October 24 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 31  

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Kids need imaginary violence

By Brian Wong
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
MY BATTY SENSE TELLS ME VIOLENCE IS GOOD. According to Gerard Jones, violent comics can actually be helpful to children.

Comic book artist and screen writer Gerard Jones, author of the book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes and Make-Believe Violence and whose credits include Batman, Spider-Man and Pokémon, speaks to The Gazette about the benefits of violent entertainment.

How does fantasy violence help children?

The most basic [way] is giving kids a fantasy self: it enables them to feel stronger, less vulnerable and bolder. It also helps them to figure out the difference between reality and fantasy. Obviously, what works in a cartoon or a movie doesn't work in daily life, so they get to compare their desires to be strong - and sometimes destructive - with what actually works in their world. And I think kids are also curious and anxious about real violence and having a safe place to play with it, examine it and then leave it behind is helpful to calm their own nerves.

Are there any limits to the type of violence kids should be exposed to?

For kids under 10 or 11, it's important to apply adult protectiveness, but if it's something that kids are enjoying, there's probably something beneficial going on. Things that kids are drawn to and like without anxiety or reservations tend to be positive influences for the most part.

Can violent entertainment desensitize?

Certainly violent entertainment can desensitize one to other violent entertainment, but I haven't seen any evidence in the scientific literature or from what I've heard from people that violent entertainment desensitizes them to real violence. It's a distinction people make quite clearly; "This is not a movie" - they get that, and little kids get that.

Can violent entertainment help adults?

Yeah, I think people in their 20s are going through some of the same things as in adolescence - the desire to feel competent and less vulnerable - because you're still trying to take control of your life and figure out how the world works.

How about rappers like Eminem? What can people learn from him?

There is some downside, such as Eminem's lyrics about gays and other people not like himself and that's when you need a counterpoint out there to say "This is an archaic and defensive attitude." But at the same time there's a real power in wanting to be the rapper who gets up and says whatever is on his mind and who expresses anger. We've created a very polite world in which it's extremely difficult to express your own frustration and rage, so what you get out of these anti-social music forms is a way to identify yourself with someone who gets up and does that.

Do you feel adults don't give children enough credit?

Yes. I think it's normal to worry about kids, but in doing so we can exaggerate their vulnerability and we can underestimate their ability to make sense of things and separate the real from the unreal.



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