Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Progress Report: 7/6/2010

Long weekends are nice, but not necessarily great for getting work done. So the "progress" side of this week's progress report doesn't really look like much.

So let's have a couple of shout-outs instead.

First is for Marian Call. I first became aware of Marian because she won a contest for writing the best song honoring the character Saffron (or possibly Yolanda) from Firefly. This is a pretty obscure kind of endeavor, but it turns out Marian is really cool, and I enjoy her music immensely. She's in the midst of a 50-state road tour right now, and came through Boulder, so we got to see her this weekend. She plays tiny little venues (we saw her out behind a popular coffee shop) and asks only for donations. If you're keen, check her website out. She's still on the move and may be coming your way.

Look, anyone who can get a peaceful, idealistic crowd from Boulder singing "We're Out for Blood!" at the top of their lungs has something going for her.

Second shout-out is an excellent book called Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. If you ever find yourself on the defensive end of this argument about whether media violence turns kids into murderers (as I have), this book is an invaluable resource. It's also very well-written and an excellent read.

The author, Gerard Jones, takes the seemingly obvious but daring route of asking "Why?" That is to say, if violent stories and images are so bad for kids (and adults), why are we so attracted to them? What is fantasy violence actually doing for our minds? Turns out there's a strong case to be made that it helps us control our tendencies for real-world violence... the opposite of the "it turns kids into killers" premise. Jones lays out his evidence very well, and the book is worth a read.

I haven't finished the book yet, but there's one study I'm reminded of that I think Jones probably doesn't mention, because it doesn't actually have to do with children. In one of these experiments where they taught sign language to chimps, there was an interesting side-effect that was unanticipated. When the chimps got mad, they developed this behavior of coming up to each other and making the sign for "bite" or "hit." So a mad chimp would come up to another chimp and basically say "Bite you! Bite you!" instead of actually doing it. If memory serves, this accompanied a reduction in actual fights between the chimps.

Fantasy violence working on the primate level. Maybe it even helped us survive.

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