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April 22, 2012


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My family lived in Europe for a number of years and, at the risk of overgeneralizing, Europeans share exactly the opposite sentiment. There, sexuality (at least tender, loving and consensual sex between adults) and the human body are considered to be very tame material on the screen; after all, these are aspects of a healthy, normal existence for any person. Accordingly, the Europeans say, there can be little harm in exposing children to these things. Violence, on the other hand, is something we all hope to avoid in real life, and the last thing in the world we want our children to think of as part of a healthy, normal existence. But we, in the U.S., think nothing of letting our children watch people fight, and even shoot each other, on police shows or Westerns. And we blanch at a bared breast. It is, for me, a fascinating contrast in cultural values, and I have found it difficult to explain or defend the American view.


Yes, and because of their "liberal" views, Europeans are known the world over for refraining from wanton cruelty and violence.
After all, it's been at least fifty years since the whole Continent participated in shoveling their Jews into the Nazi ovens.
Bosnia? Oh, that again was just ethnic hatred/cleansing. No problem there. That's par for the course in Europe.
They love the right things on the screen!It makes them so peaceful!
Violence in Greece? Oh, that's perfectly justified!
And on and on.
Peaceful people, all.
Europe is so much BETTER than the US, is it not?


Anon- please try to keep your eye on the target. Dtp's point is useful in reminding us that this view isn't universal or "natural" in some way. So, we can't appeal to the current practice as being "obvious". Since the practice relating to film and TV watching discussed by dtp is pretty much left to post WWII Western Europe we can leave your (exaggerated) bits about the holocaust and the Balkans aside. But beyond that, you've not given us any reason to think the current practice in the US is good, while the justification given by dtp above at least seems plausible. When you stop using ALL CAPS! and getting offended by comparisons with Europe, is there anything that you think could be said in favor of the current US practice? I'd be interested to see someone try to formulate a good argument, so why not try to do that?


For Matt, the Holocaust and Balkans are "exaggerated bits" to be "left aside" ... I feel differently.
Matt asks me to formulate a good argument? Hmmmm....
Ok. I'll take the challenge.
First, the entire comment by dtp was riddled with an unfounded value judgment, bascially claiming that dtp would have a hard time defending American "cultural values" to a European.
DTP stated:
"[W]e, in the U.S., think nothing of letting our children watch people fight, and even shoot each other, on police shows or Westerns. And we blanch at a bared breast. It is, for me, a fascinating contrast in cultural values and I have found it difficult to explain or defend the American view."
DTP puts the "cultural values" in Europe in issue, and ranks those values as "better" than those in the US. ALthough you dismiss crimes recognized in the World court and by every fair minded person as "exaggerated bits" not many others feel that way about the Holocaust and the Balkans. Sorry, but dismissing the regular rampant outbreaks of ethnic violence in Europe (which are some evidence of its "cultural values) is sort of risible. If they don't watch it on tv, they are none the less violent as a result.
As to "defending" US entertainment, I would say a very few things.
First, our movies are very violent, and very popular in Europe. There is really no material difference in their taste for it, so dtp's point is what? THat they allow more "bare breasts" on tv and have fewer "Western shows." Who is living in the past here?
Here in the US, on broadcast tv, certain "standards and practices" that were put in place to "protect the children" from BOTH violance and explicit sexual content and language have been in effect since the 1950's, but are always evolving and eroding. Much more now is permitted with regard to sexual content on broadcast tv, if that is what you are measuring "cultural values" by.
On cable, anything goes. The argument in defense? THE FIRST AMENDMENT.
As for your complaint about using one instance of all caps, I would simply say that I haven't figured out how to do italics or underling on a blog.
Perhaps, Matt, you can enlighten me!


I would add that measuring the rate of murders is a bogus comparison of rates of violence.
State-sanctioned violence (as in mass murder in the Balkans to achieve ethnic cleansing) and inter-racial/ethnic violence (see, e.g., France and Germany) are far better measures, in my view, of "cultural values"
The US has had serious problem with the murder rate, about that there is no doubt. But the nature of that problem is beyond the scope of this discussion about relative wide-spread and commonly held "cultural values" reflected in entertainment choices/regulation.


Anon, you say, "For Matt, the Holocaust and Balkans are "exaggerated bits" to be "left aside""

That would be an odd thing to say in many contexts, but in this one it's not. Why not? Because the sort of situation we're talking about (both in Europe and the US) all took place well after WWII, so it's best to focus on things that happened after that period. That rules out the Holocaust. I hope we can agree that European regulation of what's shown on TV or not had no significant impact on the holocaust. Secondly, we're focusing on Western Europe here. The Balkans had quite a different situation, under the Tito dictatorship, so it's not really relevant to compare them to Western Europe in this situation, either- the regulatory schemes were completely different. Even if we leave aside the difficult issues of causation in this area (as if that were a small thing!) We'd still need to know why events that took place before the regulations in question were relevant to understanding how different regulations impact behavior, or why regulations outside the relevant area should be considered. I don't see that you've done anything to address that.

