Although I have been gone these past few weeks for medical reasons, I figured I would return to my column this week and try to address another subject: the media and mental illness.
I realize that this is a very charged topic in this day and age, but I think there are some things that need to be pointed out, or at least discussed. For a few decades now, there has been a debate over whether media can cause violence and why violent media is associated with so many cases of real life violence. Why do we play the games we do? Why do we listen to the music we do? Why do we read the books or watch the movies we do?
Though the associations of these things with the mentally ill are, by definition, a bit of a stereotype, I think there is some truth to it in the form of a very bottom-heavy coin.
The top side of the coin is what we are commonly shown through news reports and TV screens — violent individuals seeking out violent media as a way to fantasize.
Repeatedly, this image is used as a way to do what society has been doing to various ‘other’ groups for generations, giving them a bad reputation out of a fear of their differences.
The real story, at least as I imagine it, is that there are probably very few truly violent individuals in the world, and that the real psychology of media goes beyond the mentally ill to factors everybody can relate to.
We’ve been accused of being evil and listening to violent, aggressive music, but from my own experience, a lot of that is due to the fact that harsher or sadder types of music are a way of coping with negative emotions or heightened energy levels and the day-to-day issues that come with those conditions.
An additional factor is that a lot of harsher music is used to address issues or voice protest. Though a lot of heavy rock or metal music is brushed aside as violent, I have encountered a surprising amount of songs that use this more aggressive style to express anti-war sentiments, make heartfelt statements about overcoming addiction, lament the treatments of various non-dominant groups within society and make emotional pleas for suicide prevention.
Video games and board games and all manners of other games can be therapeutic as well. Even the lure of playing the ‘bad guy’ can be explained in a healthy way. Maybe it’s just a simple way of escaping the rules for a while, discarding the boundaries that can stress us out everyday giving us that occasional and much-needed break.
Studies show that teenagers today are just as anxious as mental patients in the early 1950s. Keep in mind, most of the anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and other psychiatric drugs we use today trace their origins back to more primitive formulas first developed in the ‘60s.
Is there any wonder that our methods of coping with life have become more extreme?
Also, keep in mind the timing of all of this. Heavy rock, metal and rap music all emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Videogames emerged in the ‘80s, and, as is commonly pointed out, the violence in films and TV has been steadily increasing since the ‘60s, and especially after 9/11.
So, to answer the question simply: No, children are not becoming more violent or being turned into monsters by the media. This is simply what’s been happening to society since the 1960s.
We’ve become more socially aware, more distrustful, more cynical. We have come to grips with the fact that the world is nowhere near perfect and those imperfections are showing in our music, our video games, our movies and even our news stations.
We’re not psychopaths. We’re simply human beings fed up with being told that the world is a very simple, happy place, and as long as we all live a certain way, the whole world is going to be fine. We’re tired of believing that good and evil are so easily defined.
The last two generations have grown up in an era where heightened awareness of the issues of the world has caused us to question all the things that used to be true, only to discover that a lot of them might not be and maybe never were.
The media’s reaction to mental illness is also an illusion to make people think we’re causing problems in society. The problems were always there, maybe to a lesser extent, but they were always there.
The world just notices them more and accepts them less. Even if the media is right, and the mentally ill are largely responsible for these changes, maybe that’s something to be proud of.