Violent Movies Encourage Violence, But Only If Violence is an Option

There’s a big problem I see with the conclusions of this study. What it found was that kids from 8 to 12 years old who are exposed to violent movies are more likely to then use a gun, one of the toy or disabled ones provided by the researchers. The study then concludes, in short, that viewing violence leads to an increased tendency toward violence.

Here’s my problem: The toy and other guns were made available.

There’s a decent case to be made the exposure to violent media – movies, TV shows, music, video games – will increase one’s tendency to be violent. See more guns and you’re theoretically more likely to use them. That’s the case that’s been made by those on both sides of the conservative spectrum who want to regulate the output of the entertainment industry.

But the means to act on the impulses have to be available in order for them to do so. The gun has to be available for it to be used. If it’s not available, it can’t be used.

And that’s where the political unity ends. Democrats will tell you that the next logical step is then to enact gun control measures that will keep weapons out of the hands of those most likely to use them. Republicans, though, will stop you and argue that the fault lies entirely with the liberal media and its everyone’s right to own guns, even those with a history of mental issues and other violent behavior.

So one wants to address at least one root cause of the violent behavior and eliminate a primary means of acting on violent impulses.

The other wants to address at least one root cause of violent behavior but then do nothing about the means by which that behavior is expressed.

I would have loved to have seen a variation on the study that sent some groups of kids to a room with no violent toys. What would have happened then?

It’s an interesting hypothetical, but it remains just that. In the real world that’s not even an option. These kids will grow up, most likely, in the same reality we’re in now, where guns are freely available to whoever seeks them out, regardless of the intentions for usage and irrespective of red flags in their backgrounds.

In the movie Grand Canyon, Steve Martin (pictured above) plays a movie producer who specializes in over-the-top action films, a character modeled after Joel Silver. One day he’s shot in the leg during a robbery and has a conversion, promising to put less violence into the world because he’s now seen its impact up close. After he’s healed, though, he quickly goes back to his old territory, essentially shrugging and saying he can’t save the world.

It’s a cynical moment, but an essentially accurate one. We can’t expect the movies to change us for the better. We need to do that ourselves in real, tangible ways. Gun control laws that respect the rights afforded by the Bill of Rights but also respect the right of six-year-old kids to not be shot while walking home from school. That’s much more within our grasp.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Location Determines Mobility

Illinois funds its public school system through property taxes. That’s lead to a system that many decry as unfair, as rich suburbs are able to provide full-featured educations from top-tier teachers assisted by the latest technology in well-maintained facilities. Conversely, it means those in poorer neighborhoods, including many in Chicago, can afford none of those things because there isn’t the tax income to support them. Changes to this system are usually advocated by reformers in Chicago as well as downstate but rejected by those unwilling to sacrifice their own standing for the good of others.

A new report by the Economic Innovation Group and shared by Axios doesn’t address Illinois’ school funding disparity specifically. But when you look at the map of income distribution and see that job creation and growth is happening largely in the same sort of areas that enjoy quality education systems, it’s hard not to draw the correlation.

What the map shows is that where you are born continues to be a major determining factor in how well you do both in school and in life. If you’re born in a “distressed” community, your opportunities for upward mobility are limited. New businesses aren’t starting there and existing ones aren’t growing there.

Many politicians, when faced with stats like this, will shrug their shoulders and say people should move if they want to be where the jobs are. That simplistic mindset overlooks several factors making such moves all but impossible:

  • The loss of support networks: If you’re a young family, you may rely on friends or family for childcare or other support. If you’re older, your kids may be entrenched school. whatever the case, substantial structural underpinnings in life would be torn out by a move.
  • Too expensive to move: Young people are drowning in student debt already, so the thousands of dollars required to move are simply inaccessible. Someone who was laid off five years and subsisting on part-time retail work is also in no position to take on that expense.
  • Uncertainty: If you’re moving because of the potential of a job, you’re taking a big risk on the unknown. If you’ve already lined up a job, you’re hoping it goes well and this doesn’t look like a huge mistake in six months, after you’ve separated yourself from your support network.
  • Too expensive to live: Unless someone has won the sweepstakes and secured lucrative work with a huge salary, there’s no way someone can move from Selma, AL to San Francisco, CA or New York, NY.

Let’s put to the side the canard that any child in this country can for up to be as successful as they want to be. It might have been true decades ago, but entrenchment of jobs in specific areas and the neglect of vast swaths of the populace have made it a lie, one clung to largely by the powerful who see the poor as leeches waiting for handouts.

That’s exactly the sort of thinking on display in comments by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. When talking about the elimination of protections for students scammed by for-profit colleges, she said, “Under the previous rules, all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.

It’s hard to believe that when you see for-profit colleges account for 35% of all student loan defaults there isn’t something institutionally wrong with the practices of those businesses. They attract new students with the promise of an education that will help them advance but can’t deliver on that promise.

