Talks of blood spatter, brass knuckles, and brainwashing engaged the audience in the Semel Theater Monday night during “Who’s to Blame? Gun Violence in Media and Electronic Games” — the second panel discussion in President M. Lee Pelton’s “Made in America” series.
The events are part of Pelton’s initiative to start gun control conversations on college campuses after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. left 26 people dead.
The four panelists — Lesley University professor emerita and author of Taking Back Childhood Nancy Carlsson-Paige; child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and faculty member at Harvard University T. Atilla Ceranoglu, M.D.; director of the Parents Television Council, a nonprofit advocating responsible entertainment, Dan Isett; and executive director of the Media Coalition, a group dedicated to defending the public’s First Amendment rights in entertainment, David Horowitz — agreed about the negatives of censorship and the importance of parental limitations on children’s ability to play violent video games and watch violent media. They disagreed on who — the media industry, parents, or the government — should set guidelines.
WGBH Radio’s Callie Crossley, the on-air personality for Under the Radar, was the moderator for the hourlong talk before a 190 person audience. This program drew 30 more attendees than the previous panel, which was held on Feb. 4. Both events were open to the public.
After reviewing the most recent facts about media violence and its effects on mental health, the five panelists delved into information from statistics and surveys.
“There are hundreds of studies that say viewing entertainment violence is a risk factor for desensitizing children to violence,” said Carlsson-Paige, the first woman to participate in the gun violence series at the college.
Ceranoglu argued that most of this evidence is inconclusive and does not account for other factors like family life, a child’s age, and a child’s maturity level.
Throughout the discussion, Isett focused on what he sees as a lack of participation from the entertainment industry when it comes to making changes to programming in response to calls for less violence.
He cited an instance when he was watching a show on ABC at 9 p.m. and saw a graphic torture scene.
“There was someone being waterboarded, blood spatter on the wall, brass knuckles were used, and we know kids are seeing these things,” he said. “Even the most diligent super parents can’t compete.”
Horwitz argued that part of the problem is what he referred to as the media’s ambiguous definition of a child.
“I don’t know what that 9 p.m. show is you’re talking about, but here is the problem: Do kids mean 7-year-olds, or 16-year-old,” he asked. “Can a 16-year-old watch some of that material? Maybe. But for a 7-year-old to watch it, we have some other parental guidelines to talk about.”
Carlsson-Paige then spoke about how violent movies are marketed to children.
“When movies have toys, parents think, ‘Hey, this is for my kid,’ and kids think, ‘Hey, this is for me,’ but it’s not,” she said. “The market is deceptive and it’s hard to go against.”
Carlsson-Paige said children under a certain age, which may vary, are too trusting, and therefore marketers should not market products toward them. They take everything they see for face value, she said, which can be problematic for violence in movies and television.
“Depending on what else is going on for this child, seeing something violent in the media can be truly traumatizing,” she said. “It can even be as traumatizing as the experience firsthand, because children can’t understand the difference between fantasy and reality.”
Six attendees asked questions after the discussion.
One student, marketing communication major Louis Contino, asked the panelists why they believe violent video games relate to actual acts of violence. He said he asked this question because of his own experience with a school shooting at his middle school, Huntington Intermediate School in New York. An avid video game player, Contino said he does not find the violence on screen relates to experiencing the acts firsthand.
“The emotions I felt that day when I saw someone get shot in front of me, I knew that was wrong,” said the sophomore during the event. “But I play Grand Theft Auto and I do kill people [in the game]. I don’t associate those games with what I saw in school.”
The panelists then apologized for what happened to him and stated that statistics about video games are very complex. Carlsson-Paige said some argue these games can desensitize players.
Contino said he was disappointed that the panelists did not answer his question.
“It was nice hearing the statistics,” said Contino, “but it was frustrating that they didn’t answer a single question. It seemed like they all had one default answer to go back to.”
Andrew Tiedemann, vice president of public affairs, and Crossley said they didn’t believe panelists ignored student questions.
“These are all professionals: They do what they want to do, and they have their own thoughts about their own topics,” said Crossley.
Tiedemann said he felt the panel was a success. The next discussion will take place on April 2 and will focus on the Second Amendment. The final panel of this year will be held on April 25, and panelists will discuss the effects of socioeconomics on gun violence in neighborhoods, he said.
He said the college will continue the “Made in America” series next semester.