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“Mean World” Syndrome

Posted by Jeff (ILoveCapitalism) at 2:27 pm - January 26, 2013.
Filed under: Pop Culture,Random Thoughts,Social Issues

I’ve forgotten where I stumbled across this term, Mean World Syndrome, although it was yesterday!

“Mean world syndrome” is a term coined by George Gerbner to describe a phenomenon whereby violence-related content of mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is…”You know, who tells the stories of a culture really governs human behaviour,” [Gerbner] said. “It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community. Now it’s a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell, but a great deal to sell.”…

…Individuals who watch television infrequently and adolescents who talk to their parents about reality are claimed to have a more accurate view of the real world than those who do not, and they may be able to more accurately assess their vulnerability to violence…

What do y’all think of this idea?

I have only a few scattered fragments of thought about it, so far. First, I’m suspicious of anything that smacks of Behaviorism. But I also notice that this idea isn’t the standard fare, that our violent media culture somehow programs us to do violent crime. It makes a different point: that our violent media culture (and I would count TV News shows, in that) has given us all a darker vision of the world, making most people a little more frightened and suspicious. True/untrue/?



  1. Recalling my own emotions I have consistently noticed that I am happier when I pay less attention to national and world news. My observations are by no means scientific, but intriguing none-the-less.

    When we are constantly subjected to the evil that actually, or supposedly exists in far away places, we neglect to see the good that is right in front of us.

    Comment by B. Long — January 26, 2013 @ 5:34 pm - January 26, 2013

  2. The TV is a little box that can put the focus on one evil deed and pump it into millions of living rooms. Thr news DOES offer a skewed version of reality.

    Comment by Paul — January 26, 2013 @ 5:36 pm - January 26, 2013

  3. Well, lets see, we have this idea that weather is becoming more extreme when the opposite is the case. We have the longest period since the mid 1860’s without a major hurricane making landfall and yet we inflate storms that aren’t even a Category 1 hurricane to “super storm” status.

    We are given the impression that gun violence is increasing when the opposite is the case. More people are killed by drivers high on pot in Colorado, for example, than are killed by a rifle. We currently have a violent crime rate we haven’t seen since the 1940’s and a murder rate of that of the mid 1960’s yet you would think we are becoming a more violent society.

    You would think that 2012 was the hottest year in recorded global temperature history when it wasn’t even in the top 10. You would think droughts are worsening around the globe when there is no trend either up or down in the past 60 years.

    The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. — H. L. Mencken


    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. — Voltaire

    Comment by crosspatch — January 26, 2013 @ 6:45 pm - January 26, 2013

  4. For the first time in five years or more, I went to a movie theater where I saw Lincoln. I sat through five or six coming attractions of just stupid, inane, special-effects-driven gratuitous violence and calamity that caused nearly everyone to giggle and snort. It was the 3pm show and the whole audience was grey heads.

    The point is that we are not the audience for that stuff in even the remotest of ways. But once you blow a guys stomach out in sl-o-o-o-o-w M-o-o-o-o-o-tion and have a panning shot close-up of what the guy ate for lunch, what are you going to do to up the visceral thrill and sensation for an encore?

    As I creaked around the lobby, I took stock of the obesity buffet, the video games, the model of the seat that rumbles and shakes, the huge graphics of horror to come and I wondered what might be happening at the young adults section at the library.

    TV, for the most part, is a wasteland of moral corruption. My wife loves HGTV. I look at dumb kids with way too much money carping about the counter tops in a kitchen of a house that is way too big for them and I realize that Madison Avenue has them by the short hairs.

    I root for the You Tube video of a texting person falling into the gutter.

    I don’t think I could be programmed to do violence. But I have certainly been programmed to stand by and watch.

    We do willingly pander our souls for the news that is ratings points based and a juicy Travon Martin MSM manipulated melodrama is as good as watching OJ’s Bronco cruise the freeway at under-the-speed-limit speeds for endless hours as television viewers rush to the freeway to way as the show passes by.

    Not long ago, I had Fox on and there was one of those asinine California car chases. Finally, the car left the highway and stopped. The guy got out and ran up into the scrub. Shepard Smith pontificated and preached through the whole thing. Then the guy shot himself in the head and Shepard went all virgin and screamed at the producers over one infraction in decorum after another. It was a simple, crumpled death that Hollywood would never, ever give into. No theatrics whatsoever. Very disappointing. Really, the guy wasted his life for nothing. No red carpet. No awards. No replays. Nothing.

    There was Old Shep, padding his wallet by doing a blow by blow as the audience waited for a wreck and then he went all pious and outraged when the poor soul took his own life. Ratings and feeding the beast. It was ever thus.

    Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
    Like a Colossus, and we petty men
    Walk under his huge legs and peep about
    To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
    Men at some time are masters of their fates:
    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

    Through moral relativism and situation ethics we have learned to “lawyer” our principles and sink deeper into the world of Ba’al as we proclaim our clever, self-directed, self-righteous invincibility.

