Dr. Philip Zimbardo, of Stanford Prison Experiment infamy, has been raining on the parade of the male portion of the Internet this week with the release of his controversial book, The Demise of Guys. The book focuses on the corrosive effects of gaming and Internet porn on men. The basic premise is that porn and video game addicts become desensitized to the violence and vaginas and need increasingly perverse thrills. Zimbardo talked about the premise at TED in 2011.
"Boys' brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal." Sounds like regular boys' brains with "digitally" added to be scary.
Zimbardo begins the talk by citing high school dropout statistics for boys versus girls, but his other charges lack solid statistics. In the case of video games, Zimbardo makes the usual argument about violent media increasing violent behavior, but in the case of porn he aims more at the negative effect pornography is having on men's relationships with women. When a man gets tired of jerking off to the same old boobs, Zimbardo believes, his urge for new thrills makes him ascend a ladder of depravity up to necro hentai beast sex, and because his wife isn't a dead anime goat he isn't interested in her.
Zimbardo, who looks like a pornographer himself, has a theory that reminds me of that series of illustrations from the 19th Century depicting "The Fatal Consequences of Masturbation":
From Dickensian chode tugger, to poxy skeleton with hardly the energy to rub one out, to death. It's like those faces of meth pictures with a dew rag. Zimbardo is learning that anything condemning video games and porn will put the Internet in a defensive crouch, and not without reason. Video games are still being blamed for just about every violent act and you'll be lucky to find anyone in the real world defending porn beyond the San Fernando Valley. To come at them again from almost the same specious angle is lazy.
It's hard to side with porn in this, but Zimbardo is drawing the wrong conclusions from his observations. There's no question individuals are becoming more withdrawn to their private, often perverse worlds (it's because they have private worlds that didn't exist before), but his concept of a tender, loving husband now turned wrong by Call of Duty and Brazzers recalls a masculine ideal that existed in romance novels and nowhere else.
Men have been gross bros at least since the existence of the high five. Tijuana Bibles featuring Mickey Mouse sucking off a donkey were being passed around almost a hundred years ago. You think Sinatra wasn't pulling tops down on cocktail waitresses to make Dean Martin laugh? Men are much less "cool" than they used to be, but the blame for that one rests with corn syrup and Ed Hardy, not Max Hardcore.
As for the video game nonsense, I discount Zimbardo's point completely. The first wave of hysteria over violent video games warping children's minds wasn't Mortal Kombat or Doom, it was 1976's Death Race. It had its own special report on 60 Minutes and concerned parents and was even condemned by the government.
And it looked like this:
Violence comes from mental problems, peer pressure, and past abuse, not from playing video games. No equivocating. If someone, even the perpetrator, tries to blame a murder spree on a video game, they are full of shit. Movies don't make people murder other people. Music doesn't do it. Books don't do it. Nope, atheists, not even those books.
In Somalia, when al-Shabaab pulled out of Mogadishu, their laws banning video games went with them. The kids, who would normally be recruited by al-Shabaab to join their militias and become killers and suicide bombers, instead got together and played video games. Let me repeat that: they could have a real gun and go kill people or play video games and turns out most kids are not psychopaths who want to murder people.
Even if you buy into Zimbardo's basic premise, singling out men for his diagnosis is shortsighted. The Internet, and all the perceived ills it brings with it, is no longer a domain for men only. Women can fall victim to all the same vices as men. If I'm wrong about that, Zimbardo might want to let all those women who play video games know that their vaginas make it so they can't be brainwashed by evil Grand Theft Auto hypno waves.
Zimbardo touches on real problems of isolation in the digital age. His easily-consumed premise is all wrong. Everything is changing, every model of our society, and Zimbardo might as well be pointing to the death of the travel agent industry or any other facet of our lives altered by technology.
That doesn't mean you should watch porno and play video games. If you do, you will probably go blind and your dingus will fall off.
You can read more from Zack in today's SF Signal article, "Book, With Occasional Music," in which he interviews sci-fi authors about something really important: the music they listen to while writing. Oh, and he wrote a book himself. Buy Liminal States instead of Zimbardo's book.
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