Media studies

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
PANIC ATTACKS. By Jenny Grahame and Kate Domaille. Pack with photocopiable materials, ring binder and video The English and Media Centre pound;39.95 plus pound;4 pamp;p. Available from NATE, Broadfield Road, Sheffield S8 OXJ. Tel: 0114 255 5419 LESS THAN What Panic Attacks rightly describes as "a notoriously complex debate" is regularly presented by the tabloid press as anything but. It sometimes seems that scarcely a week goes by without a columnist in search of a soft target denouncing the visual media for inciting young people to violent crime. With impressive enterprise and organisation, Panic Attacks shows just how simplistic such arguments are.

Designed largely for students of the key stage 4 media unit for English GCSE as well as for those studying GCSE and ASA2 media studies, the pack adopts an "integrated recursive approach" that allows teachers to pick from and mix a range of elements. As with most publications from the English and Media Centre, the materials will inspire teachers as much as they will interest students.

As well as contributions from students and media professionals on screen violence and censorship, the companion video offers clips from Ben Elton's play Popcorn, along with comments from the playwright. On a less satirical note, a grim BBC News item on an atrocity from the Bosnian war follows a similarly harrowing extract from Warriors, the acclaimed docudrama that was partially based on the BBC news report.

Allied to these are exercises that will inspire students to fresh insights on the controversy surrounding media coverage of media violence. Sveral are outstanding, not least those where students devise a radio programme on public reactions to the horrifying "burnt driver" picture from the Gulf war or, again, explore the latest findings on media violence as part of a project to write a school policy on suitable films for students. And ideas for a simulated television debate on the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction look likely to provoke some lively exchanges.

Teachers will be thankful for much else - lists of websites, research findings, theories of audience and data on past moral panics. Well compiled and summarised, all are suited to A-level film and media studies. So, indeed, is the authors' "aim to develop a more critical approach to 'expert studies' generally, and to relate particular studies to pre-existing theoretical positions".

A pity, then, that there is no reference to researcher Greg Philo's complaint that his and David Miller's joint contribution to Ill Effects, a book co-edited by Martin Barker and Julian Petley in 1997 (and one recommended here as background reading), was dropped because it unexpectedly challenged the editors' views that there was little if any apparent link between media violence and various kinds of antisocial behaviour.

In short, Philo hinted that at least some findings on this most vexed issue are tainted by surmise - a matter that merits more attention than it gets here.

Nothing to panic about, certainly, but an omission that might be made good in future.

LAURENCE ALSTER Laurence Alster teaches media studies at the South Downs college, Hampshire

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