It’s often the bugbear of the media that violent and sexual imagery, real or simulated, have attendant correlations in real-world behavior. In fact, it’s been a general trend among right-wing publications to blame our escalating crime levels on the widespread prevalence of video games and pornography. Those publications seem to shake their heads and say, “O brave new world, that has such people in’t!”. After all, showing sex and death in graphic detail must have an effect on the people that view it, right? Evil begets evil.
Wrong. Dead wrong, as it happens. What follows is a “semi-scholarly” attempt to meta-analyse the subject. Rather that present you with a lengthy, boring article on the subject, I’ll break things up into chapters so you can, if you wish, refer back to them at will and come to your own conclusions.
The Western World Is Experiencing Escalating Crime Levels
Hardly. Crime in the Western World has been experiencing a 30-year decline. Statistics released by the FBI in 2012 show that crime, and in particular violent crime (which really concerns us) has been dropping consistently for at least 20 years. There are, of course, multiple reasons for this – one of the most famous, being featured in Freakonomics, is that legalization in many states of abortion, a fascinating hypothesis well worth checking out. In the UK, the ONS reports a broadly similar picture to that provided by the FBI – that violent crime has been decreasing year-on-year since 1980.
Correlations between various factors and violent crime have traditionally been convoluted. Some government departments identify this as a result of increased police presence, but this is not strictly accurate. In areas with reduced police presence, crime has also dropped. The general trend in increased presence has been in inner-city areas, yet crime has dropped across the board in both the UK and the US.
These statistics are, by themselves, enough to refute the lazy assumption that evil begets evil. But it’s worth drilling down into the basis of this argument and having a poke around. If the argument is that modern pornography and video games are more violent than the entertainment they replaced, the historical evidence does not bear this up. It’s worth looking at the two different phenomena and analyzing their historical significance. Let’s look at the two cases side-by-side.
What Is A Violent Video Game?
Simulated violence or, if you prefer, violence by proxy. Most violent games revolve around fighting, either with weapons or fists. The attraction to this kind of play (speaking as someone who’s enjoyed every Grand Theft Auto since 1999’s GTA 2) is the sublimation of tension or violence through a non-harmful proxy. Example: if I’ve had a stressful day, I enjoy loading up a copy of San Andreas, blowing up several hundred cars and police helicopters, hijacking a tank and driving it into a canyon. Engaging in simulated violence relieves stress.
What Did People Do Before Video Games?
They played football (a territorial and highly stylized form of tribal warfare) or they boxed (semi-simulated violence with the attendant risk of serious injury) or they participated in blood sports (the violence-by-proxy of an animal) involving dogs, rats, bulls, cocks, etcetera. In the pre-modern era they jousted, or watched gladiatorial combat, or they committed crimes. The accepted model for sports and combative behavior is that they sublimate group tension and individual stress. All of the above examples had real-world attendant side-effects. Football can cause hooliganism. Boxing can lead to serious injury or death. Blood sports are cruel. Violent video games have, in contrast, no real-world side-effects.
Is There A Correlation Between Video Games And Violence?
There is NO correlation. All studies so far have had mixed results, either attempting to correlate between young people and violence or anyone at all. There is no defined correlation between non-real-world simulated violence and real-world violence at all. Studies that have shown a correlation have largely been methodologically flawed. Some studies have shown a positive correlation between violent video games and conscientious behavior in the real world, but not in statistically significant numbers. Levitt has argued that if you’re inside playing games, you’re less likely to be outside committing crimes ,which seems a straightforward way of looking at things.
What Is The Root Of This Argument?
Fear of the new. The older generation versus the younger generation. Hypocrisy. Right-wing thinking. Take your pick.
What Is Pornography?
Simulated sex. Or, if you will indulge me, pornography is to sex what restaurant dining is to home cooking. Restaurant dining is a calculated, refined experience with little emotional involvement, concentrating solely on the aesthetic appreciation of food. Home cooking is chaotic, emotional affair with plenty of washing-up to do afterwards. The parallel is pretty clear from where I’m sitting.
Pornography is, of course, not just about sex. It’s anything that titillates the mind and massages blood flow to the lower organs, which is why traditional descriptions of pornography have failed. The US Congress defined pornography in 1973 as:
“The average person, applying local community standards, looking at the work in its entirety, appeals to the prurient interest.
The work must describe or depict, in an obviously offensive way, sexual conduct, or excretory functions.
The work as a whole must lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific values”.”
I don’t know about you, but to me that describes nearly all television.
Who Indulges In Pornography?
Pornography, if we accept the above definition by a group of wise idiots, is nearly all culture that isn’t nature documentaries or Christian Rock. 50 Shades of Grey is pornography. So are Mills & Boon books. Men and women, being both interested in sex, are equally represented in pornographic circles, though in different genres. Women are, being less viscerally inclined, more interested in stories with emotional overlay, narratives and sensory exploration. Men are, being the visual gender, attracted to breasts and buttocks and less interested in narrative. These are generalizations, of course.
The fact is that the epithet “wanker” is a redundant term when talking about the human race. Human beings engage in sexual play and self-stimulation from the moment they grow hands and, whether we like it or not, sexual imagery has been part of human culture for thousands of years.
Is Pornography More Freely Available?
Yes. The internet has made it so easy to find your kink that there is no real need to buy pornography ever again. Anyone with a brain and a computer can find what they want. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your own morality. Internet pornography is easy to abstain from, not being forced down your throat.
Is Pornography More Violent/ Visceral These Days?
Here’s a tip: get down to either the Bodelian Library or your Library of Congress and ask to see the vintage erotica. If you can’t be bothered, have a look for yourself. These are – and I say this under advisement – small potatoes. Ask to read any of the books on this list or have a good long stare at Hokusai’s Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife [above]. There are pre-Victorian erotic lithographs with titles like Plundered By A Collie Dog. Google “Johann Schwarzer”. I haven’t even got started on Grecian erotic art yet. And so on and so on. Short answer: no. Modern porn is pretty tame.
Does Pornography Cause Sex Crimes?
Decidedly, no. There are, of course, attendant side-effects to certain industries. Some porn stars have complained of abusive behavior. Pornography in which someone is degraded against their will or without their consent (such as Child Pornography or the more outre forms of Sado-Masochism) is of course horrible. By and large widespread, private consumption of pornography is correlated with lower levels of violent and sexual crimes in a number of locations . Detractors and moralists have claimed that “pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice”. This is contraindicated in several studies which show that people who can get what they want are more sexually satisfied, function better in society and have no negative attitude to women.
Is Pornography Evil?
Only if you stand on the principle that human behavior is inherently evil. If you do, there is little hope for you.
What Is The Root Of This Argument?
Moral panic. Hypocrisy. Looking for someone to blame for a problem that doesn’t exist.