DeVos thinks the people who have filed for protections – which don’t eliminate debt and still leave the student hanging without a degree and barrels of wasted money – are just looking for handouts. That’s not surprising when you consider for-profit college students tend to be black, female and at a low-income level currently. Just the sort of people those like DeVos, who came from a privileged family, want to keep in their place by denying them access to education, voting booths, healthcare and other opportunities to better themselves.

It’s not free money people are looking for, just the opportunity to provide for their families. Between the concentration of jobs in few outrageously expensive locations and the active elimination of protections against abuse by private corporations, that’s getting harder by the day.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Companies and Brands Aren’t Our Political Surrogates

The past month has been rough for a lot of people. The inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States made the abstract very real and has lead to a series of executive orders, cabinet nominations and congressional actions that have made people more afraid for their livelihood, the future of their children, the fate of the environment and much more. Paranoia is pervasive but in many regards it’s well-warranted.

One of the lightening rods has been around how brands, specifically their chief executives, will or won’t work with Trump and his administration. Elon Musk has received criticism for taking part in meetings, as has the head of Uber and others. Many people want them to not only refuse to cooperate with the Trump White House but also have the brand as a whole make a public statement in opposition to what large swaths of the population sees as policies that are xenophobic, disrespectful to women and minorities and much more.

There’s a case to be made for a company taking a very public stance for or against societal issues. But there are also very real issues in doing so. Plus, it’s not actually the cure-all people are hoping it will be.

Brands Aren’t People

It’s important to remember this. Brands and companies are entities, constructs that are designed to further the interests of a select few. Unless we’re talking about a non-profit advocacy group, these companies are out to make money by selling a product. That’s their core goal. To think otherwise is to project your own issues and desires onto the company.

Despite that, people keep pressuring companies to come out against the policies of Trump and his advisors. These people expect big, loud statements decrying executive orders and other actions, not just the kind of legal statements and briefs that have been filed enumerating the fiscal and resource damage that could be done should some of these rules be put in place.

Brands and companies have put themselves in this position. If they don’t like the pressure to have public positions on the issues of the day they have only themselves to blame. It’s the situation that’s been created after years of changing their Facebook avatars to reflect issues like marriage equality and more. Not that these aren’t worthy, important causes, but 20 years ago no one really seemed to care whether J.C. Penny’s had an opinion on a Supreme Court case or new regulation.


Social media has put us in this situation. All our friends have such strong opinions on these issues, opinions that elicit strong reactions and which lead to either rampant sharing or mass-unfriending for the crime of not sharing a position on education policy or other issue in common. Since brand profiles have intruded on the space that we use to connect with friends, families and coworkers, the pressure to also have an opinion has increased exponentially.

It’s an off-shoot, I think, of how people don’t want to see your promotional Tweet during times of tragedy. Social media managers are trained at this point to go and pause all publishing when there are school shootings or other horrific events because selling toothpaste or other products during those times is seen as uncouth and disrespectful. Well now we live in times of constant high tensions, with protests popping up left and right and people in a constant state of outrage. Brand publishing can’t be suspended indefinitely, so the expectation seems to be that if you’re going to keep promoting your clothing line at a time of great unrest then you’d best have an opinion on Trump’s move to undo the protections of the Dodd-Frank Act.

A Brand Tweet Won’t Do Anything

In short, this is lazy thinking. Protesting is hard and takes time and effort, so it’s easier to hold a company accountable for its actions than to be accountable for your own.

I don’t want to say that everyone who wants Target to make a big splash with an anti-Trump statement is lazy. That’s of course not true. But this kind of thinking seems to be indicative of a mindset that wants someone else to do the heavy-lifting. And it’s easier to identify the place you buy your paper towels and put the responsibility to make a change on their shoulders than to call your Congressional representative and speak to them about why you’re against a cabinet nominee.

There’s nothing wrong with voting with your wallet. That has a long history of working and it’s why many companies will highlight their corporate social responsibility efforts, something that’s incredibly important and can effect great change. But if you’re looking for great societal change, companies aren’t the ones who are going to do it, those within the systems of governmental power are.

Similarly, it’s not fair to put all the pressure to protest at every given opportunity on musicians and artists. Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime performance was brought with expectations that she’d defecate on a Trump effigy or something but it wound up being a Rorschach Test, with conservatives and liberals each reading into it what they wanted to. There’s been pressure on musicians to speak out at every occasion and for actors, directors and others to boycott the Oscars as a form of protest to the current political environment. It’s all part of a movement to make someone else accountable for our collective fate.

There’s a time and place for companies, brands and celebrities to take stands on societal or political issues. Celebrities in particular should be just as active as their fellow citizens to act up when they disagree or agree with the state of the country and the world as a whole. But that doesn’t mean they are the surrogates to take the fight directly to those in power on behalf of the masses. That’s too much pressure to put on their, not all of which is warranted, and too much to take off our own shoulders. We have elected representatives for that and if you don’t like the job currently being done, there are mechanisms to rectify that situation. Act up. Act out. Protest. Do it, just don’t wait for an actor to make a speech at an awards show to fight your battles for you.

