Although being absolutely different in the subject matter and the purpose of the telling the story, “Violent Media is Good for Kids” by Gerard Jones and “The Boston Photographs” by Nora Ephron share a range of similarities, the majority of them being the necessity to discuss the underlying issues of silencing the inconvenient subjects of fear and death.
Both authors suggest the reader not to hide from the reality, being it either a powerful emotion of anger or the fear of inevitable death. Gerard Jones’s “Violent Media is Good for Kids” argues that it is wrong to deny children a pleasure of watching silly and trashy cartoons featuring superheroes. Some adults might tease and make fun of their smart children stucking in front of the TV or computer screen to follow the adventures of the half-wit Hulk or the moronic Ben-Ten, while others flatly refuse to allow their children to spend their time watching TV junk. The parents’ main argument is that violent cartoons cause violent behavior in real life. However, Jones argues that it is not the reality that parents and children should be afraid of: “the fear can do more harm than the reality” (202). Defying the argument that violence in popular culture causes violence in children, Jones, in fact, claims the contrary, saying, “Pretending to have superhuman powers helps children conquer the feelings of powerlessness that inevitably come with being so young and small” (201). Jones believes that “lofty messages of pacifism and tolerance” teach children to stifle their emotions and become dependent and passive (199). The subject-matter of Nora Ephron’s story is absolutely different. She tells a story of the Boston Photographs taken during a fire in the slums. The photographer managed to capture a woman falling with her child to her death from a broken fire escape. Stanley Forman, the photographer of the Boston Herald American, made a series of frames fixating almost every crucial movement that happened at the scene. Here is a masculine face of a firefighter grabbing the woman with a child in her arms with one hand and the fire escape with the other, here is the woman slipping from the fire escape and the fireman’s hold, here is a woman and her child flying through the air separately. As the women had a heart attack somewhere in her fall, it turned out that Forman took a picture of a person nearing her death or in the moment of death. That level of truth was difficult to bear. The photographs created a big wave of negative reader’s response, and Ephron argues that behind all talks about the unethicalness of the pictures and sarcastic comments about cheap sensations there is a strong unwillingness to witness death. People are afraid to see death because it reminds them of the fragility of their own life and inevitability of their own death. Similarly to Jones uncovering the hidden emotions, Ephron reveals that the question “Why doesn’t the press print the good news” in fact hides “righteous indignation about the privacy of death” (174).
The reason why people react negatively to something rejecting it or condemning is often fear. The emotion is common in both articles. However, when one emotion is substituted with another it breeds hypocrisy, and both articles cover it as well. In “The Boston Photographs,” editors behave rather hypocritically. Hiring a special person to censor pictures of death, the media in fact does not decide, “whether they should be printed but how they should be displayed” (Ephron 174). Meanwhile, people believe that they react on a certain photograph, but not on the circumstances around it. However, in many cases the change of the caption will change the perception. Of course, it is not hypocrisy to take a sign of relief at learning that a woman looking dead on the picture is in fact alive, or vice versa, to make a grimace of disgust or horror when accidentally catching a sight of a dead body. However, voluntarily refusing to print atrocity pictures during wars is actually hiding the true motifs. People want to be left alone in their little bubbles and the death pictures disturb them. In “Violent Media is Good for Kids,” Jones also voices a similar sentiment about the necessity to uncover what is hidden. Parents at their own will drill their children to suffocate their emotions knowing that it is very unhealthy (nowadays it is impossible not to know psychological basics). At the end of the article, Jones compares stifling anger to the Victorians’ suppressed sexuality. The analogy is very apt because it is hypocritical for a person to claim that he or she does not feel or experience something, but it is even more unhealthy to refuse oneself primary human emotions. Rage and anger are among the basic human feelings and should be learnt how to express and control.
