named…

An interview is a form of qualitative research that enables researchers to “obtain information that cannot be gained by observation alone” (McCutcheon, 2015), or more simply, “a conversation between a researcher and an informant/respondent” (McCutcheon, 2015). Depending on its purpose and protocol, an interview can involve multiple people in a focus group or one individual, and can be conducted in either a structured, semi-structured or unstructured form, each providing the interviewer, and therefore the interviewee, with a different level of flexibility and freedom.

When considering the topic for Assessment 2 and this final blog I originally opted to continue on from the first blog required in BCM 210, in which I identified my interest in researching whether increased exposure to violent media content desensitised young people to violence and even promoted violent behaviour. However, I have instead elected to pursue a very different but equally interesting issue: the media’s contribution to the reappropriation of the word “nigger”, otherwise known as the “N word”.

My first two survey questions were structured interview questions adapted from my group’s questionnaire that aimed to introduce the interviewees to the topic and break down any discomfort or timidness preventing them from responding honestly about the role of the “N word” in both contemporary media and culture:

  1. What do you perceive to be the meaning of the “N word”? Would you associate it more with camaraderie or racial persecution?
  2. Have you ever used the “N word” in either of these contexts?

When asked the first question, my group, who consist of a Caucasian male, Caucasian female and Asian male, were initially quite tentative to respond. In order to combat this I had each of them say the word out loud and then describe what they thought it meant after having said it, which seemingly removed the elephant in the room and freed the group members up to talk more openly. It was then that each member of the group confessed to having used the word before in the context of camaraderie.

The following two questions were far more open-ended in nature, allowing the interviewees to give more personalised answers:

  1. Are you exposed to the use of the “N word” in the media that you regularly consume? If so, in what context is it used?
  2. Do you think that there is a relationship between the increased presence of the “N word” in the media and the changing role of the “N word” in the society in which you live?

The group then proceeded to engage in a highly constructive discussion about their experiences with the “N word”, bringing up examples of how the media that they consume has desensitised them to the term and even influenced the frequency of their use of the term. These examples included Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012), gangsta rap artists such as Tupac and even specific songs such as Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Niggas in Paris (2011). Examples of individuals who had been shamed by the media for their use of the “N word”, including Jeremy Clarkson, Paula Deen and Donald Sterling, were also brought up in the group’s discussion, allowing the group to reconsider the discriminatory and culturally divisive power of this word that still exists in modern society despite its increased use and changing role.

This interview was a highly constructive experience that enabled me to gain a greater understanding of how different types of questions can vary in their ability to promote honest, useful responses from interviewees.

Reference List:

Carter, S & West, K 2011, ‘Niggas in Paris’, in Watch the Throne, Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation/Def Jam.

McCutcheon, M 2015, Lecture 6: Interviews, Focus Groups, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, pp 10.

Tarantino, Q 2012, Django Unchained, Columbia Pictures.


Critique of Marsden & Melander’s ‘Historical Cases of Unethical Research’ (2001)

Serena Marsden and Melissa Melander’s academic article, Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) is in most ways an effective, accurate and succinct account of the history of unethical research and the development of ethical codes and regulatory bodies responsible for enforcing ethical standards and protecting human subjects involved in research, such as the Belmont Report and the Institutional Review Board. Some of the key factors that make this text authoritative are Marsden and Melander’s use of an objective, analytical writing form suited to their academic audience and the content of this article, as well as their examination of a wide variety of significant historical case studies.

The purpose of Marsden and Melander’s article is to analyse how and why particular historical cases of unethical research have influenced the way human subjects are treated in contemporary research practices. In order to effectively explore this topic Marsden and Melander investigate five of the most significant unethical research studies of the 20th century. The accuracy and succinctness of Marsden and Melander’s investigations into these cases, and in particular their analyses of the treatment of the human subjects involved in each study and the ethical questions raised by each study, such as subjects’ rights to autonomy and self-determination, beneficence, justice, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity, and non-maleficence, is one of the critical aspects of this article that makes it so effective. These studies include:

  1. The horrifying medical and scientific experiments conducted by Nazi physicians in German concentration and extermination camps between 1933 and 1945.
  2. Stanley Milgram’s 1961 experiment on the nature of obedience and authority when one’s conscience is questioned.
  3. The 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Study involving four hundred poor African-American men.
  4. The Willowbrook Hepatitus study conducted from 1963 to 1966 on a group of uninformed mentally disabled children.
  5. Laud Humphrey’s “tearoom sex” study of impersonal homosexual acts committed by males in public restrooms in the mid-1960s (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1-3).