(The "exaggerated bits" comment was in relation to your remark that the "whole Continent participated in shoveling their Jews into the Nazi ovens". I assume you'll agree that that's not true if taken literally, and so is clearly an exaggeration. Since it's also not relevant to the issue at hand, I didn't want to spell it out before.)

Emphasis is fine in places, of course, but ALL CAPS! seems more than a bit like shouting, especially when done like in your 3rd to last line. Why would that bit need emphasis? It's not a relevant argument here, of course- we're talking about what should be the case, and current 1st amendment doctrine is largely irrelevant to that- but if you do need to emphasize something, and don't mean to resort to argument by table-pounding, you might try _something like this_. It works pretty well.


_The first amendment_ is what "should be the case" , in my view. That is a "cultural value" that cannot be ignored. (The original post did little to prove it is being ignored, becuase a comment at oral argument about the FCC is too flimsy a basis to so conclude.)
What we are really debating here is taste in entertainment, as the market regulates content more than the FCC.
In this context, the real context that Matt keeps ignoring, dpt addressed "relative cultural values" as expressed by preferences and tolerences in Europe.
As for "leaving aside" so much of that reality - in Europe, post WWII! - I'll simply say that I won't agree to do so. There is too much information _now_ or in the _recent past - by which to measure "cultural values" in Europe. If those values are claimed (by inference) to be superior, let's examine that claim.
I would have a hard time explaining some of the cultural values in Europe, too. Apparently, we are asked to "leave them aside" when responding to a post that compared those values to those in the US ...
No, thanks.


Well, anon, I guess I'm glad to let an argument with the quality of the one you've made speak for itself. There's no arguing with it, after all.


Very well said, Matt. I take your last comment very seriously, just as I did your characterization of the "bits" of history to which I referred.
As you say, who could argue with that?
But, most importantly, you taught me how to avoid ALL CAPS!!!
THank you!

Malcolm Boura

Also relevant to this discussion are the consequences of the attitudes encouraged. It is not coincidence that the USA has ten times the teenage pregnancy rate of Denmark , one of the most body-accepting western countries. That pattern repeats across all the body-knowledge and body-shame relate indicators, everything from breast feeding and abortion to eating disorders. More hung up about the body, worse outcomes, often enormously so. The correlations are near perfect, the mechanisms well understood and the effects enormous but still the prejudice continues.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

I doubt "abortion" has anything to do with "body-acceptance."


My 17-year-old son has recently started watching Deadwood on HBOGo. I made sure to warn him that there's a lot of gambling depicted in that show. ;-)


Malcolm: I agree that the US has a fixation on body shame: it is called the obesity panic.
Medical science, unable to cure the most prevalent diseases - heart, cancer, diabetes - places blame on the hapless public. Doctors smugly assure the public that all human illness is caused by a lack of exercise and will power to lose weight.
Thankfully, this prevailing meme wasn't around when polio, tb and other deadly diseases were cured. Otherwise, big pharma would have had a lifetime regimen of pills for these conditions and doctors would have simply told people to lose weight and exercise to avoid these conditions.
As the obesity hysteria in the media increases, so too do the rates of obesity. What does this tell us? Perhaps that media obsessions don’t necessarily govern human behavior.
And, what is the connection to this thread? The original post suggested that there is greater tolerance for violance in entertainment than sexual content. The first comment suggested the Europeans are ever so much more evolved in this regard.
Are these points somehow proved by the teen pregnancy rate in Belgium? If all you have to do is compare an industrial society like America with a country basically the size of a US county to prove a point, any point could be proved.
This thread was about a tolerating violence in US entertainment, but frowning on human sexuality and "bad words."
I don't think that point was supported by the original post and I don't think teen pregnancy rates in Belgium can tell us much in this regard either.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Re: "Medical science, unable to cure the most prevalent diseases - heart, cancer, diabetes - places blame on the hapless public. Doctors smugly assure the public that all human illness is caused by a lack of exercise and will power to lose weight."

This is way-over-top and mistaken on many counts. First of all, the field of preventative medicine is right to insist on behavioral and lifestyle variables as important causal factors in the prevention of many forms of illness, as necessary yet not sufficient conditions in most cases.

