Ill Effects: The Media/Violence Debate

By Martin Barker; Julian Petley | Go to book overview
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10

US AND THEM

Julian Petley

Debates about media effects tend to focus on how children and young people are supposedly affected-usually for the worse. But lurking behind these fears about the 'corruption of innocent minds' one finds, time and again, implicit or explicit, a potent strain of class dislike and fear. The object is often the spectre of the working class in general-at other times it is more specifically defined as an 'underclass', an ideologically loaded version of what used to be called (equally ideologically) the redundant population, the relative surplus, the residuum, the lumpenproletariat, the social problem group, the dangerous classes, the undeserving poor and so on.

There is nothing new about such fears and dislikes, and nothing new about attempts to locate the causes of working-class 'hooliganism' in the allegedly malign effects of various forms of popular entertainment. As Orwell put it: 'the genuinely popular culture of England is something that goes on beneath the surface, unofficially and more or less frowned on by the authorities' (Orwell, 1968a, p. 78). Geoffrey Pearson (1983) has made a seminal study of the history of middle-class disapproval of working-class culture, in which he concludes that:

popular entertainments of all kinds have been blamed for dragging down public morals in a gathering pattern of accusation which remains essentially the same even though it is attached to radically different forms of amusement: pre-modern feasts and festivals; eighteenth-century theatres and bawdy houses; mid-nineteenth-century penny gaffs; the Music Halls of the 'Gay' Nineties; the first flickering danger signs from the silent movies; the Hollywood picture palaces between the wars; and then television viewing in our own historical time. Each, in its own time, has been accused of encouraging a moral debauch; each has been said to encourage imitative crime among the young.

(Pearson, 1983, p. 208)

-170-

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