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Being an article published by the University of North Dakota Press, the audience for Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) would primarily consist of academics studying or interested in the history of unethical research and the development of ethical codes and regulatory bodies responsible for enforcing ethical standards and protecting human subjects. As a result of this, Marsden and Melander employ an objective and analytical writing form that aims to communicate the relevant information as clearly and accurately as possible, however, the authors also maintain a definite position throughout the text. This is possible as a result of this article’s content, which includes cases that are so inhumane and immoral, as well as historically distant, that any contemporary civilized reader would immediately adopt the authors’ position that this kind of treatment of human subjects in unacceptable, which enables Marsden and Melander to avoid using a subjective voice.

Like any other article, however, Marsden and Melander’s article is not perfect. Not only do the authors fail to provide any in-text citations, but the referencing produced at the bottom of the article is also highly substandard, with no definite style or method evident in their approach. Furthermore, elementary spelling and grammar mistakes can be found scattered throughout the article, such as “historical eases”, which can be found in the opening line in place of “historical cases” (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1). Nevertheless, as a whole Marsden and Melander’s Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) is still a very effective, accurate and succinct article that provides a clear and authoritative analysis of its topic.

Reference List:

Marsden, S & Melander, M 2001, Historical Cases of Unethical Research, University of North Dakota Press, Grand Forks, pp 1-3.


Horrible Histories: (Un)ethical Research

Ethics’ are defined as the “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity” (Oxford University Press, 1997: 1), and are one of the most critical facets of any research. This comes as a result of a number of historical cases of unethical research that demonstrated the horrific consequences of such practices. These kinds of unethical studies eventually led to the creation of the Nuremburg Code, Belmont Report and the Institutional Review Board, which were formed to protect human subjects and establish codes of conduct for ethical research practices (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1).

The origins of ethical research standards and its importance came about following the horrendous research practices committed by physicians working for the Nazi Party between 1933 and 1945. The two most notorious of these were Aribert Heim and Josef Mengele, respectively known as “Doctor Death” and the “Angel of Death” (Mekhennet & Kulish, 2009: 1; Levy, 2006: 242), however, there were fourteen other German physicians also found to have practiced horrifically unethical medical experiments on the prisoners of the Concentration and Extermination Camps operated by the Nazi Party during this period, including unnecessarily removing organs and limbs from prisoners without anaesthesia, directly injecting various chemicals into the heart to induce death, and even sewing two Romani twins together in a failed attempt to create conjoined twins (Heller, 2011: 85; Lifton, 1986: 347-353; Marsden & Melander: 2001: 1; Posner & Ware, 1986: 37). In 1947, as a result of the subsequent Nuremburg trials, the Nuremburg Code was written (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1). This code was the first major acknowledgment of the importance of ethics in research, and was created so that research participants could be protected and the aforementioned Nazi physicians could be convicted for crimes against humanity. The Nuremburg Code also led to research standards requiring that subjects participate voluntarily and be informed of the risks of the research.

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Top left: Dr Mengele’s attempt at creating conjoined twins; they suffered for over a week before dying. Top right: Dr Mengele kept child twins in a separate area of Auschwitz so that he could perform his experiments on them. Bottom left: various experiments conducted by Drs Mengele and Heim and their gruesome results. Bottom right: Dr Mengele experimenting on the results of inhaled gas on a set of teenage twins at Auschwitz.

Other significant historical cases of unethical research include the Stanley Milgram’s experiment in 1961 involving “teachers” and “learners” and obedience toward authority, the US Public Health Service’s Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1932 involving four hundred financially poor African American men who eventually either died or suffered from serious syphilis related conditions, the Willowbrook Study conducted between 1963 and 1966 on a group of mentally disabled children living at the Willowbrook State Hospital in Staten Island who were deliberately infected with hepatitis and studied as an assessment of the effects of gamma globulin as a therapeutic intervention as well as the history of the virus when left untreated, and Laud Humphreys’ mid-1960s “tearoom sex” study of impersonal homosexual acts committed by males in public restrooms (Marsden & Melander: 2001: 1-3).

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Top left: a diagram detailing Stanley Milgram’s study of obedience and authority. Top right: a group of the mentally disabled people living at Willowbrook State Hospital at the time of the hepatitis study. Bottom left: a newspaper headline after the details of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study were released. Bottom right: the front cover of Laud Humphrey’s ‘Tearoom Trade’, which was the final result of his “tearoom sex” study.

The importance of ethics in research cannot be determined by a legal document, a statistic or a great quote, but only by looking at the repercussions of unethical research for the subjects of these cases. These people had their fundamental human rights completely dismissed, were placed under unnecessary emotional and psychological stress, experienced no kind of beneficence or justice, had their private lives and personal information documented and analysed with their knowledge or informed consent, were victims of deception or concealment, and did not have any kind of autonomy or self-determination regarding their role in their respective research study. These people are the reason why ethical research, ethics codes such as the Nuremburg Code and Belmont Report, and regulatory bodies such as the Institution Review Board, are so important, so that past atrocities may hopefully never be repeated or, more realistically, may never go unpunished.

