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The paper at hand is going to compare the opposing opinions about the influence of popular culture on American youth. For this purpose, it will summarize the arguments provided by William Bennett and Mike Males as they are presented in the articles “Popular Culture Negatively Influences America’s Youth” and “Popular Culture Does Not Negatively Influence America’s Youth”. Bennett argues that glamorizing various kinds of antisocial and violent behavior patterns, which is currently typical of the popular culture, produces a negative impact on young people’s morality. On the contrary, Males attempts to refute this claim, stating that movies, advertising, and music cannot encourage youths to involve in criminal or hazardous behaviors.
The former Education Secretary William Bennett is convinced that modern movies, television, and music create gratuitous images of violence, brutality, and antisocial conduct thereby coarsening young people. Some of them are tempted to believe that their problems can be resolved with the help of violence as it is shown in the movies. He exemplifies his opinion by the case of a cruel mass murder committed by two Colorado high school students in 1990. Twelve teenagers were killed exactly as celebrities typically do in popular Hollywood films: Pleading victims were first taunted and humiliated and then murdered. According to Bennett, there is sufficient evidence to state that both criminals (Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris) actually enjoyed the process not least of all due to the glamorization of mass murders in music and cinematography.
The author partially attributes it to the immense popularity of the 1996 movie Scream, in which “a dozen students and teachers are graphically butchered in the film, while the characters make running jokes about murder” (Bennett). Furthermore, both teenagers were fans of the shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who is often called “Antichrist superstar” (by the name of one of his albums). That makes Bennett insist that the entertainment industry bears responsibility for all consequences produced by the unregulated content of all its products. Moreover, in the author’s viewpoint, the issue of arms carrying is also closely connected to the popular culture since movies continue to promote the so-called pro-gun ideology (Bennett).
Finally, he switches to the topic of kids, for which “the popular culture works as a coarsener, desensitizer, and dehumanizer” (Bennett). This makes the task of bringing up children excessively complex for their parents since they have to fight “against faceless television, movie, and music executives who are fighting against them”. The author concludes that the greatest problem is that for some percentage of kids (who are particularly affected by the popular culture) violent songs and films give guidance for action (Bennett).
Despite the fact that the arguments provided by Bennett sound quite convincing, Mike Miles believes the opposite. The senior researcher for the Justice Policy Institute, Males argues that it is convenient for politicians, the press, and experts to pin the blame to popular culture for demoralizing the youth since it allows diverting the public attention from the real concerns that they fail to address (e.g. family issues, poverty, etc.). In order to support this point, the author provides statistics of crime rapes relating the numbers to various trends in popular culture. For instance, sales of rap music increased dramatically (by more than 70%) in the period from 1990 to 2000. During the same time period, there appeared a lot of violent video games of the Mortal Combat series.
Yet, juvenile delinquency and other kinds of violent manifestation decreased. Moreover, according to Males, “no period in history has witnessed such rapid improvements in adolescent conduct” (Males). There was a considerable decrease in school violence, rapes, homicides, violent crimes, abortions, violent deaths, suicides, property offenses, drunken driving fatalities, sexually transmitted diseases, and other teenage problems. In addition, Males continues by stating that such trends are not recent. The youth culture and behavior have been improving for at least several decades. Young people of today cease drinking and smoking and become much more careful about such issues as sex-related diseases and drunken driving.
These positive changes happen despite the fact that the level of violence shown in movies is always on the increase as compared to the previous generations. The author concludes by stating that it is normal for teenagers to experience anger, depression, sexual problems, dangerous temptations, lust, and other problematic emotions, behaviors, and perceptions. Thus, it seems ridiculous that “Americas kiddie-savers spread apocalyptic terror” around these problems while real threats are in place (Males). This makes Males seek reasons for violence outside culture. He provides horrifying statistics: 15 million children have addicted parents, 14 million are brought up in abject poverty, and 500 thousand are treated after being subjected to domestic violence (Males). Diverting attention from these problems and blaming culture means denying fundamental responsibility.
Both Bennett and Males provide strong arguments supporting their opposing views on whether popular culture is detrimental for young people. Bennett’s discussion focuses on the glamorous image of criminal behavior promoted by movies and television, which makes crimes attractive to teenagers. Males, in contrast, provides arguments grounded in statistics to prove that crime rates are not connected with popular cultural trends.
Bennett, William J. “Popular Culture Negatively Influences America’s Youth.” Opposing Viewpoints in Context, 1999, Web.
Males, Mike. “Popular Culture Does Not Negatively Influence America’s Youth.” Opposing Viewpoints in Context, 2001, Web.