Damion off-key on hate music

Published: Sunday | December 22, 2013 Comments 0
Damion Crawford
Damion Crawford

Ian Boyne

I welcome Damion Crawford's reasoned, rational and respectful response to my criticisms of him. Because he has sought to engage me intellectually, rather than viscerally and insultingly, I will accord him the respect he deserves by engaging him.

Regular readers of my column would be stunned to read Damion's charge that "a journalist of the calibre of Ian Boyne finds it impossible to disagree without being disrespectful", because they know that civility has been my trademark as a journalist, as is my passion for balance. I have never substituted abuse, insults and ridicule for intellectual rigour or sound argumentation, as I have never needed those tools. Insults and mean-spiritedness are not part of my repertoire as a journalist, as my readers know.

Therefore, I apologise unreservedly to Damion for any offence taken, for none was meant. It is a fact that I advised that he should spend some time reading on the matter before making embarrassing statements on the issue of the link between media violence and behaviour. I will justify why I objectively, and not disrespectfully, questioned Damion's reading on the subject before he spoke at the parliamentary committee.

Damion made an astounding statement which would be inexplicable if he had done any reading on the matter before he spoke. Otherwise, he had a terrible lapse of memory. Damion was quoted as saying that this supposed link between media consumption and violence is really a figment of people's imagination.

There is a link

He said, "It starts from the premise that there is no research which shows that the consumption of violent media leads to criminal activities. It is merely an assumption ..." Now, it is one thing to say that social scientists are divided on the subject. They are on a host of matters. But it is intellectually irresponsible - if one knows better - to assert that "there is no research which shows that the consumption of violent media leads to criminal activities". In fact, this is the majority position.

Yes, there is disagreement. But you can't go before a parliamentary committee and not acknowledge that there is a vast amount of scholarly literature affirming a link, even if you point out that there is no unanimity. That is intellectually reckless.

And Damion's own article last week belatedly acknowledges that recklessness. (At least I have achieved something by pulling out that concession for the record). Damion himself quotes a number of scholars who all argue that "consumption of media violence leads to actual violence or to aggression". If he knew that when he spoke before the parliamentary committee, why did he say, "There is no research which shows that the consumption of violent media leads to criminal activities," and that "it is merely an assumption"?

He has misled the parliamentary committee. To help those on that committee and readers taken in by Damion's selective quoting of some contrary studies - which doesn't represent the majority position - let me show the other side. But before, let's acknowledge that Damion, the guest columnist, is more nuanced than Damion, the politician, on the parliamentary subcommittee. I repeat: It is one thing to question the link between media consumption and criminal activity; it is quite another thing not to acknowledge the substantial scholarship which differs.

In a New York Times op-ed just written on August 23 this year by forensic psychiatrists Vasilis Pozios, Praveen Kambam and H. Eric Bender, a wealth of research is adduced to prove that there is a link between media consumption and violence. The authors point to a "growing body of research" which supports the media-violence-actual violence or aggression link.

Hundreds of studies

Say these experts: "In a meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990, the psychologists George Comstock and Haejung Paik found that the short-term effect of exposure to media violence on actual violence against a person was moderate to large in strength. ... They found 200 studies showing a moderate positive relationship between watching television violence and physical aggression against another person."

They quote the authoritative Lancet journal which, in 2005, published a comprehensive review of the literature on media violence. "The weight of the studies supports the position that exposure to media violence leads to aggression." You would never have believed, from listening to Damion, the politician, as opposed to the more sober Damion, the writer, that the United States National Institute of Mental Health, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association all consider media violence exposure a risk factor for actual violence.

In an article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, early this year, it is stated that "many studies have identified an association between television viewing and antisocial behaviour ... ". Research done by a team of researchers showed that, according to Pediatrics, "Young adults who had spent more time watching television were significantly more likely to have a criminal conviction and diagnosis of an antisocial personality disorder and more aggressive personality traits."

