Tag Archives: violence

The Slender Man, Fakelore, and Moral Panic

I recently wrote a guest post for the Wild Hunt, looking at the reporting on a horrific teen crime in Wisconsin and its supposed connections to a fictional Internet figure known as Slender Man. Click in through to see the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

Such approaches to the attack suggest that the Internet in general, and the Slender Man story in particular, are to blame. Put another way, they imply that without Creepypasta’s wiki, the girls never would have stabbed their classmate. Even the mainstream press has done everything it can to connect the Milwaukee stabbing with the Slender Man story in readers’ minds: most are referring to it as the “Slenderman stabbing” now. In other places, headlines have made clear what they want readers to think: “Fantasy ‘Slender Man’ Meme Inspires Horrific Wisconsin Stabbing,” “Demonic Creature ‘Slender Man’ Motive For Waukesha Teen Stabbing?” “Could a fictional Internet character drive kids to kill?”

“This guy got really mad, and he didn’t know how to control himself. People think I helped him.” “Did you?”

Kat Chandler’s short film, “Black Metal,” is getting its big break at the Sundance Film Festival this month. In just a few minutes, the film explores a gruesome murder loosely tied to the music of a heavy-metal band. Only this time, it looks at the situation from the perspective of the musician whose work is linked to the killing. It’s a sensitive, emotional take on the topic, and doesn’t answer very many questions, leaving the viewer to reflect on whether this common scapegoat is really part of the problem.

Given my perspective on the topic, I have mixed feelings about Chandler’s film. On the one hand, I like the suggestion that this musician is baffled and upset by the blame, and the fact that the film mostly makes that blame appear misplaced. I also like the fact that it doesn’t overtly preach an answer; being too heavy-handed would be less effective. But I wonder whether this film is going to change the mind of someone who is already convinced that extreme music directly encourages its listeners to commit violence. I hope so, but part of me doubts it.

Corey Mitchell, a true-crime writer and metalhead who consulted on the film, said this on Invisible Oranges:

Just to be clear, I would not have taken the gig if Kat’s intention was to declare metal responsible for violent crimes.

What do you think the film says? And what do you think of the way in which it says it?

Chantel Garrett’s “Three Steps to Fix Our Mental Health System and Prevent Violence”

Brain images from people with schizophrenia. Photo by Flickr user http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

In the month since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary (which as far as we know, was not committed by someone with mental illness), I’ve been encouraged by how much of the conversation has been framed around mental health and the lack of services for those who need them. We saw that front-and-center with Liza Long’s powerful “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” post. We’ve seen it elsewhere, too. I want to call attention another such story today, because it makes great points about what’s missing and what society needs to do — not only to curb mass shootings, but also to help the many, many nonviolent people who struggle with mental illness daily but can’t get the help they need because it doesn’t exist or isn’t available to them.

Chantel Garrett wrote this piece about her brother, Max, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. In her article, she doesn’t just talk about how difficult it is for Max to stay afloat. She also offers concrete steps for repairing the system so that Max and others like him might hope for functional, fulfilling lives.

Mostly, I want to let Garrett do the talking here, because she does it well:

2) Change the law to more easily help an adult loved one get involuntary care when they desperately need it – before anyone gets hurt.

We must begin to fill the gaps in the mental health care system that could have potentially helped to prevent recent massacres at the hands of people in need of psychiatric intervention. Studies show that early intervention greatly improves the prospect for recovery. In my own experience with my brother, a first dose of anti-psychotics during a psychotic episode palpably reduces paranoia and hallucinations.

A few years ago, Max went off his medication, barricading himself in his apartment and warning his family to stay away. In an extremely psychotic state, he plastered the Web with terrifying words and images, predominantly aimed at the people who love him most. While punishing to read, as the time and severity of his symptoms wore on, his posts became our only proof that he was still alive – our only hope that he could still get help.

For two months, my parents and I campaigned the local police to knock down his door and get him to a hospital. My dad became a fixture at the police station. We sent the police chief Max’s blog and threatening emails. We explained his diagnosis, his years of involuntary hospital commitments and dire need for care before he did more permanent damage to his brain. His neighbors also called the police to complain. The police went to his house multiple times but said they didn’t have cause to forcefully enter. Their response was always the same. “We understand that he’s very sick, but what has he done? Call us when he’s done something and we’ll pick him up.”

Males with schizophrenia most often become symptomatic in their late teens to early 20s. From a legal standpoint, parents hands are often tied trying to get help for their sick child who is of legal age, with the current standard of “danger to oneself or others” far too hazardous.

The “dangerous” bar is too high to get someone with acute psychotic symptoms care when they need it most – and when they are the largest threat to themselves and, potentially, their family and community. Why should it not instead be a standard of gravely disabled – unable to care for oneself or for others? Surely, if the police could have somehow glimpsed at him and his apartment, they would have immediately seen that he was unable to care for himself.