Pew’s Report on Millennials and Political News

(Note: This post first appeared on the Voce blog)

pew millennials politicsWhat Is It: The Pew Research Center is out with a new study showing 61% of Millennials – broadly defined as anyone born after 1980 – get political news primarily from Facebook, almost exactly the opposite proportion of those in the Baby Boom generation, for whom local TV news still dominates.

What Does This Mean: There are all sorts of interesting data finds in the study that are well worth reading, particularly those that deal with how trusting members of the various demographic groups are of media. But the question that should cause the most discussion isn’t raised until the end and it’s roughly this: What does it mean that so many people are getting their news through social media?

The answer is incredibly complex and requires consideration of a multitude of factors, but at the core it comes down to how some social networks, particularly Facebook, are filtering the user experience in ways that sometimes can’t be controlled and are invisible to the audience, who often aren’t even aware there are filters being applied which a vast swath of people aren’t.

Facebook recently released a study where they essentially washed their hands of responsibility and said people themselves for whatever diversity they were or weren’t seeing in their Newsfeeds. While that may be true (to an extent…Facebook is still ultimately the one that governs the algorithm that creates the Newsfeed), the results of getting your news from a system that’s almost uniquely designed to reinforce your own point of view and limit outside opinions is felt well outside of Facebook and informs people’s behavior on a local, state and federal level.

Facebook plays a unique role in today’s information ecosystem, as this new study shows starkly. But the impact of that role is, I’d wager, only beginning to be felt.

A non-neutral net may be coming soon

Between Stacey Higgenbottom’s piece at GigaOm and John Herman’s at Buzzfeed, I’m pretty much just counting the moments until my cable operator sends a note saying my internet fees are going up because I watch too much Netflix for their liking.

Not that I’m a huge fan of more and more government regulation, but it’s not just consumers at stake, it is, as many have pointed out, the start-ups who want to take on Twitter, Amazon and others but who won’t be able to pay for preferred access along the last mile to people’s homes. And that’s where government needs to make sure existing businesses don’t have policies in place that are meant almost solely to protect their own interests at the expense of innovation.

Light bulbs as political beanbag

Congress has decided fully enacting the energy regulations that would phase out electricity-wasting light bulbs is just too darn inconvenient. It’s a stupid move that’s grounded in politics and not good thinking. The Ars story is worth reading, but here’s the nut:

By repealing the standards, Congress has ensured that the waste will go on even longer.


Personally, I’ve been incredibly happy with the switchover to LED bulbs around the house. Yes, trying to find the right one that matches the lamp or whatever is sometimes frustrating. But once they’re in they’re in and it’s one less thing to worry about. Price, though, may lead me back to cheaper and less efficient bulbs, which will ultimately be even more frustrating.

via As part of budget deal, Congress blocks light bulb efficiency standards | Ars Technica.

Copyright is broken

A must-read.

The result is a copyright system that’s impossible to defend on economic or policy grounds. While copyright itself is a good thing — it helps artists and writers make a living — the repeated posthumous term extensions make no sense. No author, including Ayn Rand and Dr. Seuss, has made a decision on whether or not to write based on what will happen decades after they’re dead.

via No books for you: U.S. starves public domain for another year — Tech News and Analysis.

Because sure, who needs the environment or a functional food chain

This seems problematic:

Tea Party senators introduced a bill last week that would effectively end the protection of most endangered species in the U.S. by gutting some of the most important provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Senate Bill 1731, introduced by Tea Party members Sen. Paul (R-KY), Sen. Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Heller (R-NV) would end protections for most of the species that are currently protected by the act and make it virtually impossible to protect new species under the law. It would also eliminate protection for habitat that’s critical to the survival of rare and struggling animals and plants around the country.

via Tea Party Bill Would Gut Endangered Species Act | EcoWatch.

Ahh, the belief that business is an inherent and total good. That’s led to so many great decisions. Asshats.

Just so we’re clear

The government absolutely cannot restrict access to guns but it can restrict a citizen’s access to legal protections.

OK then, good to know.


It seems The Big Lebowski can be used as a metaphor for everything, including the Fiscal Cliff debacle in Washington, DC.

The basic text for understanding this situation, as with so many situations, is The Big Lebowski. A woman has allegedly been taken hostage by nihilists (nihilists conveniently being a common point of comparison with the House Republican caucus.) Jeffrey Lebowski, the Jeff Bridges character, fears they will kill her. Walter, the John Goodman character, has already figured out that there is no hostage. Lebowski here is Obama, and Walter is Harry Reid:

Walter is right. There is no hostage. The Republican Party was actually terrified of the no-deal scenario. Policy-wise, the alternative to a small tax hike that they agreed to was a huge tax hike that they didn’t agree to. The politics were even worse: Republicans would be blamed for higher taxes on the middle class in order to defend the rich, deepening an already severe image problem.

Now go read the whole thing.