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Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment

Bok, Sissela

30 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0201489791 / ISBN 13: 9780201489798
Published by Addison Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1998
Condition: Near Fine Hardcover
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About this Item

First printing, March 1998, stated; full number line. Signed by the author on the title page: "Sissela Bok." Quarterbound in purple paper-covered boards with a purple cloth, gold-lettered spine. The book is tight, square, and unmarked; corners sharp, tail of spine bumped. The dust jacket is not price-clipped (original price $22.00); "Autographed Copy" sticker on front panel. Brodart protected. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 005431

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment

Publisher: Addison Wesley, Reading, Mass.

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Near Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine

Signed: Signed by Author

Edition: First Edition

About this title


What is the effect of long-term media violence on our national character? Do we want four-year-olds watching slasher films? Who should decide?While almost everyone has a strong opinion about the profusion of violence-in film, TV, video games, and on line-paralysis sets in when it comes to action. The issue is seen as a hopeless standoff between free speech and preserving public morality. In Mayhem, Sissela Bok reframes the issue. She shows us that we have created a false dilemma and that we need not feel so helpless.Mayhem lays out the arguments and weighs the evidence on each side: the desensitization, fear, and addiction that concern psychologists, pediatricians, and religious groups on the one hand, and, on the other, the threat of censorship invoked by journalists, civil libertarians, and the entertainment industry. The book gives a vivid historical overview of the debate: from Rome, to nineteenth-century attempts to ban all theater, to censorship of the Internet in Singapore and China, and contrasting views of figures as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Bill Moyers, and Judge Bork.As in Lying and Secrets, she puts this thorny question in clarifying perspective, and shows how our ways of dealing with it not only express, but can shape our character and lives. Finally, she takes up specific and imaginative ways to resolve the dilemma, from private measures for individuals and families to large-scale collective efforts.


Does watching violent acts make us violent? As Western society becomes ever more media-saturated, this question continues to provoke heated debate. On one side are those who seek to reduce the role of violence in popular entertainment, and on the other are the defenders of free speech and civil liberties. Sissela Bok's Mayhem is an attempt to assess the impact of violent entertainment and to provide strategies for reducing that impact. Her study is grounded in a historical examination of violence in entertainment--from the Roman gladiators through Renaissance theater to the current attempts to regulate the Internet. By placing the current debate in a historical context, she is able to dig beneath the hysteria of the present and find the deeper roots of our fascination.

In exploring the modern role of violence as public entertainment, Bok pursues the middle ground, refusing to advocate outright censorship, but also reluctant to simply deny that there is a problem. One of her solutions is to increase "media literacy"--helping children "...learn to take a more active and self-protective part in evaluating what they see." This seems to be an eminently sensible response, protecting freedom of speech while interrogating the place of violence in our lives. It is not the violent entertainment itself that is dangerous, but its passive consumption by an unquestioning audience.

This is a dauntingly complex issue, and Bok cannot offer easy answers or hope to please all her readers, but this is a thoroughly researched and compellingly stated contribution to an extremely important debate.

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