Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
It is often supposed that the mass media has a clear, common, direct, identifiable and predictable effect on its viewers. Classical formulations of this argument are that spates of violent films will necessarily lead to spates of violent people. Modern versions have focussed on women’s representation, stating that the representation of women in computer games, magazines, newspapers and popular science fiction programmes is a matter of critical, and possibly legislative, concern, given the ‘context’ of violence against women. Links are often directly drawn between these products and attacks on women. Writing in the Independent, Lucy Anne Holmes, creator of the No More Page 3 campaign, argues:
The Page 3 girl image is there for no other reason than the sexual gratification of men. She’s a sex object. But when figures range from 300,000 women being sexually assaulted and 60,000 raped each year, to 1 in 4 who have been sexually assaulted, is it wise to be repeatedly perpetuating a notion that women are sexual objects?
Sophie Bennett, campaigns officer for Object, similarly states:
Lads’ mags dehumanise and objectify women, promoting harmful attitudes that underpin discrimination and violence against women and girls.
The popular success of computer games, of magazines, of the Sun newspaper, and of Doctor Who in recent decades have not yielded rises in the supposed harms that these products allegedly “underpin”. The British Crime Survey found that domestic violence has declined precipitously from 1997, falling by about 64%. The Office for National Statistics’ paper Focus on: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2011/12 showed three of the four categories of intimate violence against women – non-sexual partner abuse, non-sexual familial abuse and stalking – have all shrunk since 2004. Sexual assaults against women, including all attempts, have vacillated between 80% and 118% of their 2004 level. No clear pattern can be discerned.
Also, the ONS found that the number of violent incidents had halved from its 1995 pinnacle and “men were nearly twice as likely as women (3.8% compared with 2.1%) to have experienced one or more violent crimes in the year prior to interview”.
Media effects are a naked assertion, a reverse-engineered explanation for the declining prevalence of violence against women or general violence. No attempt is made to demonstrate a causal link between the consumption of images and assaults, nor is it adequately explained why such links necessarily exist. The media is a bountiful collection of newspapers, magazines, television programmes, films and games – all the products of different minds in different cultures and times – and so it cannot be delivering a simple, subversive and anti-social packaged message for puppets to play out.
These supposed media effects can be ludicrous, such as claims that Pokémon, a franchise enjoyed by children of all ages, propagates Satanism or lust for the Occult, because Satan himself is a Pokémon Master with a Level 100 Shiny Charizard. Extreme claims of this kind are easily parodied, with PETA recently highlighting that racoon dogs are skinned for fur by jokingly asserting that Mario kills racoon dogs.