Outrage comes easy at the sight of 15-year-old Disney Channel billion-dollar phenomenon Miley Cyrus -- known to screaming 8-year-old girls as Hannah Montana -- appearing barebacked with a come-hither smile in a photo shoot for Vanity Fair. Did no one understand how the slinky satin-sheet photo would be greeted by the eyes of teenage boys -- or men twice her age? Parents are covering the eyes of their Disney-drenched little girls while their role model has a train wreck. Do we need another Britney Spears Show?
But teenage boys are going wilder this week over a more dangerous cultural low: "Grand Theft Auto IV." The new video game from Rockstar Games is flying off the shelves, and all the early reviews are glowing. GamePro magazine calls it "the pinnacle of interactive entertainment and game design." Why is it so good? "It never makes concessions in the name of being politically correct, living up to its M-rating with gusto -- there's tons of swearing, violence and sexual innuendo."
Yes, young lads, you can visit strip clubs and get lap dances, pick up prostitutes, go on assassination missions and conduct gangland-style executions. The New York Times applauded the game's "winsome procession of grifters, hustlers, drug peddlers and other gloriously unrepentant lowlifes."
Game-lovers can protest that just because a game encourages you to kill cops and exploit prostitutes, it doesn't mean you become violent. But that argument isn't helped by the news report that a San Diego man doused video-game store employees with mace to steal the game. Or that a man standing in line in London was stabbed in the head and neck. As the Times of London reported, "Onlookers thought initially that the stabbing was part of a stunt by the store to whip up excitement" about the game. The victim went to get his own knife for a revenge attack, but collapsed and was taken to the hospital. "It was a scene straight from the game itself," gushed one witness.
In 2004, Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, co-founders of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, undertook a $1.5 million study funded by the Department of Justice on the effects of video games on young teenagers. "Grand Theft Auto" is the most popular video game series among young teens. In their surveys of seventh- and eighth-grade kids, 44 percent of boys reported playing a "Grand Theft Auto" game "a lot in the past six months" -- far more than the next most popular game series, Madden NFL. Even among girls, it was second only to "The Sims." One in five girls routinely played it.