It’s all about control
OK, so this discussion is going to go in an odd direction before it gets steered toward its point. Bear with me, alright?
CNN recently conjured up a story based on a 4 year old computer game about raping women. The game, Rapelay, is old news; so is its controversy. I do not have to explain the game play or specific details about the game. I will actually spare myself from trying the game myself. Anyway, someone at CNN dug up this game and wanted to spark a discussion about how Japan needs to control its game designers. Some were displeased due to the negativistic attitude for Japan, and some were displeased because this sounds like censorship.
Nogami Takeshi, a manga creator, decided to respond to CNN with an open letter. The highlight of the letter, for reporters in the blogosphere as well as myself, were these statements:
Those products are developed for rational adults. You surely don’t believe that a rational adult would be influenced by such a game into committing rape, do you?
I assume that you are capable of distinguishing fiction from reality like we do. Are you not?
Those are very salient statements, compelling the reader to rationalize and say, “Well, I doubt I would be compelled to perform heinous acts after playing a game. I suppose the man has a point.” Heck, I was convinced for a while.
Then it dawned on me that he is wrong. He may not be wrong for the Japanese culture, about which I can say only a little as a non-citizen, but he is wrong about American culture. It pains me to say this because I loathe the studies about the negative influence the media has, but from the American perspective a game like that should be able to compel the average person into performing heinous acts. The media is supposed to influence the public.
I sound like a paranoid theorist whenever I discuss social control with people, especially when I am unable to discern its source. However, the most basic example to cite is in the advertising of trends, which comes in waves. There are things that the masses are simply supposed to like and will like, and the media is there to constantly deliver the content and tell you to like it. That is basic social control. The media is influencing it. It tells you what music is good. It tells you the most popular movies. It tells you that you are an outsider if you do not participate. (In a sad reversal, you are still being controlled if you make it a point to avoid them because you are told to do so, and you are still under their thumb if you are the type who strongly advertises that you are standing on the outside. Honest apathy is the sign of someone existing beyond the influence.) But like I said, that is social control at its most basic.
It gets more complicated when you discuss politics and the obvious party lines of the media conglomerates. The reporting is thus made poor because it shows bias in either direction, but the overall debate between both parties is healthy and keeps the citizens within boundaries. What boundaries? Two parties, two extremes on the political spectrum, set core beliefs, and a rejection of new notions.
No culture is without indoctrination for its citizens, but there is certainly a reliance on the media influence in America. When people are taught to be Americans by the TV they watch the websites they read, I can no longer be upset that a researcher thinks Mortal Kombat might put it in my mind to harpoon someone and uppercut him off a bridge. Of course I will not do it, though. I am rational enough to differentiate the fiction of the game from reality. Other people might not be able to do so. Not to mention the fact that the media is making it confusing: Reality television is rarely real these days, and biased news outlets should make one question if the news is true or false based on the angle taken. How are we to know anything?
I guess I will have to stay tuned until they tell me.