    “I know not what course others may take” but I am too steeped in the wisdom of the ancients to chase the unicorns of dissolute pleasures of today. It was ever thus.

    Comment by heliotrope — January 26, 2013 @ 7:41 pm - January 26, 2013

  5. Both Ace of Spades recently, and Lee Habeeb back in November or so over National Review wrote about the fact that conservatives need to take over “the story.” Totally agree!!

    Comment by lee — January 26, 2013 @ 8:02 pm - January 26, 2013

  6. According to those subscribing to the “Mean World” theory, violence is sort of like a monster from “Godzilla” or “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Or at least a naturally-occurring phenomenon, like sunspots or El Nino. It stalks the earth, rapaciously preying on humanity. And it just sort of — well — happens, because the environmental conditions create it.

    The idea that it might actually be caused by individual people making the decision to become violent never occurs to them. Statists in general fear the individual, because millions of individuals cannot be rounded up, herded and controlled.

    This accounts for the statist urge to ban inanimate objects and obsess over private behavior. They have terrified themselves into insensibility, and the only stimuli they employ toward others (because it’s the only sort they themselves understand) are fear and force.

    If we live in a mean world, they are primarily the reason why.

    Comment by Lori Heine — January 26, 2013 @ 9:54 pm - January 26, 2013

  7. Gardner’s book The Science of Fear is excellent on this topic. We worry about the wrong things. Certain types of stories play better in national media, and those have changed our narrative.

    Comment by Assistant Village Idiot — January 26, 2013 @ 10:08 pm - January 26, 2013

  8. ILC, you heard my theory this afternoon, but I’ll repeat it for everyone here: the push by liberals to eliminate the capacity for everyone else to do violence is because of liberals’ own subconscious terror over their own drive to commit acts of violence.

    The liberal world is convinced that speaking out against homosexuality means you are yourself a closeted homosexual. In that case, liberals’ constant screaming about tax cheats, violence, bigotry, racism, and the like is an excellent indication that they are all of the above.

    And the facts certainly bear that out.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — January 27, 2013 @ 12:48 am - January 27, 2013

  9. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.

    Comment by rusty — January 27, 2013 @ 10:21 am - January 27, 2013

  10. It used to be the case that I saw folks who watched the local news suffer from the impression that downtown Portland was a shooting range, and was populated by hordes of child molesters. That, in spite of sex of fences being at historical lows. The same thing happened with meth coverage. People thought there was a sudden upsurge. Where were they in the 90s?

    Comment by Harry — January 27, 2013 @ 1:12 pm - January 27, 2013

  11. I would say that it depends on your POV. Statistics not withstanding, i.e. those of the FBI which show that violent crime is much lower, and the research from Pepperdine that Capital Punishment deters crime, I think we are more tolerant of violent crime. Rather we, as a society, have become insensitized because of overexposure to it. Sixty five years ago television was in its infancy. Few people had sets, and programs were in black and white. Radio was the principal form of entertainment. We heard the news but didn´t see it. Newsclips were shown in theatres between double features. Listening to programs like Gangbusters, you heard gunshots and heard the victim sigh. ¨B¨ movies that featured a list of Private Eyes, like The Falcon, The Shadow, Boston Blackie, Charlie Chan and from the comic strips, Dick Tracy (I have a few of these videos) we saw the criminal shoot or the shadow of the criminal with a knife in his or her hand and plunging it into the victim´s back. But there was practically no blood. Now we are treated to a geyser of blood spurting up and painting the walls in living color, sometimes decapitated or the body cut into parts. This is both in the movies and on tv. Beginning with the War in Viet Nam, war correspondents were accompanied by cameramen showing us the victims, civilian and enemy, but we saw little of the enemy´s crimes. Then we have video games, which were harmless in the beginning but have become increasingly violent over the years. It has been said that a child of seven is exposed to hundreds of hours of violence. Given this information, how can we expect this generation to feel revulsion over a simple violent crime? I remember Oscar Night in the mid-50´s, hosted by the late Bob Hope, who said in his monologue about the decline of theatre attendance, ¨we´ll get ém back with more blood and violence.¨

    It is said by historians that the blood of martyrs were seeds of growth of Christianity. In the beginning of the persecutions it was entertainment since many were foreigners in Rome and in the provinces. By the forth century it was no longer entertainment but pity, sadness, and even outrage because the victims weren´t strangers but friends and neighbors who were willing to die for the faith. Their senses were awakened. We should not have to wait for tragedies like, Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown to have our sense awakened. We should be outraged at violent crime, no matter how small or big. Society is more dangerous when you factor in that our governments have done away with many mental hospitals for the ¨quick fix;¨ that as long as he or she takes their meds they will be fine. But they don´t take their meds. Often there are unintended side effects and the family is not always the best monitor for the mentally ill family member. Don´t take away the guns. Build more mental hspitals and have qualified trained nurses and doctors to treat these people.

