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Well, things have finally gotten out of hand.

A woman named Kathy Sierra, the head of Head First books from O'Reilly, and a lecturer has been receiving death threats--a federal crime--both visual and written from people who are apparently offended by the fact that she is a woman. Frighteningly, many of them have not even tried to be anonymous.

Blogger Receives Death Threats

Another entry talks about how children 11 - 13 are bullied online--more girls (20%) than boys (10%).

Children Being Bullied Online

Of course, it doesn't help that there's a new site called Stickam that's essentially a video mySpace. I looked at it yesterday after I read about it being a likely danger to children. It's still bothering me.

All of the users I found were kids, a lot of them young girls (14, 15), taking sexy pictures of themselves (often in the bathroom mirror) and making sexy videos of themselves. Some of it is heading in the direction of child porn. I had to leave the site before I actually found some and got even more upset. As you might imagine, the pedophiles are out and easy to spot in the comments (many of them have pictures--doesn't anyone realize this stuff can land you in jail, making sexual comments to underage kids?). The kids, meanwhile, are goaded on by being told how sexy they are. You can also tell from seeing the videos and photos that in most cases (at least what I saw), parents have no idea. The kids clearly think it's funny and cool.

The site is really disturbing; I sent info to some colleagues, since we teach psychology and sociology and other classes that make this material relevant. I told them that if they show anything to their classes, they need to preview all the material they use, partly because nobody wants to be accused of showing child pornography.

Oh, and did I mention a lot of the stuff is live, so it's not like you can stop broadcast after you've realized you've gone too far?

There's also some unbelievable language, kids talking about doing things kids shouldn't be doing. (One girl talked about getting trashed on New Year's and making out with another girl--she had pictures. She's 14.)

I see a change in the way the internet works ahead. Or maybe I should say, dear God, I hope there are changes ahead.

Back to the death threats -- Ms. Sierra talks about the situation in detail here -- she speaks about it very openly and graphically so people know what happened, so if you're easily upset by this sort of thing, just stick with the first article:

Kathy Sierra's blog

And by the way--this kind of thing can cause PTSD. It's really that bad. As she says, the threats alone are traumatic and can change your life for the worse.

The Last Psychiatrist - Great Blog!

I've added some other really great shrink blogs in a list of links to the right. One of them is so humblingly (is that a word?) amazing that I have to tell you about is specifically.

There's an amazing amount of fascinating (and sometimes funny...and sometimes you feel a little bad for thinking it's funny) clinical information, and it's a stellar look inside a shrink's head.

"Torture Porn" Horror Films: Cause or Effect?

There's an interesting article in this month's Premiere magazine (April 2007—Will Ferrel is on the cover) called Shock and Awful by Tom Roston.

Roston explores the "torture porn" movie genre that's developed in the wake of forerunner Saw's success, writing,

It's the same sort of thing that was said about previous generations of horror—that these movies are a projection of our collective unconscious. In the 1950s and 1960s, the fear of Communism could be seen in the monster and alien-invasion movies. In the '70s, particularly in the work of Wes Craven...the movies were about the breakdown of the family unit, as well as the Vietnam War.

Those responsible for these films argue that the demand for them is an attempt to "deflect and reflect" the evil of terrorism in the world now. "It's not that these movies cause torture or mayhem," Roston argues, "[but] they're still making terror palatable."

Albert Bandura did a classic study (1961) on what he called social learning theory (i.e. we learn to do what we see done) most often referred to by those in psychology as the "Bobo doll study."

He showed some children a video of a grownup beating up a Bobo doll (ie one of those person-sized punching bags that looks like a clown and has sand in the bottom so you can't knock it over) in a room with other toys in it. Another group of children didn't see the Bobo video. They children were then allowed to go into the room individually. The children who hadn't seen the grownup beating up Bobo weren't particularly interested in Bobo, but the children who had seen Bobo get beaten up started beating Bobo up in exactly the same way as the grownup they'd seen.

The pictures to the right are from this experiment; you can see the grownup at the top, and then a boy beating up Bobo, and then a girl. (That little girl looks like she is having way too good of a time in some of the pictures. She must have had some repressed anger...that, or she hates clowns.) You can see more pictures from the Bobo doll experiment by clicking on the images.

People have argued for years that what we see on television and in film doesn't change our behavior; Bandura proved that it does 50 years ago. And any parent can tell you that "do as I say, not as I do" is a nice concept, but "monkey see, monkey do" is more realistic.

So why do so many people continue to question the effects of television and movies? Because some of the stupidest, goriest, and scariest things make the most money. MTV's Jackass. Just about anything Quentin Tarantino. The first Saw film, which was made for about $1 million, made $100 million worldwide; each of the two low-cost sequels grossed $150 million worldwide.)

So the question becomes—is "torture porn" horror a projection of what's inside of us (and the collective unconscious) already, or is putting the extremely violent and gory visions of a few on big screens being taken in by the many, thereby altering the collective unconscious?

And must we be swept along in the bloody tide, or do we have choices about whether to behave differently in real life?

Free Will vs. Automaticity

So there are those who argue that these things don't affect our behaviors, and Bandura has proven they do. But then why don't all of us become serial killers? Because we have free will. Or at least that's how I see it.

At some point during clinical training you're faced with the question of whether human beings have free will or whether we're just the product of our environments (or genes). In classic horror films (think Psycho, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street), the villain is often doomed to be what he is—Michael Myers just seems to have been born evil; Freddy Kreuger is the "bastard son of 100 maniacs." You can argue that Saw's Jigsaw's behavior is a result of the inoperable brain cancer. In the Archetype site proper, I argue that this is because these explanations allow us to see villains as Other—utterly different from ourselves.

