Psychology Professor: There’s little evidence linking entertainment to violence

John Sexton, Hot Air: October 20, 2021

The debate over Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” on Netflix has often centered on the harm his words might do to trans people. While you can certainly argue that his jokes might be hurtful to some trans people’s feelings, some have gone beyond that to suggest Chappelle’s words could lead to violence. In fact, this claim was specifically addressed by Co-CEO Ted Sarandos in a memo he sent to employees:

“With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” he said.

As Ed noted earlier today, Sarandos has already walked away from that claim a bit stating, “Of course storytelling has real impact in the real world. I reiterate that because it’s why I work here, it’s why we do what we do. That impact can be hugely positive, and it can be quite negative.”

So which is it? Does entertainment media translate to real-world harm or not? The critics of Netflix clearly believe it does. Allahpundit noted that one of the walk-out protesters said, “Trans people are in the middle of a holocaust,” insinuating they are in danger of being murdered because of Chappelle’s jokes. Media outlets like USAToday have also found some academics who support that idea:

According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, on-screen violence causes increased aggressive thoughts and behavior as well as decreased empathy in viewers. The same could be said of hate speech, whether it’s by politicians, celebrities or people you know.

“When people hear other people saying things that are hateful, for whatever reason and whatever group it’s aimed at, it gives them permission, basically, to think that’s true and to imitate that kind of speech,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research…

And even if it’s difficult to quantify whether words directly cause harm, “we shouldn’t celebrate it,” says Lanier Holt, an associate professor at Ohio State University studying the effects of media messages on audience’s perceptions of marginalized groups.

“There’s a long history of homophobia and acceptance of racism in the Black community, be it in our churches and in our satire. What we’re ultimately doing is under the guise of humor, making it seem like it’s OK or celebrated or worse, that it’s funny. And there’s nothing funny about it.”

That’s one side of the argument. The other side was taken up in an article in Psychology Today by a professor named Christopher J. Ferguson who studies the impact of media on violence. Ferguson says there’s little evidence any type of media encourages real-world violence.

I’ve seen The Closer and I both understand why some people are upset and worry about the proportionality of some of the claims made. I particularly worry that causal claims of harm can’t be supported by the available science, and that calls for censorship of the film may backfire.

To read the entire article, click here.