For some more info on any of these cases just check out these Youtube videos!
1. Nazi medical experiments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVkEnN8YpkU

2. Stanley Milgram’s obedience and authority study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcvSNg0HZwk

3. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Rg75zEVB1g

4. Willowbrook Hepatitis Study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2aMlo_vJpE

5. Laud Humphrey’s “tearoom sex” study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsFa10JFats

Reference List:

Heller, K 2011, ‘The Trials. Introduction: the indictments, biographical information, and the verdicts’, in The Nuremburg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 85.

Levy, A 2006 (1993), Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File (Revised 2002 ed.), Constable & Robinson, London, pp 242.

Lifton, R 1986, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, Basic Books, New York, pp 347-353.

Marsden, S & Melander, M 2001, Historical Cases of Unethical Research, University of North Dakota Press, Grand Forks, pp 1-3.

Mekhennet, S & Kulish, N 2009, Uncovering Lost Path of the Most Wanted Nazi, The New York Times, New York, pp 1.

Oxford University Press 1997, ‘Ethics’, in Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 3, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 1.

Posner, G & Ware, J 1986, Mengele: The Complete Story, McGraw-Hill, New York, pp 37.


Just the billionth opinion you’ve read about violent video games and violent behaviour…

An almost infinite number of academic articles and essays have been published on the topic of media causality, however, Christopher J. Ferguson’s, Ph.D., The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic? (2008: 25-37) is one that is particularly effective in its investigation and evaluation of this highly debated and divisive issue. In this article, Ferguson critically examines and evaluates the increased interest and debate within the media, politics and social sciences on the potential causal role of violent video game exposure on youth behaviour since the seemingly concurrent growth of the video game industry and incidence of “serious acts of school violence” and school shootings in the United States during the 1990s (2008: 25). Some of the reasons for the article’s effectiveness include Ferguson’s expertise in the area, inclusion of a wide variety of supporting and critical sources, the depth of his investigation and use of a structured, objective writing form suited to his audience.

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A graph detailing the number of mass shootings in the US each decade from the 1900s to 2000s (Klein, 2012: 2)

As the associate professor and department chair of psychology at Stetson University and editor for the American Psychological Association’s journal on the relationship between video game exposure and mental health, Ferguson brings a highly qualified perspective on the field of media psychology to this ever-raging debate (Stetson University, 2015: 1-2). However, despite his position, Ferguson manages to maintain refreshingly objective throughout the article. Ferguson achieves this by employing sixty one diverse, credible sources, including the widely acclaimed Secret Service report (2002) and FBI report (1999), and examining the evidence on both sides of the debate, all of which facilitate his formulation of a more informed conclusion. This differs to most articles written on this topic, which normally only use conveniently supportive sources and fail to include any counter-evidence or critical studies.

Furthermore, Ferguson actually directly addresses the issue of politicians and social scientists cherry-picking data when debating video game causality by citing the case of ESA, VSDA and IRMA v. Blagojevich, Madigan and Devine (2005), in which the presiding Judge stated that a number of the most ‘acclaimed’ pro-media causality articles had failed “to cite any peer-reviewed studies that had shown a definitive causal link between violent video game play and aggression… (and had) ignored research that reached conflicting conclusions” (2005: 14-15).

Ferguson’s objectivity and formal writing style comes as a result of the intended audience for this article. Published in the Journal of Investigate Psychology and Offender Profiling, Ferguson’s audience is almost entirely made up of academics and experts within the field of media and criminal psychology, as well as policy-makers interested in creating, amending or abolishing legislation concerning the regulation of violent media.

After examining a wide variety of sources and studies related to the media causality theory, Ferguson comes to the conclusion that “no significant relationship between violent video game exposure and school shooting incidents has been demonstrated in the existing scientific literature, and that data from real world violence call such a link into question” (2008: 25). However, Ferguson still asserts that the purpose of this article is not to sway public view towards either side of this debate, but rather to simply stimulate further debate on media causality and violent video games by acting as a “platform for further discourse and research, as well as a potential source of information for public policy” (2008: 34).

Columbine_Shooting_Security_Camera

Eric Harris, aged 18, and Dylan Klebold, aged 17, caught on the Columbine High School security cameras in the cafeteria. The two senior students killed 13 people and injured 24 before committing suicide (Gibbs & Roche, 1999: 1)

For some more info and opinions about the possible link between violent video games and violent behaviour check out any of these Youtube videos!
1. Video games won’t cause violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2Jq7vPxYGg
2. Video games can cause short-term violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm_l4jEb6us
3. Video games will cause violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMWEg-DdUDg

Reference List:

ESA, VSDA and IRMA v. Blagojevich, Madigan and Devine 2005, case no. 05 C 4265.

