Don't just blame the West

  • Education
  • Sunday, 27 Jul 2003

ALLOW me to direct your attention to the letter “Western culture spawns social ills” (StarEducation, June 22). The writer has made a number of serious misjudgements in his article. 

My biggest criticism is the way he connects watching wrestling shows with bullying and (funnily enough) violence against women.  

The writer says that “major scientific studies in the West support this claim”, that we tend to copy things we see in the mass media without much thought.  

Let me pose this question to the writer: Does it mean that watching Superman would make me want to jump from a tall building and test my flying skills? 

Although major studies in sociology and psychology done by researchers like Albert Bandura and others have found a link between violence and the media in laboratory settings, in the real world, this connection is far too insignificant to pose a threat to human civilisation as we know it.  

Yes, once in a while we do come across a kid or teenager going to the extreme and re-enacting things seen in films, like The Matrix, for example – they would be “gunning” down everyone who comes within 100m of them. 

Nevertheless, let me reassure you that in terms of cognitive development, young children and teenagers are able to tell between what is real and what is not. So, a young child might copy some of the acts from a silly wrestling match, but at the same time he knows what actions are impossible to mimic.  

If blame is to be apportioned, we should blame irresponsible adults who let young children watch these programmes without guidance. Better still, adults should blame themselves for watching so much glorified violence on television, while yet asking for more.  

If you don't believe me, the next time you go to a public place, a restaurant, for example, just count the number of adults who seem to be glued to wrestling matches on the telly.  

For children, programmes like these are meant to be viewed with “parental guidance” – in other words, adults should tell them that they should not think what they are watching is real. Wrestling matches are not real; they are choreographed acts of tumbling and crashing. 

My second criticism is the way the writer makes the connection between the media and the problem of race and harmony.  

The media is not a snake that is out to swallow society in one gulp. In fact, it is one of our best tools in helping to create racial harmony. There is an abundance of programmes that help to do just that. For example, the film Schindler's List (which Malaysia has banned) is actually a powerful critique of the dangers of racial bigotry left unchecked by the powers that be.  

So, though we tend to see the West as a symbol of social decadence and everything evil, the West has tried to make an effort to rectify social issues and not just sweep them under the carpet (or mat), which is the Eastern method of doing things.  

Non-governmental organisations that have been playing an active role in ameliorating social injustice and social ills, tend to agree that the biggest hurdle in Malaysia is to get past the Eastern mentality that tends to shut both eyes to difficult issues like incest, other forms of child abuse, wife battery and others. Our normative reaction is total denial, closing our eyes and hearts to the issues that matter.  

Only now are we beginning to accept that social development is something that cannot be achieved without effort by every member of society, specifically with the aid of the mass media and the education system.  

Thanks to the liberalisation of the media in Malaysia, we can be more global in our thinking and more informed in the actions we take. 

What is important is to have the ability to critically sift through information that might be beneficial or detrimental to us, our families, and society as a whole.  

So, the next time you watch wrestling on TV with your young ones, ask them what values they get from the show. My guess is that they will say: “Nothing.” Then ask yourselves, why are you still watching?  

Perhaps you may want to persuade them to watch something more thought-provoking, or just let them watch wrestling for pure entertainment.  

But please, don't come to the conclusion that by watching wrestling, people will suddenly want to beat the daylights out of others or kill them. 




UfoRIA Centre of Excellence 

Universiti Teknologi Mara, 


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