Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fantasy Violence Isn't the Real Problem

My Dad showed me a thing about Mr Rogers talking to the US senators about children's TV. I agree with a lot of what he says, I think.
I don't think violence in TV (or any fictional violence) is necessarily a bad thing. What I think is bad is a) violence as an effective solution to problems, and b) good guys and bad guys.
My favorite stories are ones that either portray internal conflict, or portray conflict between two people where both sides have a valid perspective and the ideal is to find a way to take into account both sides.
From the perspective of educational children's TV, that has the added benefit that you can directly model effective conflict resolution. In The Explosive Child, Ross Greene talks about three stages of problem-solving. The first two are to get both sides on the table - he advises getting the more agitated party's side out first so they can be calmed by being heard and better able to cope with hearing the other person's perspective. The last step is to find a mutually satisfactory agreement.
I read City of the Lost, one of my brother's Bionicle books, which confirmed my dislike of Bionicle. Besides the fact that the work strikes me as poorly written, with uninteresting dialogue and uncompelling descriptions, it is a prime example of a book that uses good guys and bad guys rather than portraying a real conflict where both sides have valid perspectives. And they could so easily have done it.
One group, the Barraki, were exiled to the bottom of the sea, where they magically turned into water creatures. They lived there awhile in peace until a contructed island of the Matoran suddenly sank. The Matoran settled there, harvesting 'airweed' to maintain a giant air bubble around their city so they could survive. But they happened to have unwittingly settled directly on the Barraki lands.
Now, this is an interesting plot so far. Two groups, one who have lived there for ages and have a very good claim to owning the land, another who have taken their land, but can't really go back to where they came from. It echoes the conflict present in so many places between the colonizers and those they colonized. Most Canadians may have descended mostly from Europeans, but we don't really belong in Europe anymore. The Native people are the rightful owners of this land and we stole it from them, but we live here too. It's become our home too. It is a conflict without an easy solution.
But the Bionicle tales don't give any good advice for this. Instead, they designate the Barrakis the 'bad guys', and suggest that the ideal is for the Matoran to drive them out or destroy them so they can live in peace in their new home. I can't really remember the ending, I don't think it really had a resolution (it is, after all, only one book in a series), but certainly you are encouraged to root for the Matoran and revile the Barraki.
The City of the Lost is a very violent story, ending with a giant eel going around eating people indiscriminately. But that's not my big problem with it. My big problem with it is that it suggests an unjust solution to a complex and legitimate conflict.

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3 Comments:

Blogger elmindreda said...

What I think is bad is a) violence as an effective solution to problems, and b) good guys and bad guys.
My favorite stories are ones that either portray internal conflict, or portray conflict between two people where both sides have a valid perspective and the ideal is to find a way to take into account both sides.


I definitely agree. Unfortunately, much of popular media is made specifically to give people a break from thinking.

3:15 AM  
Blogger Meredith said...

The whole popular culture has become a battlefield between "good" and "bad"; but it's a much older story than that. When people went off killing each other in the Middle Ages, warring "for the Cross" or "for Allah", it was the same frame of mind they had. To kill a Christian was the biggest crime if you were Christian as well, but the greatest virtue if you were Muslim. Some remains of that conflict are in effect today. That's why I identify as Chaotic Neutral, rejecting "good guys vs. bad guys" thinking. Your mind can only be free if you don't let others' rules and definitions of good and bad in.

11:13 AM  
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1:08 AM  

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