What happened in a Colorado movie theatre around 12:30 am this morning was shocking, senseless, and tragic. The victims were in no way to blame for what befell them at the hands of a deranged killer. But we as a society should not be surprised at the increasing number of such violent gun attacks on innocent people when we constantly present violence as entertainment.
I read this quote about the tragedy in a CNN article: “For somebody to go into a movie theater, a place of fun and escapism, and bring that kind of violence into that world is shocking and tragic,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com. But just two short paragraphs later, the same article points out that “Warner Bros., which is owned by the parent company of CNN, has been heavily marketing the action film that includes scenes featuring lots of gunplay and violence.[emphasis mine] Warner Bros. pulled the trailer for the film ‘Gangster Squad,’ which had been running before showings of ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ That film trailer features scenes of men armed with machine guns attacking a movie theater.” Sounds like a lot of what too many people term “fun” and “escapism” involves “fantasy” violence.
I have already seen the inevitable renewed debate over gun control. But this is NOT a gun control issue. This is a behavioral issue. Are violent video games to blame? Or the movie industry itself? How about television? Maybe it’s the parents? None of these is responsible – all of them are. At least we’re talking (occasionally) about those particular issues. Sadly, it’s not politically correct to raise the question of how war and combat are glamorized by our recruitment for and celebration of our armed forces. Frankly, we’ve indoctrinated an entire, desensitized generation into believing that wielding weapons is normal and heroic.
I hear the argument all the time: “Oh, it’s ‘just’ a video game. It’s ‘just’ a movie. Kids aren’t REALLY going to do those things. They know better. They can tell the difference between media and reality” But you know what? When they play it in their spare time, see it in their toys, watch it on TV – in their cartoons, in their news, in their commercials – see it in the movies, witness it in their sports, hear it in their music, and have it in front of them in myriad way ALL THE TIME, they absorb it, they ingest it, they accept it, and they normalize it. It becomes their reality.
My kids are not very exposed to violence through the media. We don’t watch network TV at home at all (this is no exaggeration – we have had no dish or cable service for over 2.5 years.) We use our TV for Wii games & movies and the most violent DVDs we own are probably the Harry Potter movie collection. However, my kids aren’t completely sheltered from the reality of a violent world. Despite the controversy, I took my kids to see “The Hunger Games,” an admittedly violent movie, because they’d both read the books and because the heroine is herself so horrified by the lack of humanity exhibited by most of the people associated with the games. During the movie, other kids and adults were cheering when each “bad” kid died. Both my girls were horrified by this because even though the characters were “kids making bad choices, they were still kids and they were dying. Why are people cheering for kids dying, mom?” Out of the mouths of babes…
I had a friend, who was raising three boys, tell me once that I didn’t understand that boys need to run around and pretend violence in order to “find their place as men in our society” (I think she’d read that in some book about raising sons). She wasn’t entirely comfortable with it at the time, but “it’s just a necessary part of life.” Her oldest son was so young, maybe 7 years old, that it didn’t MEAN anything, she said. That son is a teenager now and obsessed with all things Army, guns, camouflage, violent video games, killing – and she see no problem with it, still thinks it’s normal. I’m horrified at his transformation and we are no longer friends partially because I don’t want my girls exposed to that kind of “normal” boy.
Does no one see a connection between the massive daily over-exposure of our kids to violence and the rise of school violence? domestic violence? violent bullying? childhood depression? youth suicide? Was no one else horrified that there was a 4 month old baby and a 9 year old child present in that theatre at midnight am for a PG-13 movie containing known adult violence? Does no one else see the grim irony that many people in the theatre didn’t realize what was happening because they thought it was just super-realistic special effects?
Violence is not acceptable – not in our video games, not in our movies, not in our toys, not in our music, not in our television shows, not in our sports, and especially NOT for our children. And if we don’t stand up and say, “No more,” we will continue to find others’ violent escapism fantasies turning into our own very grim reality.