Kind World Syndrome?

George Gerbner, over several decades, has argued that violence in the media leads us to think of the world as a nasty place, to overestimate the dangers surrounding us, and to trust our fellow citizens less–a problem he has termed the “Mean World Syndrome.” Lauren writes that she had her car “broken into” last night, but that the thief took only some change and a lighter, leaving CDs. She doesn’t make the assumption I would–that the thief didn’t like my musical taste–but instead wonders whether there can be a “kind thief.”

I heard similar stories, especially in Seattle, where there is a substantial homeless and runaway population. Seattle tends to be fairly progressive in the ways they handle this, including giving free telephone messaging services to the homeless and installing giving meters to help make panhandling more effective, and you would sometimes hear of petty theft that was relatively non-destructive.

The thing is, this kind of kind theft never shows up in the newspapers, so we never hear about it in a more pervasive way, and are left assuming that crooks are always savage.

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  1. Posted 6/15/2003 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Agreed. Good examples of this are the more visible crimes on the UB north campus during the past two years. While the armed robberies and cases of car arson may have been “scary”, they in no way reflect the more prevalent ghost town mood of the campus.

  2. Posted 6/16/2003 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of a phrase that was commonly used in my undergraduate journalism class, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Although it is unfortunate that the media focuses on sensational material and does not devote time to the exploration of burglary motivations and intentions, it is evident that they exist primarily for commercial purposes. It would surely help to diminish the effects of the mean world syndrome if they did choose to focus on more positive and enlightening issues.
    In response to your comment regarding the possibility of the thief’s dislike of my musical selection, I wonder how pertinent that is to this particular argument. Obviously, he/she was experiencing a heightened sense of desperation for breaking into my car in the first place. At that point, does it matter if he/she feels that my possessions are of a personal value, or rather, is it more important that the possessions were of some material value? It would take nothing for that individual to parlay those CD’s and offer them to someone who does feel that they are of some personal worth.
    This gets back to my initial point, and that is the fact that my thief was a kind thief. Besides, who doesn’t like Madonna and how dare you question my taste in music:)

  3. Posted 6/16/2003 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of an opinion I heard of a few years ago where strict GWB type Christians favored more good / clean news (sans violence) on TV. I would say that that would not solve the problem however as people would then become oblivious to reality (not that such people are a minority now ;) ). I’d prefer a Nader-style remedy along the lines of this.

  4. Posted 6/18/2003 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I agree with you completely. I don’t usually pay much attention to Nader, but his comments regarding the evening news are right on mark (in terms of my personal opinions.) Thanks for the link….it’s very interesting.

  5. Posted 6/20/2003 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    There are downloadable versions of some of Ralph Nader’s speeches online which are worth checking out.

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