Jerk offline = jerk online

I think it’s fair to say there’s a perception out there that the online world just turns some people into jerks.  The best evidence suggests, however, that these jerks have always been out there among us (you surely know some), but what social media does is just give them a much greater reach, so you’re more likely to come across them in your life.  Don’t be a jerk.  This is good in the Monkey Cage, “Actually, Facebook isn’t making people angrier. Some people are just jerks.”

Most people — even at Facebook — think that the big problem with social media is that it makes people angrier than they might otherwise be, and more likely to believe false things. But our research suggests that online hostility isn’t a product of social media and algorithms. People who are angry when they talk about politics online are angry in offline political discussions, too. And when they share misinformation, it’s generally not because they are making a sincere mistake. It’s because they want to stick it to the people they hate, whether or not the actual complaint is true…

If you’re a jerk online, you’re probably one offline

Ordinary people think the same thing. In a recent article, we show that most people in the United States and Denmark agree that online discussions are much more hostile than offline discussions. The results of our study, however, suggest that it’s not the Internet that transforms otherwise nice people into angry trolls. People who are jerks online are jerks offline, too. We do find that the kind of people who are obsessed with politics are often frustrated, angry and offensive. But they tend to rant about politics in offline interactions as well.

Who are these people? We find that the biggest factor associated with political hostility — online and offline — is status-seeking. Some people crave higher social status and try to intimidate others into recognizing them. Aggressive status-seeking is rooted in offline frustrations, which have been increasing since the 1980s, boosted in part by the 2008 global financial crisis and now the coronavirus pandemic.

Short version: stay away from angry trolls– in the real world and online.  You probably just have to work harder to stay away from them online.

Judge my parenting

As somebody who let my daughter watch all the Alien movies when she was 8 and recently watch Squid Game I quite enjoyed this NYT Parenting newsletter “In Defense of ‘Inappropriate’ Kids’ Movies”  I think Jessica Grose, who is taking a pretty cautious view of inappropriate (e.g., The Addams family recommended for 12 and up for younger kids), may still object to the Steve Greene approach (not to mention Rick and Morty), but, anyway, good stuff here:

During the darkest, coldest part of our 2020 quarantine, my husband and I turned to the movies of our youth for solace, and we shared them with our 7-year-old and 3-year-old. In a few short weeks we ran through “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Back to the Future,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and the 1991 version of “The Addams Family.”

These are all movies that Common Sense Media — a site that gives age-range suggestions for TV and movies — rates as inappropriate for children until they reach double digits…

As Halloween approaches and parents are probably thinking about whether they should let their children be terrified and thrilled by fantasy and horror classics, I’ve reflected on my daughter’s responses. I think she applies more critical thinking to older films because many of today’s movies are so polished, and so calibrated for safety, that it’s hard for a kid’s mind to grab onto any spiky edges. Why would a kid assign herself a mental book report on something that’s completely tidy?

Today’s fare often contains overtly saccharine and moralizing take-home messages, like the movie’s conclusion has been prechewed. As Katie Walsh put it in her Los Angeles Times review of the 2019 “Addams Family,” “The Addamses might look, talk and act darker and weirder than most, but what makes them the weirdest is they’re a loving, tight-knit family.” Compare that with Janet Maslin’s New York Times review of the 1991 version, which described “The Addams Family”’s humor as “dry, wicked and wholly self-contained,” but noted that the film lacked any real plot.

It’s not that I’m trying to warp my kid’s still-developing mind too much. But sometimes we might overlook that they’re up for a challenge.

The idea that it’s healthy for children to be unsettled by art isn’t new. Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist, won a National Book Award in the ’70s for “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.” (He was later accused of plagiarism.) In that book, Bettelheim posits that the “softening” of classic fairy tales, as John Updike wrote for The Times, removed their value for children. The world is not a sunny place, Bettelheim argues, and art that reflects only sunny outcomes does not help children deal with their own dark and rude impulses, which are universal.

Since the ’70s, when Bettelheim was in vogue, children’s entertainment has absolutely exploded as a genre. As a child in the ’80s and early ’90s, before my family got cable, if I turned on the TV after school it meant reruns of the perhaps slightly too-mature “Three’s Company” or “Oprah,” “Donahue” and “Jerry Springer” — while cartoons of the Looney Tunes variety were reserved for Saturday mornings. My kids, on the other hand, have an ocean of streaming content explicitly designed and curated for them.

A.O. Scott, one of The Times’s chief film critics, told me that trends in technology and parenting dovetailed during my teen years to create this glut of glossy family entertainment. With the rise of VHS and DVD technology, movies moved into the home in a way they hadn’t before. At the same time, the ’90s saw a rise in what’s called “intensive parenting,” defined as “constantly teaching and monitoring children.”

Starting in the early 2000s, there was a market for movies that kids and parents would watch together, Scott said, which led to movies becoming more overtly moralistic. Parents wanted to think that what they let their kids watch was wholesome, maybe even edifying. He cited “Shrek” as a prime example of this kind of entertainment, with its obnoxious pop-cultural references sprinkled in just for parents, silly cartoon high jinks for the children and “a message about how everyone should love each other that’s often just pasted on. And I think that’s often to play to the anxieties of parents more than to the actual sensitivities of kids,” Scott said.

I’m not trying to be Andy Rooney-ish — insisting that movies were so much better in my day! And I recognize that the movies and TV of my youth were often more overtly racist and sexist than contemporary ones. (And I’d watch more recent movies, such as “Moana” and “Ratatouille,” on repeat, with or without my kids, because they are excellent films.)

But I do think something is gained by letting children enjoy a varied media diet, including entertainment that might challenge them emotionally, inspire them to think critically or leave them without an uplifting message. After all, I spend hours watching “Real Housewives” — why should my children be deprived of the pleasures of somewhat more kid-friendly televised naughtiness?

There you go… I’m actually just challenging my elementary-age daughter with art when she watches Alien and Terminator films (and to be honest, I just love that she loves these– and the first two in each series are both simply brilliant– watch this).  Anyway, if I’m making a mistake on this, I guess I’ll pay her future therapy bills.  Also, I actually love Shrek.

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