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Posted by on Mar 7, 2013 in Blogs

Rose Dyson presenting at UN-CSW

This is the VOW opening statement presented here at the UN CSW mtgs – the theme this year being “Violence Against Women”.  Our panel presentation on Monday a.m., March 4th at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre was well received and very well attended  . These are my remarks on the Role of Popular Culture in fueling the militarization of society and a culture of violence.

Yesterday, I also participated in a Roundtable Discussion at the Canadian Mission on the Atlantic Canada Cybersafe Girl Initiative ( About 25 of us from across Canada, attending the CSW as delegates from various orgs. such as YWCA, VOW, Canadian Fed. of Women Teachers, health orgs, RCMP were involved, including the Canadian Ambassador to the UN, 4 female federal Ministers representing PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Nfld and Labrador. It was chaired by the Hon Valerie Docherty, PEI, instrumental in launching the initiative. I will be writing about it in the next issue of THE LEARNING EDGE which I edit for the Canadian Ass. for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE).

Exploring the Roots of Violence & Militarism in Popular Culture

UN CSW VOW workshop Monday, March 4, 2013, NYC

Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECO)

 (Discussion of Film on The Invisible War)


This year, Kirby Dick was nominated for an Academy Award as best director for the documentary, The Invisible War.  An article appeared in The New York Times on February 21, about “Staging Stories That are Torn From The News”. Dick spoke of the tension between his role as an artist and that of a journalist. He said, “This film was actually made …for two disparate audiences…the film audience… and a few hundred policy makers in Washington” (C1).

The film is a fine example of the great potential for media to influence our behaviour, collectively – as consumers, educators or policy makers. But it is competing with an enormous tide of harmful media that reinforces the problem of sexual violence and a culture of violence.  Consider the huge popularity in cyberspace of the game “World of Warcraft”. Avatars used as “alter egos” are an extension of the original video game. In 2007, it was reported that 40 million people world wide were subscribers to “World of Warcraft” spending over $1 billion, each paying $15 a month.


In December, 2011, The Economist reported that the ‘action-packed’ video game,  “Call of Duty: Black Ops”, in one month  took in $1 billion in profit with fans lining up for blocks to buy a coveted early copy when it was first released a year earlier.  Video games, it said, are the fastest growing part of the media industries. Profits in 2010 amounted to $56 billion and, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

are expected to rise to $82 billion by 2015.


So how seriously do policy makers in Washington take the messages, good or bad, conveyed to them by film makers like Dick or, for that matter, the countless mental health advocates who have lobbied them for decades on the harmful effects of media violence as entertainment? As a researcher, educator and lobbyist  in this field I say not nearly seriously enough. When bills are periodically introduced to either restrict advertising to children, eliminate tax breaks or subsidies for violent and pornographic audio visual material deemed to be contrary to the public interest, they are usually very quickly shot down and discredited as being an unacceptable threat to free speech. Corporate freedom of enterprise always wins over individual freedom of expression and community safety.


On February 23, CBC Television, aired a documentary on Wall Street financiers who brought the world’s economy to its knees in 2008 with faulty mortgages. CEOs of leading banks were described as “The Untouchables”, beyond the arm of the law and mere rules and regulations the rest of us are expected to abide by. The same thing applies to the producers and distributors of gratuitous violent entertainment.


Consider this example:  On February 20th, on PBS, a two hour special on Roots to Violence in America was aired in which the behavioural tendencies of serial killers in K-12 schools, colleges and universities where examined – as we all know, a subject that is very topical in Washington  these days, in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre last December. Experts weighed in on the genetic and hereditary factors involved as well as on the usual nature/nurture components to child rearing. The critical problems of mental illness, coupled with widespread gun ownership and availability were also discussed. But missing entirely, was any reference to the powerful socializing potential of media.


The elephant in every room was how the current crisis in gun ownership in civilian society has been glamorized by popular culture and fueled  a huge escalation in the militarization of society in general. This has resulted not only in unacceptable levels of sexual violence but the aggressive marketing of violent entertainment to children from a very early age. Violent approaches to conflict resolution are increasingly becoming the norm. Consider the current tug and pull between the NRA and gun control advocates.


In a 2010 US Supreme Court decision, only one dissenting judge supported California Senator Leland Yee’s proposed ban on the sale to minors of violent video games, despite the fact that it was backed by the American Pediatric Academy, other health organizations and 11 other states. It was ruled an “unconstitutional” violation of the 1st Amendment. No distinction was made between the right for protection of political speech and gratuitous violent entertainment. In the US, unlike most other democracies in the developed world, all hate speech is  protected. This was apparent in the case of the anti-Islam film posted on Youtube last fall which set off a fire storm of anti-American protests in 20 countries far beyond the Middle East itself.


But until the widespread availability of guns, glamorization of their use and ownership in popular culture, and subsequent mental health issues are all addressed, little is likely to change, Reducing sexual violence  in either the military or civilian society also requires strategies for prevention. That is why the commercial exploitation of children, particularly as it involves their purposeful seduction into the world of violent video games is so tragic.  Pediatrician and former TV producer Michael Rich at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, calls it a psychiatric emergency.