Federal Bureau of Investigation 1999, The school shooter: A threat assessment perspective.

Ferguson, C.J. 2008, ‘The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic?’, Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 5th edition, Behavioural, Applied Sciences and Criminal Justice Department of Texas A&M International University, Laredo, pp 25-37.

Gibbs, N & Roche, T 1999, The Columbine Tapes, Time Magazine, New York City, pp 1.

Klein, E 2012, Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., pp 2.

Stetson University 2015, Christopher Ferguson, Stetson University, DeLand, pp 1-2.

United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education 2002, The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States.


The Great Media Witch-Hunt

‘Media research’ is defined by Wimmer and Dominick as “an attempt to discover something” (2014) within the field of the media. Due to the vast and multifaceted nature of the media, however, this could involve investigating any issue within any one of the multitudes of channels and platforms through which we consume media in the 21st century. An examination or enquiry into a media-related topic should involve a systematic, accurate and objective research process, beginning with an initial observation, followed by the gathering of qualitative and/or quantitative data, the formulation of a theory and hypothesis, the further gathering and analysis of data and a final deduction that leaves the investigator with a greater understanding of the chosen topic or issue (McCutcheon, 2015: 21-22).

The aspect of the media that I am most interested in researching is the mass media’s tendency to, in cases of youth-related crises, identify a scapegoat as the target of a media-led witch-hunt and campaign of moral panic based on the academically divisive ‘causation theory’. This is especially evident in the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999 and the murders of Suzanne Capper in December 1992 and James Bulger in February 1993.

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The first case study involves shock-rock band Marilyn Manson, whose violent and sexual music and image became the target of a widespread media-led witch-hunt following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 (Jones, 2002: 126-127), when the perpetrators, high school seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were reported by the media to have been wearing the band’s t-shirts before committing the shooting (Moore, 2002). As a band that played heavy music with anti-Christian lyrics and a shock-goth image, it came as no surprise that Marilyn Manson were subsequently blamed for 36 further school shootings as the media pursued its witch-hunt against the band (Moore, 2002).

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The second case study involves the horror film Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking (1991) and the murders of Suzanne Capper and James Bulger. The first murder was that of 16 year old Suzanne Capper, wherein the perpetrator, McNeilly, “assumed the character of Chucky” by mimicking certain violent scenes from the film and continuously repeating the phrase “I’m Chucky, wanna play?” whilst torturing Capper (Foster, 1993: 2). In this case, it is quite evident that there is a direct cause-effect relationship between the viewing of Child’s Play 3 and the method in which McNeilly tortured and murdered Suzanne Capper. Three months later, however, the film resurfaced in the case of two-year-old James Bulger, who was murdered by ten year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Apart from the media’s assertion that Bulger’s murder was inspired by Thompson and Venables’ viewing of the third Chucky film, which was later disproved, this case does not contain any evidence to suggest that the boys had seen or been influenced by the film (Faux & Frost, 1993: 1). In fact, the only evidence to suggest why the film was ever linked to Bulger’s murder is the case of Suzanne Capper, which sparked a widespread campaign of moral panic surrounding the impact of violent media, and particularly the Child’s Play franchise as a result of its child-like antagonist and horrific murder scenes, on the psychology of youth and the need for new legislation concerning video films (Morrison, 2003: 1).

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What these cases demonstrate is that the mass media is highly prone to creating scapegoats and spreading campaigns of moral panic in the wake of youth-related crises. Combined with quantitative and qualitative research, I believe that an investigation into this topic could uncover the perspectives of the public, the media corporations and the scapegoats on this issue, as well as the real-life effectiveness of these kind of media campaigns on legislation and public perception, in the hope of exposing the reason why causation theory is such a prominent aspect of current media reporting.

Reference List:
Bender, J 1991, Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking, Universal Pictures, USA.
Faux, R & Frost, B 1993, Boys guilty of Bulger murder, Times, London, pp 1.
Foster, J 1993, Horror fiction became reality, The Independent, London, pp 1-2.
Jones, S 2002, Pop music and the press, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, pp 126-127.
McCutcheon, M 2015, Lecture 2: What is media research?, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, pp 7-22.
Moore, M 2002, Bowling for Columbine, United Artists, USA.
Morrison, B 2003, Life after James, The Guardian, London, pp 1.
Wimmer, R & Dominick, J 2014, Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 10th ed., Cengage Learning, Boston, MA.