A US Senate judiciary committee report in 1999 titled Children, Violence and the Media says, "It has been estimated that more than 1,000 studies on the effects of television and film have been done during the past 40 years." Leading associations have reviewed these studies. "Each of these reviews has reached the same conclusion: Television violence leads to real-world violence." You see why I was astounded by Damion, the politician's, statement at the parliamentary committee that "there is no research" which shows any link between media consumption and violence.

There are far more studies I could quote. (Incidentally, I did not cite Marcia Forbes as an authority). There is the paper, Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Views Versus Media Misinformation, by Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson from Iowa State University. They say: "Psychologists have studied the effect of violent media on aggression for several decades. Hundreds of studies have been conducted on this subject ... . Both types of reviews have been conducted on the research literature about media violence and aggression and all have come to the same conclusion: That viewing violence increases aggression."

The May 2003 issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports on a series of five experiments which show that songs with violent lyrics increase aggression-related thoughts and emotions. The International Society for Research and Aggression did a study on the effects of exposure to media violence. Their conclusions were published in the September/October issue of the Journal of Aggressive Behavior and - you guessed it - it found that frequent exposure to media violence increased the risk of aggression.

I am not saying there is any direct causation between consumption of media violence and actual violence. In my previous column, I explicitly said. "Of course, there is no direct causality between consumption of violent lyrics and criminal behaviour ... ; if there were a direct causation, there would be far more murders in Jamaica." But I referenced all these studies to show that there is substantial scholarship positing a link between media consumption and violence, though it is not asserted by anyone that everyone is affected similarly.

I welcome Damion, the writer's, multiple references to scholarly works and appreciate his respect for scholarship and for not being intimidated to take me on on my own turf of ideas, rather than resort to the intellectual cowardice of ad hominem attacks.

But those references were unnecessary, for I never said there was no scholar who doubted the media-violence link. I only expressed astonishment at Damion the politician's statement that "there is no research which shows that the consumption of violent media leads to criminal activities. It is merely an assumption ... ." That is patently false, and I have quoted only a fraction of the research that proves that. Indeed, I assert that is the majority position - which Damion cannot deny.

But Damion misses the gravamen of my position on hate music. Indeed, my references here probably prove too much, for, ironically, they could be used to bolster his position that it is pure hypocrisy to focus on dancehall music when studies show it is traditional and new media violence which is deleterious.

But I had to spend some time in debunking Damion, the politician, even after Damion, the writer, conceded, "Truth be told, Mr Boyne could find some articles to suggest there is indeed a link between media violence and actual violence ... ." Why Damion, the politician, never said that before is beyond me. It was good that my critique forced him to concede that that he was wrong that "there is no research" showing that.

I make the commonsensical assertion that because dancehall music is so integral to our culture and is so deeply enmeshed in inner-city life that it has a far more potent and direct effect on inner-city youth than television and other media. Dancehall music is so culturally powerful and affective that its impact on the lives of inner-city youth is far more profound and, therefore, it is legitimate that we pay more attention to it. This has nothing to do with class bias. We can't ignore dancehall's impact.

Plus, there is another major point that I addressed: A decent society that respects the sanctity of human life can't countenance lyrics directly calling for the murder of police officers, witnesses, gay people and informers. As a society, we must take a stand on that.

Should people really have freedom of speech to write lyrics, Damion, glorifying the rape of eight-year-olds? Should we allow people to produce and distribute songs glorifying a father's having sex with his 14-year-old daughter and his 10-year-old stepson? Should we, Damion, politician and writer, allow the production and distribution of songs glorifying rape of sexy ghetto girls with dem tun up body?

Shouldn't politicians, given a chance, not legislate against murder music? Tessanne Chin brought us glory last week not by glorifying guns and calling for the killing of homosexuals and informers. Tessanne Chin's creativity and artistry will not be affected one bit by any legislation which bans hate music. It is Tessanne's clean music and the influence of decent artistes like Shaggy which brought us glory.

Hate music does nothing to promote Jamaica, Mr Minister of Entertainment.

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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