Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
In the wake of the latest school shooting, people are once again arguing about whether works of art can be blamed for inspiring violence. A lot of people scoff at the question. It seems crazy to them to blame artists for the bad things that people do. This is especially true of the left-leaning portion of the populace, which tends to get all bent out of shape whenever the arts are impugned, probably because the arts are their domain, their bread and butter, etc. CNN even ran an article citing a psychologist who insists that violent video games have nothing to do with real-word violence. “No evidence,” he says. I guess Adam Lanza’s being a video game junky who owned scads of violent video games doesn’t count as evidence, even of the circumstantial kind. What, I wonder, would count as evidence? Probably nothing short of Lanza’s explicitly stating in a note that he intended to mimic a game he was fond of playing. But I bet even then we’d have naysayers — people who’d claim we were jumping to conclusions, blaming the innocent creatives, etc.
That CNN article strikes me as bullshit. But then I tend to disregard everything psychologists say, especially when they look as smug and as self-satisfied as the guy in the photo accompanying the piece. It doesn’t help that in making his case he cites some “older” guys who’ve recently killed people, as though these fairly routine murders compare to Lanza’s “Doom”-like crawl through the halls of a grade school while picking off children. And besides, if one of these “routine” murderers were found to have tons of violent paintings hanging on the walls of his home, wouldn’t you start to wonder about the connections between his deeds and his art consumption? I know I would.
Anyway, I tend to like a lot of violent entertainments, and I’m a pretty big believer in freedom of expression. I also tend to think that a guy who goes on a shooting rampage is probably pretty messed up en la cabeza, regardless of the kind of art he’s consuming. So I’m not unsympathetic to the attitudes behind the “art doesn’t cause violence” argument. And I for sure don’t want to ban or regulate anything.
Still, I often wonder if it’s not counterintuitive for creative types and their supporters to argue that art has no effect on behavior, states of mind, culture, etc. These folks seem to be arguing for an art that has no cultural impact, leaves no footprint, and has no ability to influence the hearts and minds of its consumers. And that’s an attitude that stands in stark contrast to the sort of kumbaya crapola that gets forced down our throats whenever there’s talk about the influence of rock music on the ’60s, or someone proposes that art classes be dropped from high school curricula. On these occasions we’re told that art is a primary driver of culture and society, that it can influence people to do the right kinds of things, that it can cause flowers to spontaneously sprout from dung heaps, and so on.
Is it fair to ask our cultural overlords for a little consistency? Because I want to know: Does art affect behavior or doesn’t it? And I’m not buying that it only affects behavior in ways that are positive, because that’s just plain stupid.