In my “Practice of Journalism” class yesterday, Torill Mortensen used examples from her native Norway to discuss media panics surrounding the introduction of new technology in society. There has long been a connection between new media, in whatever form it took — from moving pictures, to TV, to computer games… in the 1970s, Norwegian Parlament had passionate debates over how the introduction of color television would affect the delicate and fragile women in society — would the increased realism confuse their perception of reality?
Torill described the media circus that surrounded her own doctoral defense. The average Norwegian subscribes to three newspapers, and doctoral defenses are huge ceremonial affairs that stretch out over months. (I just sat in a room with five people for about two hours, avoided saying anything too stupid, and came out a doctor. Torill’s dissertation defense included a swordfight. Really!)
Torill observed that, because she was completing a dissertation on computer games, the Norwegian press contacted her for her opinion on computer games. Reporters repeatedly asked her whether computer games were harmful, and wanted to hear her say that games are good for you. She hadn’t actually studied that question, so she didn’t give the short answer the reporters were searching for. So the reporters quoted her as saying comptuer games are good for you — something Torill never said. Google found over 300 references to that imaginary quotation. Torill insisted that the journalists who interviewed her aren’t stupid. I saw it as a perfect example of the confirmation bias — and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to jump in at that point and deliver a mini-lecture to my students, some of whom have announced that for their term project they will write an investigative journalism piece that proves that people feel X about subject Y. (I asked them to go into their research with an open mind, without thinking of themselves as an advocate for one side.)
We learned the proper way to pronounce “ombudsman,” and learned that, while American popular culture is censored in some parts of Europe because of its violent nature, France has in the past poured resources into the funding of French-language popular culture, with the intention of competing with the American imports; and Norway is apparently attempting this strategy as well.
Some quoteworthy statements Torill made:
“If you use violence to solve everyday problems, you will learn more violent actions by imitating violence in media.”
“Isolated people believe real life is more violent than it really is.”
Torill @ Seton Hill University — ‘Games and Media Panics’Literacy Weblog)