Central Park Attacks on Women - Is MTV to Blame? ; in Wake of the New York Rampage, Psychologists Take a Closer Look at Mass Media That Link Sex and Violence

Article excerpt

As police in New York continue to round up young men suspected of harassing and groping almost 50 women near Central Park, Carl Taylor is horrified, but not surprised by the base and indecent mob assaults.

Professor Taylor, who has studied everything from the street drug culture in Detroit to female gangs, believes the attacks were the inevitable result of a commercial culture that has normalized ignorance and violence. And one of the greatest victims, he says, is respect for women.

"There are no rules anymore," he says. "You constantly see it through the media. Women are routinely cast as sex symbols with men doing sometimes vulgar things to them - and it's the norm on things like MTV."

Taylor's confident assessment remains controversial, particularly among supporters of the entertainment industry. And many people who witnessed the melee after the Puerto Rican Day parade also blame alcohol, marijuana, hot weather, and police indifference.

But an increasing number of psychologists, sociologists, media experts, and parents have come to agree with Taylor about the effects of mass media - fueling a growing movement determined to find a way to rein in video violence.

So far, however, such concerns are running into the same obstacle - the First Amendment and freedom of expression.

Industry representatives insist they're doing more than many others to address the problem, such as instituting rating systems and calling for voluntary restraints on the part of producers.

"We are the first industry to voluntarily institute any kind of a parental guidance system of ratings and the only industry that voluntarily turns away revenues by labeling some movies inaccessible to younger children," says Rich Taylor of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). "I don't think it's incorrect to put a good deal of the onus on parents - I don't think that's out of place."

Professor Taylor, who is a parent, agrees that parents and the community have a role to play in setting healthy standards of behavior. But he and many others are not willing to let the media off the hook, particularly in the wake of the Central Park attacks.

"Boys from a young age are surrounded by violent entertainment, a lot of it filled with scantily clad young women," says Myriam Miedzian, author of "Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link between Masculinity and Violence." "Unfortunately, it's not surprising what happened in New York. We've created a machinery for desensitizing boys and men."

For years, Hollywood honchos dismissed such notions and the studies which tied increases in aggression to watching violence. They insisted there was no direct scientific evidence linking brutality on the silver screen to individual acts of mayhem. …