As UBC law professor Joal Bakan points out in his book Childhood Under Seige, there are websites such as <> set up for that specific purpose. Games, such as  “Grand Theft Auto Series, Postal Station 2 or Whack your Soul mate” frequently involve women being blown up and eliminated as the player scores points. Military expert, US Lte. Col. Dave Grossman calls this dangerous and dysfunctional play. Operant conditioning takes place that teaches young players in civilian life extra-ordinary markmanship skills,  the same way these are  taught in the military. The players learn to kill with impunity and that scoring points by blowing up cars and knocking heads off, is fun. If you followed mainstream media coverage as I have, of the Columbine High School, Aurora Colorado, Virginia Tech, Newtown Connecticut, Montreal Massacre, Norway Summer Camp shootings and others like them, you will have read that the perpetrator was almost always an addicted video game player.


Countless studies over the past 50 years have demonstrated that among the many harmful effects of heavy diets of violent media entertainment are, depression, insecurity, fear, anxiety, bullying and aggression. New MRI techniques have also indicated an actual destruction of brain cells from violent video game playing and a reduction in empathy and compassion. The  Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 meta analysis of 95 studies showed that playing video games results in physiological arousal of feelings of anger, hostility and a host of other anti social traits <


My own doctoral thesis (1995) and book based on it, MIND ABUSE Media Violence in an Information Age,(2000) is a review of the literature that dates back to the middle of the last century. Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment, founded in 1983 and which I have led since 1986, is actually a clone of the American National Coalition on Televison Violence founded in the US by the American Psychiatric Association and Parent Teachers Association. Our mandate is to provide public education on what the research shows. We believe the public has a right to know that the overwhelming weight of research findings on media violence as entertainment point toward harmful effects <>. (Distribute C-CAVE pamphlets).


American pioneering cultural theorist George Gerbner, called the widespread prevalence of violent entertainment in popular culture, “the hidden curriculum”resulting in “the mean world syndrome”. It   involves a tendency to see more violence in real life than actually exists, and calls for more law and order measures such as tougher sentencing and gun ownership. I’ll leave it to your imagination to speculate on how effectively this approach is preparing our children  for a peaceful and sustainable future.


            Chris Hedges, in his book The Empire of Illusion says that by wilfully ignoring the obvious, we are losing the ability to separate reality from fantasy. So where do we start to turn things around? Some Solutions that have been advanced for decades but like most, yet to be tried, include the following:


We could demand legislation banning advertising to children, like that adopted in most of the developed world except for English Canada and the U.S. It would address the harmful effects, not only of junk food causing obesity and other health problems but media violence as well. According to the Harvard Medical. School Commercialization of Childhood Index, kids under the age of 12 influence over $500 billion in sales annually. This is up from $80 million in 1986 as the advertising industry develops ever more effective strategies such as “pester power” and “the nag factor” to help children loosen their parents purse strings.


We could stop paying for the production of this harmful content ourselves by insisting on elimination of tax breaks and subsidies for “electronic arts” – which North America usually translates into violent video games. We had Bill C-10 in Canada which would have dealt with this problem. It passed in the House of Commons in 2008, but was defeated in Senate largely due to a massive lobbying campaign launched by the industry.


We could insist that anti-bullying legislation apply to cyberbullying facilitators in industry as well as individual perpetrators. It is an oxymoron to expect exemplary behaviour of students, teachers and and parents while allowing the industry to carry on with business as usual.


And of course, we need more good, pro-social, educational films like The Invisible War..I’ll conclude with a quote from Harper Magazine journalist, Thomas Frank. In the March 2013 issue he said “Over and over we are shown spineless liberals with a soft spot for the murderers and rapists in our midst, who leave society’s dirty work to the big man with the big gun…Because the American film industry is the second great pillar of the gun culture.” The fact that Quentin Tarantino’s academy award winning film Django Unchained arrived in theaters right around the time of the Sandy Hook massacre put him on the defensive, arguing that the violence was all part of creative imagination… But this is  self-serving sophistry…Do they really believe that imaginative expression is without consequence? One might as well claim that advertising itself has no effect- because the spokesmen aren’t really enjoying that can of Sprite they drink on the screen – just pretending to.. it is {the job of journalists}… to say it explicitly – to tell the world what god-awful heaps of cliche and fake profundity and commercialized sadism this industry produces. The fake blood spilled by Hollywood cries out for it.” (4-7).


Rose Dyson


Rose A. Dyson, Ed.D. is a consultant in media education and president of Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment ( She is also a psychiatric nurse, has an undergraduate degree in general arts, holds an M.Ed. in applied psychology and counseling and a doctorate in adult education completed at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto in 1995. She was a co-founder of the International Cultural Environment Movement at Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1996 and served on the steering committee for 5 years. From 2000 to 2006, she served on the executive committee of the Center for Global Media Studies, Edward Murrow School of Communication, University of Washington, Pullman. She is an external research associate at the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution at York University, Toronto; vice-president of the Canadian Peace Research Association; and a consultant to the International Holistic Tourism Education Centre (


She is author of Mind Abuse: Media Violence in an Information Age (; coauthor of numerous other peer-reviewed books, articles, and book reviews; and editor of The Learning Edge ( She has given numerous lectures and speeches, both nationally and internationally. Recent papers were presented at the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education Conference (Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, 2012), The Canadian Peace Research Association Conference (Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, 2012) and the Global Ecological Integrity Group Conference (University of La Rochelle, France 2012).In 2010 she  received the Arbor Award, for outstanding volunteer work on behalf of the University of Toronto.