It is Time to Undo the Culture of Violence

I hesitated to write this diary today out of concern that it may be too soon after such a horrible tragedy. We are still reeling as a nation from the murders of innocent children and the adults who worked with them at Sandy Hoke Elementary. The only comparable feeling to describe it is how I felt after 9/11 and how I felt as child when the Murrah bombing occurred. It is difficult to put those feelings into words. Shock, anger, fear, worry, terror, all come to mind. Yet they still do not seem adequate.

It is human nature to be introspective when tragedies of this magnitude occur. That is not necessarily a negative thing. In our personal lives, we are often called to take stock and inventory of our lives. Perhaps that time has come for this nation.

Some have begun to sound the alarm about the need for gun control and more laws. I am not going to comment on these actions in this diary, because I feel that they are a distraction from the real issues. The main one being the decline of our culture, an issue no law or legislation can fix. Other issues such as how we treat mental illness in this country and how we can improve school security are valid and important topics of discussion, but each subject would require a diary all unto themselves to do them justice.

I recall when I was a child in the 1980’s, the notion that the consumption of violent media  could have a negative effect on the behavior or thought patterns of children was deemed silly and reserved for religious fanatics or something along those lines. However, as early as 1997 (and earlier), studies were coming out that disproved this idea.The evidence has continued to mount since then. Multiple studies now exist  showing that the violent images children are being exposed to via video games, television, and movies increase aggressive and violent behavior. Despite the scientific evidence, the myth perpetrated in the 1980’s continues to be pervasive within the American consciousness. It seems that we have been just denying the proclamations of the nation’s psychological professionals. The results of this denial are unfortunately seen on the nightly news all too often.

So what is the solution for a free society? The First Amendment ensures freedom of speech and is sacred in this country, as it should be. Banning certain media products is not the appropriate solution for a country that believes in freedom as we do.The rating systems for video games, movies, etc. were a great concept, but have failed miserably. Why? The reason is all too simple. Parents just ignore or discount them. This is usually due to either pure apathy and/or incomptence or the belief in the myth discussed above.

One large problem is that parenting in the U.S. has been largely abdicated to the schools, the state, and even the Church (though the latter does great good). These institutions are no substitute for competent, involved parenting. How to cure the apathy/incomptence portion of the parenting failure in the U.S. is complex and I have no ready solutions for this issue. But the myth that violent media has no effect on children and even adults can and must be debunked and destroyed.

We can begin the process by starting a massive ad campaign. We have multiple educational initiatives in the schools and the community geared towards parents and children. Some are quite silly and ineffective. But others, like the anti-smoking campaign, have been largely successful. The attitudes towards smoking have completely changed in the last 30 or so years and less people are smoking. The same model can be used to educate parents on the dangers of violent media and the negative effects on society. Hopefully, that will translate into less violent images consumed and eventually less products made for consumption.

The ad campaign cannot mince words though. It cannot be based on a Hollywood actor’s cheesy politically correct warning as they star in the next slasher movie. It has to be scientifcally based and almost blunt in its’ honesty. That is not to say that celebrities would not be a welcome addition, but they would have to be willing do their part in Hollywood to clean that place up. Otherwise they need not apply.

This obviously is not the single solution or cure all, but it is a start. It will not be without opposition either. The media complex makes massive amounts of money off of the violent video games, movies, and television shows they create. But it is time to take a stand. It is time to make this country a better and more sane place to live in.

***I have links to the studies discussed, but was not able to post them. If anyone is interested in the abstracts/articles I can list them for you. Or a cursory search of Google Scholar or PubMed will lead you to a wealth of studies on this subject.