A friend of mine argues that we have little free will. To demonstrate, he'll yawn; most people will feel the need to yawn in response (and you may be having the same reaction just reading about it—I am while I'm writing it!). He says that we're all just responding automatically to the environment, which is a very Behaviorist view of the world.

Behaviorism says a particular stimulus will always lead to a particular response; therefore what we are today is the result of numerous responses to predictable stimuli. We're all a little different because we've all been exposed to slightly different stimuli; two people might respond differently to a car accident in the present due to different stimuli and associations from the past.

I have a far more Gestalt outlook. I believe that we have choices and that the willingness to take responsibility to make changes can make an enormous difference in one's psychological well-being. The past is done, we can't change it, and lingering in the past, blaming others for what you've become, serves no purpose. One of the purposes of therapy is to learn how to cope with what's happened in the past and develop new responses to the world ahead.

Of course, it's easier to keep doing the same old thing because we've been conditioned to respond to particular stimuli in particular ways (there's that behaviorism again), or to blame others, but what have all that gray and white brain matter if we're not going to use any of it?

I watched Saw. I was impressed by it. But I have absolutely no desire to see the second or third. The first one worked for me because it was different from everything that had come before; it was about intolerable choices and what that does to you psychologically. (And the writers went all the way through with what they'd set up in that bathroom at the beginning.) But seeing four more hours' worth of nightmarish ways to torture thank you!

I believe that we're all trying to make sense of the world today. But, for myself at least, understanding is only the first step. Trying to make the world a better place is even more important.

Something that's been bothering me more than usual lately is just how vituperative...people are to each other online.

The internet lets us reach out to people who are farther away, but it has also made it much too easy to act without thinking. From behind their keyboards, others mock, ridicule, and disdain others, thinking that said others will never see what they've written. Or, worse, hoping that they will.

If you put it out on the internet, anyone can see it. Everyone can see it. It doesn't matter if you have to use a password to get into part of a site—other people can get passwords, too. It doesn't matter if you use an avatar or a screenname—your IP address and the other little crumbs you leave behind can identify you.

It's hard not to get caught up in the flaming when someone you like or care about shoves a flamethrower into your hands and points at the target, shouting the whole time that the other person is trying to burn her to a crisp. It can even be hard not to get caught up in the competitiveness of an argument. But that doesn't make any of it all right.

Three things have brought this to the forefront for me.

1. Britney Spears. Yes, I know. Not her again. But I think she's really put a fine point on what being held up as an object of public ridicule can do to someone. Do I think she's ill? Who wouldn't be after everything that's happened to her? The more trouble she's had, the more she's been pushed, because it makes a better spectacle. We've gone from being entertained by nice family sitcoms to destroying celebrities so we can watch them go down in flames.

2. "Comments" on several news boards. I can't even get my news without comments, and few of them are productive or part of a cerebral debate. Archeologists recently found two adult skeletons embracing, which is apparently unprecedented, but commenters lambasted the scientists for "disturbing" them (they're bones, folks--the people are gone), went on about how sweet it was (both of them were murdered), and ranted about science's cold cruelty in general. (I went back to link to them, and apparently Yahoo decided the same thing: "As they were set up, the Yahoo! News message boards allowed a small number of vocal users to dominate the discussion." So they took them down while they retool. I used a CNN link instead.) I'm as much of a romantic as the next person, but we might be able to learn things to help us go forward in important ways. Archeologists aren't going to want to pull them apart either, they'll want to maintain the integrity of the find. But they do want to learn from them. Listen, if my bones could teach someone things 5000 years from now, I'd want them moved as much as necessary!)

3. Lori Perkins. Lori Perkins is a literary agent. Like several other agents, she blogs; her blog is called—surprise—Agent in the Middle. I found a similar sentiment on her blog; essentially she got overwhelmed with submissions and sent polite rejection letters suggesting that those who really felt her agency was a good match (some people just send letters to everyone without even bothering to see what an agency represents) to please requery in a few months. The internet just burst into flames about her. "It was," she writes, "surreal. (if you do a google search on me, you can still find these diatribes). I really felt like I couldn't win for loosing [sic], and that's also why I keep my rejection letter short and sweet."

So here are three things that keep going around in my brain to go with the three things above.

1. "Judge people by their actions... What people say about themselves does not matter; people will say anything. Look at what they have done; deeds do not lie. You must also apply this logic to yourself. In looking back at a defeat, you must identify the things you could have done differently... You are responsible for the good and bad in your life... People who accuse you of being unfair, for example, who try to make you feel guilty, who talk about justice and morality, are trying to gain an advantage [for themselves]." - Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War xix (hardcover)

2. Make a tree good, and then its fruit will be good. Or make a tree rotten, and then its fruit will be rotten. A person can recognize a tree by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. Good people do the good things that are in them. But evil people do the evil things that are in them. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. -Matt 12:33-38

3. Freud said, "Opposition [disagreement] is not necessarily enmity [hostility]; it is merely misused and made an occasion for enmity..." Research shows that people who feel small and inadequate find reasons to disdain and abuse others to try to make themselves feel better; people who are strong and secure don't need to. And who really wants to hang out with someone who's nasty all the time?—having other people dislike you can't make you feel better about yourself. It's a lot more fun to hang out with someone who's kind and has a sense of humor about the potholes in the road of life.

And for those who think others won't know about their enemity and vituperation, Freud adds, "He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. [Even] if his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore."

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