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As both authors discuss the reaction of other people to some event, such as violence witnessed by children or death seen on a picture in a magazine by an adult, their use of the language is similar in one aspect. It is common for people to talk disparagingly about people, events, or subject not really familiar or familiar only superficially. Such attitude gives a feeling of superiority and helps keep one’s opinion. Both Ephron and Jones do not use derogative words themselves, but utilize them as reported speech. In “The Boston Photographs,” Ephron retells the emotional reactions of the readers who were scandalized by the photographs of the woman in milliseconds from her death. To emphasize their displeasure, the reader utilized derogatory words and sarcasm. One reader commented the pictures as “a tawdry way to sell newspapers,” while another commentator called the editors “voyeurs” and expressed disappointment that they did not have an opportunity to take a picture of the woman falling off the fire escape wearing a skirt; in this case they could have “some award-winning photographs of her underpants as her skirt billowed over her head” (Ephron 173). In Jones’s “Violent Media is Good for Kids,” there is no scathing sarcasm, but still the opponents of violence in the media refer to modern cartoons and movies as “junk culture” and “awful violence” (201; 203).
In additions, the authors are united by the desire to inform the purpose of their subject-matter. Ephron concludes her article by saying that the purpose of a good picture is to “disturb readers” and make them think and ask questions (175). In such an extreme case as death, it is worth remembering that death will come to everyone and probably it is better to occasionally give it a thought. However, if newspapers lay claim to present news, they need to strive to cover all aspects of people’s lives. When something bad happens and people suffer, it is important to show it, so something could be changed to prevent suffering. Therefore, the subject of death is not more worthy than any other. In fact, as Ephron puts it, “Death happens to be one of life’s main events” (175). Discussing violent media Jones concludes that in the long run one needs to be aware what one feels like. It is a question of staying true to oneself and doing one’s best. It is up to parents to teach their children how to fantasize and then live up to their fantasies.
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Another similarity shared by the stories is in the time referred to by the authors. Ephron tells about a fatal accident that happened in the late 1970s. Throughout the story, Ephron repeatedly talks about Stanley Forman, who took the pictures, what camera he had, how he took them, and a merit of the pictures. It was a period when cameras were not as ubiquitous as nowadays and their capabilities were not as improved as now. However, Forman had a new camera with a motor and it could make three frames a second. Ephron reminiscences about that time and those photographs with warmth. She praises the skill and luck of the photographer. Being a reporter, Ephron favors photojournalism more than written journalism due to its effect and poignancy. It was the time when people printed photographs and wrote letters in longhand to the editorial offices of regional newspapers. In the similar vein, Jones also refers to approximately that time. Ten years’ time divides one story plot from another. Jones grew in the late 1960. Therefore, his world of the Incredible Hulk comics is similar to Ephron’s. Children used to buy comics in thrift stores and read and reread them leafing through dog-eared pages. In contrast to Ephron’s story, Jones makes a connection with the present time. Himself growing up with comic books about superheroes, Jones advocates cartoons and animated movies for children with probably the same superheroes. In fact, the reader can see a bigger span of time in Jones’s story. He begins with telling of himself as a child being shy and with suppressed emotions due to the unwise conditioning of his pacifist parents. On the second page of the story, the reader finds out that Jones eventually became a writer and an author of comic books. Thus, his relaxation method became his vocation.
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Another difference is the ambiguity of the subject of death in pictures and straightforwardness of violence in media. As was already mentioned, there are pictures which, if the caption is changed, become less scary. Even though their fall was frightening, the fatal accident with the women and her child could be seen calmly, if with a proper caption. Therefore, Ephron shows that although death can look ambiguous, one should not delude oneself with demands to sensor unwanted photography. Rather, it is better to adjust one’s attitude toward death. In contrast, Jones’s topic is very straightforward. It is impossible to hide violence or one’s watching of violence. Actually, the visible reaction to violence is one of the points why Jones advocates violent media for children. It teaches children to accept themselves and control their emotions.
Although “Violent Media is Good for Kids” by Gerard Jones and “The Boston Photographs” by Nora Ephron are absolutely different in the subject matter, the stories share the same time when the action took place and the desire to talk about the underlying issues of silencing the inconvenient subjects of fear and death.
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