We need to change the law, and create a mental health workforce working alongside officers and families to provide more proactive, onsite assessment of people who are credibly unable to care for themselves – before it gets to the point of “dangerous.”

Do you know someone who’s mentally ill and prone to violence when they’re in their darkest periods? If so, what do you think would help them the most?

Spector: “stop loving the ultra-violence” in games

Are video games “too violent?” Or are violence critics forgetting who we are?

Another E3 has come and gone, giving the gaming press a taste of video games to come. Since then, a number of folks have come come out against the violence in the next wave of games, claiming it’s just too much.

One of those critics is game designer Warren Spector, who left Eidos in 2004 after being disturbed by some of the plans for Hitman. He also drew a line between the violence in games he’s worked on, such as Deus Ex, and the video games he saw at this year’s E3. Here’s what he said:

“The ultra-violence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. I just don’t believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it’s in bad taste.”

Spector says the violence in Deus Ex was meant to disturb the player, rather than pleasure them. “The carnage induced on in-game beings disappearing along with the body, erases the aftermath of said carnage from the gamer’s thoughts,” he said.

Everyone has the right to judge for him- or herself how much violence in a game is “too much.” Spector’s tolerances are obviously different than others, and that’s fine. The problem comes when he attempts to tell the rest of the industry what it should produce, and when he tells gamers what they should like. I find the phrase, “We have to stop loving [ultra-violence]” really disturbing. It’s like telling people they should stop loving bacon, or beer, or babies.

Human beings were once relatively wild. We still have that animal side in us. Aggression is part of who we are. Games don’t make us aggressive. Being human makes us aggressive. And we all let it out in different ways: going on long runs, playing hockey, starting bar fights, kneading bread, trolling on the Internet, or playing violent video games are some examples. Anyone who forgets why people (including kids) might enjoy violent games can be reminded by reading Gerard Jones’ Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. Children aren’t the only ones who need it. Adults need it, too. We don’t need to stop “loving it.”

Look at the comments on the Spector article. Gamers know their limits, and if something’s too violent, they won’t play it. This is true of kids, too. We can trust them. Taking away games or reducing the violence in order to protect the tiny minority of mentally unbalanced people who might claim video-game violence as a jumping-off point for real-life acts would likely make the rest of society more violent — an outcome none of us wants.

Are video games becoming more violent? They’re certainly becoming more realistic — and that can heighten the sense that they’re more gory and brutal as well. Why would gamers want this? Even through violent crime is dropping, the existing violent crime is getting more airtime, and in some cases, it’s just getting weirder. We need ways to process what’s going on. And video games are one of the safest ways going.

Goth, metalhead beaten in separate UK attacks

Ben Moores, left, and Gena Willenberg, right, were recently beaten in separate incidents in the UK — because of how they look.

When emo and heavy metal fans are stoned to death in Iraq, it’s easier to dismiss it as something that happens “over there.”

But in recent weeks, two people have been brutally attacked in separate incidents in the UK, revealing that violent mob behavior is still happening right here.

Gena Willenberg, an American expat, was surrounded by a gang of teenagers in Edinburgh, Scotland, in late March. First came the verbal abuse: “They started shouting at me and my friend that we were f****** goths and they were going to kick our f****** heads in,” she said.

Then the physical assault began.

“We turned our back and just kept going and that was when they attacked me. One of them tried to smash a bottle over the back of my head, but fortunately it didn’t break. Then they started punching and kicking me.

“I fell to the ground and they just kept on kicking me. My friend tried to stop them from stamping on me and they attacked her, too.

“There was one girl in the group and she pulled my hair back so one of her friends could kick me in the face.”

Goths have not fared well in recent years in the UK, with attacks on Melody McDermott and Sophie Lancaster, the latter of whom died of her injuries.

Not far from where Lancaster was attacked in a Bacup, England, park, metalhead Ben Moores was recently beaten in a similar incident. The 16-year-old was was called “mosher” and “freak” as he was punched and kicked to the ground by up to 15 people behind a Co-op supermarket in Waterfoot, 2 miles from Bacup.

Moores recalls:

Clumps of his hair were pulled out and his head and wrists were stamped on. He suffered bruising to his head and body but escaped serious injury.

“When they got me on the floor I thought I was going to die. There was no stopping them – they wouldn’t let me up. I had blood all over my face by the end. When I was getting kicked and stamped in my head and on my wrists and my hair was being pulled out, there was nothing I could do. Thinking about it now makes me shiver in shock. They were only doing it because of the way I look and because I’ve got long hair and like heavy metal music.”

Seven of his attackers are currently in jail.

There are some ways to fight this. If you see a group going after an individual for the way they dress, it might not be best to get involved — but calling the police is a good idea. Walking a goth or metalhead friend home can help keep attackers at bay.

