Reviewed Books & Films

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July 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Media, the American Public, and Changing Attitudes Toward Torture

APA In her review of Screening Torture: Media Representations of State Terror and Political Domination, Debra Merskin notes that, in the past, media portrayals of torture aligned audience sympathies with the tortured. Since 9/11, media portrayals increasingly create audience alliances with the torturer and "little to no attention is paid to the physical or psychological consequences to the victim or torturer."

Although torture was banned in 1948 by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, television programs and films around the globe link torture to masculinity and sex in ways that sensationalize and glamorize "enhanced interrogation" techniques that we likely would have looked upon with horror a mere decade ago. Current media portrayals of torture seem to have affected public understanding of torture, with some accepting it as a legitimate tool to obtain useful and accurate information in a timely manner. In addition, Merskin notes,

[a] 2004 Washington Post/ABC News poll taken immediately after the Abu Ghraib scandal found that many consider physical and psychological torture as separate. Although 63 percent of the Americans surveyed opposed torture, they supported the use of sleep deprivation, stress positions, and noise bombardment (Morin & Deane, 2004).
As a society that has championed human rights and the rule of law, how have we come to this? Is it just the media, or is it our need to justify the actions of our military and other government agencies? How can psychology assist the media-consuming public to understand that the harms of psychological torture are as real and abhorrent as those of physical torture?

Read the Review
ReviewRevealing Torture
By Debra Merskin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(27)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Is Research on Fathering Too U.S. Centric?

APA In Fathers in Cultural Context, edited by David Shwalb, Barbara Shwalb, and Michael Lamb, chapter authors review the latest research on fathering in cultures across a variety of countries throughout the world. As reviewer Michael Connor summarizes, there are several topics discussed in the book including gender roles, historical accounts of fathering in the country of focus, contemporary fathering, notions of fatherhood, fathering activities, family structures, parenting styles, and father-child interactions. Connor takes issue, however, with the book's Western/European slant. He notes that chapter authors did not use the explicit experiences of fathers from the cultures they write about. In the editors' own words: "Research is guided by theory, but if the theory continues to derive exclusively from the US-Europe, the fathering literature cannot avoid some degree of … U.S.-centrism" (p. 396).

Do you agree with the editors, that the fathering literature cannot avoid some degree of U.S./Western centrism? Why or why not? How does this comment apply more broadly to the literature in psychology? What is the solution?

Read the Review
ReviewFathers in Western/European Cultural Context
By Michael Connor
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(22)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

iPhone MADness

APA These are my symptoms: I do not text or tweet. I am not on Facebook. My cell phone is off most of the time and many of its functions remain a mystery to me. My "old" iPad does not take pictures, but I do play pretty good Scrabble on it. I predict that in the next version of the DSM, these symptoms will constitute a new disorder: Media Anxiety Disorder, or MAD, although it may be that only the elderly, like me, will suffer from MADness.

This diagnosis follows from my reading of Vincent Hevern's review of Moving Data: The iPhone and the Future of Media, in which he asserts that "between 2005 and 2013 an important technological innovation ha[s] swept the world," the Apple iPhone. One contributor to this book states that this has created "a digital culture of interactivity" and a "creative 'psychic field' of human persons." Another contributor says we "increasingly inhabit a world of mediated connectivity, a 'mediasphere' … in which [we] find [our]selves always available for interactive communication." I am not exactly sure what those things mean, but I am not part of them.

My children and grandchildren are quite comfortable in this world. They can operate their devices while also, they claim, listening to Grandpa. Generational differences aside, it seems we are losing something significant in this new culture. These losses include privacy and opportunity for reflection, which Hevern mentions in his review, as well as the emotional connection that comes from looking someone in the face. So, who has the disorder, the tech-resistant seniors or those in the mediasphere?

Read the Review
ReviewLiving Connected Lives in the Media Sphere
By Vincent W. Hevern
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(28)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Argo: Acclaim, Misconceptions, and the Priority of Entertainment

APA The widely acclaimed film Argo swooped up numerous awards last year including prestigious Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film offers a riveting, intense story of a creative CIA plan to "make a fake movie" in order to save hostages in a volatile Iran in 1980. Despite the high entertainment value, the film does exhibit some stereotypes that are worth critiquing.

In her review of the film, Jaine Darwin observes the reductionistic, all-or-none quality of the film to portray the U.S. democracy as good and the Iranian theist state as bad. No doubt this is done in part to create a deep allegiance in the viewer and intensify the climactic scenes. In addition, a strong theme of the film is the CIA agent's decision to disobey authority and orders and continue the undercover plot despite increasing danger. Darwin points out that this perpetuates "the misconception that in order to be successful or to survive, one must fail to obey orders." Such behavior is rampant in the action film genre as well as in those involving political and government plotlines.

Do you agree with Darwin's observations? To what extent does this detract from your appreciation of the film?

In some cases, filmmakers have to choose to sacrifice some degree of accuracy in order to provide more extensive entertainment. Is there a line that can be drawn in terms of amount of accuracy sacrificed for level of entertainment gained?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Golden Fleece Redux
By Jaine Darwin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(23)

Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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