The stylishness of violence

November 12, 1993

In the suburbs, the stylishness of violence is still largely a decadent fantasy. In the inner cities, it has become a death-dealing reality. Yet in both settings, young people desperately need to be educated, not just about the physical damage done by bullets, but about the psychic damage done by the seductive voices of popular entertainers who know how to sell shock. This is why, even at the grassroots, the problem must be addressed in cultural terms.

How to do this? In the inner city, the lead has been taken by religious leaders. But although clergy are better equipped for the job than social scientists, they cannot reach all of the most vulnerable. In recent years, the debate over educational reform has focused on the need to set "world-class standards" in key subject areas, such as math, science and English. Art should be added to the list -- not because it is "uplifting" (the usual genteel reason), but because it is, in the present context, degrading. A truly "world-class" arts curriculum would teach that "gangsta rap" comes out of the stale avant-gardism of British punk as much as out of Afro-American music, and that the antics of "hard-core" rockers and "shock-jock" comedians are anything but original. A proper introduction to art history would enable young people to resist the forces that make hatemongering and sadism look stylish.

. . . Too often, the critics of media violence allow themselves to be intimidated by charlatans wrapped in the protective cloak of "art." It is high time we ripped off that cloak and exposed the philistinism underneath.

-- From "Fake Blood: Why Nothing Gets Done About Media Violence," by Martha Bayles, The Brookings Review, fall 1993.

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