Type II diabetes, for example, can be overcome by losing weight, changing one's diet, and exercise, and these are in often under the voluntary control of the individual, and yes, it thus often involves questions of proper motivation, requisite willpower and self-discipline, as many of the finer thing in life in fact do. Now while it is true that contemporary medicine often doesn't take sufficient account of the socio-economic variables in preventive medicine and health care in general, there's no reason why these can't be taken on board and to some extent increasingly are....* How this plays out is well captured here:

'[A] policy in which individuals are made to shoulder the burden caused by adverse consequences of choices they have made must make "the punishment fit the crime." The burden re-imposed on the risk-taker should be proportional to the burden imposed by the risk taking. But there is no metric to permit this. One problem is that similar behavior in different people, and in different circumstances, represents quite different levels of risk (Japanese men, for example, are less likely to contract lung cancer from smoking than American men). Moreover, some habits which are unhealthy, even lethal for some are actually health-giving to others; alcohol is the outstanding example. And some habits, because they are taxed, may present a net economic gain to their societies. [....] In this light, proposals to attach importance in health policy to imprudent health-related behavior involve a great deal of hand-waving. A sense of proportion is elusive.

[T]he fostering of a sense of personal responsibility for health can be part of a programmes of "positive freedom" or "empowerment," a realization that actions taken can have a marked and positive impact on one's health, with radiating good effects on other dimensions of life and on other people. There is a risk, in stressing what the individual can do to stay healthy, that an individual's actual power will be exaggerated, and consequently that people can come to blame themselves, wrongfully, when they fall ill. But there is nothing inherent in the prospect of health promotion that necessitates this double message, and there is no reason to hold back from development of techniques of education and motivation which enable those who would favour the tradeoffs required to avoid illness and injury to do so efficiently and confidently. Neither self-blame nor that of others need figure in personal responsibility for health thus conceived.'---Daniel Wikler

Obesity, especially morbid obesity, _is_ a problem in affluent countries, especially in the United States: it's not sufficiently explained through the lens of obsession with "body image."

Generalizations like "Doctors smugly assure the public that all human illness is caused by a lack of exercise and will power to lose weight" are far off the mark and not fair to the profession. Doctors often witness in the most intimate fashion how their recommendations with regard, say, to diet and exercise, can have striking beneficial effects for their patients; so too they see the converse. Let's concede that many people are in fact weak-will, lazy, slothful, indulge in bad habits like smoking or excessive drinking, and so forth and so on. Individuals tend to be myopic and self-deceptive if not in states of denial when it comes to thinking through the consequences of their behavior over time.


Patrick S. O'Donnell

erratum: (last para.) " fact weak-willed,..."


Wow ... sticking to the point of this thread, how is the brow-beating of the "obese" in the media that is reflected by your "over the top" assertions working out? ("Let's concede that many people are in fact weak-willed, lazy, slothful, indulge in bad habits like smoking or excessive drinking, and so forth and so on." Geesh ... you must be a great dad or mom.)
You sound like a very intolerant person, who fails to understand that not all human traits of which you do not approve are attributable to the inferiority of those whom you so callously judge and condemn.
No amount of raving and insulting others will excuse the failures of the medical profession. The literature on the reasons for these failures is overwhelming: big pharma, misdirected research budgets, etc.
And, the fact that obesity rates are rising, despite the hysteria reflected by your post and the bascially false assertions about obesity (see, teh CDC debacle a few years ago, when the CDC's claimed numbers had to be shockingly revised downward owing to the CDC's lust to falsely claim that obesity results in over 400,000 deaths per year) shows that the media, as previously said, is not as influential as many think: whether it be with respect to violence, sex or eating food.


Errata: I'll retract the personal references. Please disregard sentiments that start with "you must be" or "you sound like" ... I don't think attacking personally makes any sense, and I am sorry that I fell prone to it.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

I fail to see where my comment descended into a rhetoric of "insulting others," "raving," or "hysteria."

I'm glad to see you retracted the abusive ad hominem language, especially the accusation that I was callously condemning or judging anyone.

I've written several posts at various blogs: the (Daniel Goldberg's former) Medical Humanities Blog, Ratio Juris, and ReligiousLeftLaw, about (critical of) Big Pharma and I've criticized this or that aspect of the practice of professional medicine on occasion. What I try to avoid are wholesale, categorical or crude generalizations that reflect black and white thinking or a failure to appreciate the complexity of problems that are, after all, truly complex and many-sided.

I happen to think the mass media is rather influential with regard to its portrayal of violence, sex, and the consumption of food but that's a deep discussion I prefer to leave to another day and place. Suffice to say, I suspect the consumption of "fast food" has something to do with mass media advertising, especially for children and perhaps in more subtle or subconscious ways, for adults as well. It's hard to imagine these capitalist corporations spending so much of their budgets on such advertising were it not to have a significant effect on food consumption choices. With regard to sexuality, I tend to agree with the likes of Gail Dines, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality (2010), and some of the views found in the edited volume by Kaarina Nikunen, et al., Pornification (2008).


As Jack Nicholson once said, "Kiss a tit, it's rated X. Hack it off, it's rated R."


As usual, Jack was wrong: then and now. They kiss tits on network tv these days.
Although, as a guy who once jumped out of a car and started beating someone with a golf club over road rage, I suppose Jack is an expert.
He must have been watching too many American movies.

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