Mayhem: Violence As Public Entertainment

Mayhem: Violence As Public Entertainment

by Sissela Bok

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In Mayhem, Sissela Bok, our most brilliant moral philosopher, reframes the entire debate over violence in the media.See more details below


In Mayhem, Sissela Bok, our most brilliant moral philosopher, reframes the entire debate over violence in the media.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Two leading intellectuals look at the impact of commercially motivated cultural production on today's media-saturated culture. In her methodical and readable book, Bok (formerly philosophy, Brandeis; now distinguished fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies) examines the shallow debates surrounding violent entertainments, especially on television. She fleshes out both sides of the issue, offering a rigorous discussion of the ill effects of violent shows and of censorship, and then advances nongovernmental solutions to curbing exposure to violent media. While packed with citations and rich in anecdote, this book is slim and serves to refocus the debate rather than advance any new position or findings. Still, as discussions of the V-chip and similar efforts continue, this may be the best primer for a serious debate. In his more interesting but also more demanding work, Bourdieu (sociology, College de France, Paris) critiques the effects of the medium of television on the practice of journalism and, by extension, on other professions, on government, and on all of society. The bulk of the book is made up of two lectures that Bourdieu delivered over his university's television station, which drew heated criticism from prominent journalists and brought this book to France's best sellers lists last year. Because of the origins of the work there are few citations, but Bourdieu didn't dumb down his language, and the sometimes polemical text demands concentration. Though he mostly refers to French examples, the morass of vapid pontificators on "news" talk shows and the pervasive self-censorship of the marketplace are all too familiar to American audiences. Thisinsightful and disturbing work belongs in all academic libraries as well as subject collections in larger public institutions; Bok's work is recommended for most public libraries.

--Eric Bryant, Library Journal

Michael Sherry
Many readers of this valuable book will recall upsetting encounters, by themselves or by children, with violence in the popular media. Bok intends to frighten readers about that violence, and she largely succeeds....she offers in Mayhem brief, nimble, wide-ranging and evenhanded essays on a subject that often provokes hysterical warnings or cavalier dismissals.

-- Michael Sherry, The New York Times Book Review

Kirkus Reviews
Like her eloquent moral explorations Lying (1978) and Secrets (1983), Bok's latest ethical treatise addresses the dangers of media violence and the temptations of censorship.

Although debates over media violence are almost as pervasive as violence in the media itself, Bok's objective and erudite argument does not fall into superficial extremes, either banning everything down to The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or championing Natural Born Killers as free speech. Bok (Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies) first examines the historical functions of violent spectacles, epitomized by the Roman circuses, which were first put on by noble families in honor of their dead. The classical models of Aristotle's idea of catharsis, Plato's banishment of poetry from his Republic, and St. Augustine's description of the "stabbing of the soul" by viewing bloodshed likewise inform Mayhem's modern analysis. Media violence, in entertainment or news, Bok shows in study after study, is no less a factor in America's top ranking in homicides than tobacco smoke is in lung cancer. The American Psychiatric Association's conclusion in 1993 that media violence can promote not only fear and desensitization, but also aggression and appetite does not, however, lead Bok to side with John Grisham's proposition of a product liability lawsuit over Natural Born Killers or Robert Bork's uncompromising advocacy of institutionalized censorship. Disregarding Singapore's stringent but hopeless censoring of the Internet (paralleled with 18th-century Geneva's ban on theater), Bok looks toward Canada's national initiative at minimizing media violence, in which the V-chip was used in additionto media literacy education, ratings systems, and quality programming for children. Perhaps the only thing missing from Bok's wide-ranging and objective book is a specific analysis of violence's distinct roles in our entertainment culture, instead of statistically associating Martin Scorsese with Mortal Kombat.

A deep disquisition on a distressingly fraught issue.

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Basic Books
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5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)
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