    Mister Attorney General, instead of sending weapons across the border, a la Fast and Furious, at a cost to the taxpayer. Use the money for mental health

    Comment by Roberto — January 27, 2013 @ 2:23 pm - January 27, 2013

  12. Roberto, one would think that all the exposure to gore would be desensitising, but somehow that just hasn’t translated into more or worse crime. It seems counterintuitive, eh? There are a few theories why not. Most of those theories don’t make it to the liberal press because they don’t fit the narrative. The most frequent discussions of why not tend to be over at Steve Sailer’s site. Give him a look.

    Comment by Assistant Village Idiot — January 27, 2013 @ 4:51 pm - January 27, 2013

  13. AVI,

    thanks for the heads up on Steve Sailer´s site. However, with all due respect, I believe today´s society is desensitized, in comparison to fifty or sixty years ago. Maybe you aren´t old enough to remember, but I am. I remember when a homicide was upsetting to people in a community. I remember a diner being held up and patrons robbed as well as the establishment. The initial reaction was, is it safe to eat there again. Presently I live in El Salvador, and it is a big deal that there are only five homicides a day, compared to last year when there were 14. People walk by a dead body as though it were garbage.

    Comment by Roberto — January 27, 2013 @ 6:31 pm - January 27, 2013

  14. I don’t believe that the media makes people more likely to be violent.

    I do think it may do two things-

    First I think it may make us think the world is far more dangerous than it is-for instance I bet most parents think their children are at serious risk of kidnappin by a stranger-although the stats indicate this is very rare. Most kidnappings of children are by other family members (think divorce disputes etc). But parents keep their kids inside the house, and hover all over them outside because they have an irational fear that some kidnapper is going to grab their kid off the street and rape and murder them. I think the media, which always loves a good story is part of this problem. Pretty white girl syndrome IMO is pretty real.

    Second, I think to some degree it desensitizes people to tragedy. Sure we have tons of empathy for the big things-but in general people don’t seem to be all that offended when it comes to run of the mill crimes or even a run of the mill shooting. Chicago has the most gun deaths of any city in the nation, but nobody in Birmingham really cares. Shoot I am not even convinced the liberals in DC who want to restrict access to guns care about the murder rate in Chicago.

    Comment by Just Me — January 27, 2013 @ 7:37 pm - January 27, 2013

  15. Nice observations from everyone, thanks!

    Again, “Mean World Syndrome” does not refer to the media having de-sensitized us to violence or having caused us to be violent, but rather, to having made us over-estimate the amount of violence that is really out there.

    I am happier when I pay less attention to national and world news

    Same here!

    NDT – I agree; I’ve noticed that lefties project alot. They see racism, sexism, classism, violent tendencies, and homophobia everywhere because they themselves harbor those things in their hearts.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — January 28, 2013 @ 1:38 pm - January 28, 2013

  16. 8.ILC, you heard my theory this afternoon, but I’ll repeat it for everyone here: the push by liberals to eliminate the capacity for everyone else to do violence is because of liberals’ own subconscious terror over their own drive to commit acts of violence.

    *sniff* Am I off the mailing list now? 😛

    Comment by The_Livewire — January 29, 2013 @ 7:52 am - January 29, 2013

  17. NDT

    Not only charlie Rangel, the best of them all, Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner. Didn´t Clair Macaskill owe back taxes? Now a nominee for an ambassadorship owes over a million. Then of course the founder of Media Matters, has had mental problems, but possesses an illegal firearm. so many ways to descibe the mean vocal left, hypocrites, prevarictors, whited sepulchres, and as Shakespear saith: Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. It´s a shame they don´t read the Bible, where the Master Teacher, Jesus said, ¨Why do you see the speckthat is in your brother´s eye, when there is a log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ´Let me take the speck out of your eye,¨when there is a log in your own eye? YOu hypocrite,, take the log out of your own eye. . ¨ It seems like good advice if they would take then maybe we would have civility. Notice, after every tragedy, Obama urges civility in our public discourse. He never chides Democrats for their mean discourse! I guess that makes him Hypocrite in Charge.

    Comment by Roberto — January 29, 2013 @ 1:11 pm - January 29, 2013

  18. *sniff* Am I off the mailing list now?

    Comment by The_Livewire — January 29, 2013 @ 7:52 am – January 29, 2013

    Proximity, Livewire. 🙂 We had a confab on Saturday called and led by the Golden State Golda Meir, our commenter Leah.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — January 29, 2013 @ 4:07 pm - January 29, 2013

  19. See, this is why y’all need to move to Ohio.

    1) Make this purple state a little bit redder.
    2) Let California burn
    3) Closer to me.


    Comment by The_Livewire — January 30, 2013 @ 7:44 am - January 30, 2013

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