On a more meta level, you can support the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which has a number of campaigns working to end discrimination and violence against subcultures in the UK.

Study: it’s probably not the violent video games making your kid aggressive

A new Swedish study finds no reason to blame video games for kids’ anger and aggression. Photo by Flickr user mdanys.

Those Swedes sure do things differently, what with the neutrality and the guaranteed school placement for young kids and the crappy science top-ranked science programs.

Maybe that explains how they looked at the same research that led American scientists to believe video games are harmful to kids, and come out with the completely opposite conclusion.

Here’s what happened: the Swedish Media Council looked at more than 100 studies of kids, violent video games, and aggression published between 2000 and 2011. At first blush, their findings look the same: they found a statistically significant link between violent gaming and aggressive behavior.

However, they don’t think the games have anything to do with the behavior:

Many of the studies use different methods to measure aggression, many of which lack a clear connection to violent behaviour.

In addition, a great deal of the research exploring causal links between violent computer games and aggressive behaviour “suffer from serious methodological deficiencies” and don’t provide sufficient evidence to establish a causal relationship.

The few studies that have attempted to examine other causes of aggression found that factors, such as poor physical health or family problems, can explain both violent behaviour and a propensity to play violent computer games.

(Emphasis mine.)

According to a statement from the council, “there is no evidence that violent computer games cause aggressive behaviour … If research can’t provide any simple answers about how games make children aggressive, perhaps we adults should stop judging the games children play based on whether they are violent or not.”

Those wacky Swedes. Who’s going to believe that, right?

I’d love to do a more detailed analysis of the study (PDF) and its methodology, but unfortunately, I don’t speak Swedish. And, admittedly, I am skeptical of studies-of-other-studies because I feel as though they can replicate the same biases of the original studies. In this case, that doesn’t seem to have happened.

So, who is the Swedish Media Council, then? In America, a group like that would be an independent firm, maybe something like Common Sense Media (which, by the way, has come out against violent video games for kids.) “The Swedish Media Council is a center for information on children and young people’s use of media such as the Internet, computer games, film, and TV. The Media Council is part of the Swedish Government’s Ministry of Culture and located in Stockholm.”

So they’re a government-funded agency. And they’re saying violent video games don’t hurt kids. And the folks saying this come from a country that puts some of the biggest emphasis on science, research, and innovation in the world.

I dunno. Should we believe them?

If you dress goth, are you asking for trouble?

Melody McDermott was brutally attacked on a tram in Manchester because she is a goth. She’s now recovering from a broken eye socket.

Four years ago, 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster was walking through a Lancashire park at night with her boyfriend when they were beset upon by a group of teenage boys. The teens assaulted Robert Maltby first, then turned on Sophie when she tried to protect him. Robert recovered, but Sophie died of her injuries.

This was no isolated incident. Goths throughout the UK and America face bullying and assault on a regular basis, mostly because of their appearance. In greater Manchester, it happened again last month.

Melody McDermott was riding a tram with a male friend on Oct. 5 when a group of males began shouting at her. Without warning, they pushed her to the ground and one or more began stomping on her face. She was left with a broken eye socket, but is recovering. Her friend suffered a black eye.

After Lancaster’s death, many in the goth community rallied in favor of calling such attacks hate crimes — until then, a “hate crime” only included an attack based on race or sexual orientation. According to Wikipedia, In May 2009 the Justice Minister Jack Straw said while he could not change the law, he could amend the sentencing guidelines to require judges to treat an attack on a member of a subculture as an aggravating factor.

Although the Columbine High School shootings mistakenly convinced many that goths are aggressive, most are actually so pacifistic that they will not fight back when assaulted. Their combination of unusual appearance and unwillingness to hurt people unfortunately makes them vulnerable.

Since the attack on Melody, goths from all over the world have come forward to talk about members of the subculture as recurring targets for violence. “When is this hate and bullying going to end?” asked one woman. “My 9 year old gets picked on just ’cause she had brain cancer and me and her dad are goth.”

“This shows how important it is to class sub-culture to the list of hate crimes,” said another. “If they had beaten her for being gay/black/muslim they would get jail time for sure, but because she’s just a girl in black clothing, they will get off with a fine/community service. I am so sick of this.”

Unfortunately, such attacks leave others frightened: “Every time there’s a hate crime, I’m a bit more scared to go out. It’s shocking just how far some people will go. I’m scared to walk alone and I’m 20.”

But others championed Melody and wished her strength: “I hope Melody comes through this even stronger than before, and that she realises that they only hate because they don’t have the guts to express themselves like she has.”

What’s the solution here? Can we teach people not to bully and assault others just because they’re different? Should goths “tone it down” to make themselves less vulnerable?