Who's To Blame?

In a place called Anytown, USA, a few teenagers get together for a weekend of fun.  They sneak a few adult beverages, rent a couple DVD’s and video games from the local video store.  They put in the new Cannibal Corpse CD and pretty soon, they are having quite the party.  The first movie on the agenda is the Sci-Fi action movie, The Matrix.  Lots of guns and amazing shooting sequences and kung-fu action.  Next they take turns shooting giant fire breathing Hell-Beasts in a dimly lit dungeon.  This goes on until dawn approaches and the birds begin to sing.  They finally pass out and wake up the next day with a massive hangover and sore fingers from blowing up the zombies all night with grenade launchers.  On Monday morning, these same kids wake up, get dressed, and go back to school dreading that History exam they have to take.   

So, what is the big deal about this scenario?  It seems normal enough, and that is exactly my point.  Some groups would have you believe that with all this violence in movies, music, and videogames, the companies that manufacture these products should be held responsible for any deaths that occur because someone listened to their CD, watched their movie, or played their video game.  Some have said that life imitates art, and others say that art imitates life.  I say, “What does it matter?”  It’s a movie.  It’s lyrics.  It’s pixilated characters on a memory chip.  Those images can and may well be violent in nature, but does that mean you have to reenact them and use a certain company as a scapegoat, because you lack the common sense to differentiate right and wrong?

 Violence has been with us since Cain killed Abel.  Violence has always been a form of entertainment, such as the Roman times in the Coliseum or even the more modern sport, for lack of better word, of professional wrestling.  By attempting to sue these alleged purveyors of violence into bankruptcy, or enacting governmental regulations upon them, will not change the human condition.  We crave excitement and adventure.  We love the thrill of living on the edge.  It’s when that thrill crosses the line and turns into criminal acts does it change the whole tune.

 We are mesmerized by scenes of a car chase on live television.  Helicopters fill the sky like swarms of locusts to capture the moment of truth on tape.  The moment of truth could be simply the car runs out of gas on an off-ramp and the police officers capture him with minimal difficulty.  Or, as in the case of Daniel Jones, the moment of truth could be parking a pickup truck on a bridge, and committing suicide with a shotgun with the news cameras rolling.  As much as we hope the first scenario to be the outcome, I think there is a small part of us who only watch with a morbid curiosity hoping the second one takes place.

 If we see images on the big screen of our hero beating the bad guy senseless, we cheer.  Even if our antagonist is a bad guy, and is suave in his methods of death and destruction, we watch it with glazed over eyes.  In a span of less than two hours, our eyes and ears can take in countless acts of carnality and vile language, and when the credits start to roll, we finish our Coke and popcorn and head for the exit.  If it is a really good movie, we may talk about it for days to our friends and coworkers.  Most importantly we talk and don’t act out scenes.

 But what about the instances where people watch a movie and decide to play the home game?  This happened a few times back in 1993 after the marginally popular movie, The Program, was released.  Students reenacted the scene in the movie, where the students in the movie would lay down in the middle of a busy road at night and have cars speed inches from their body.  It makes for good drama and excitement in a movie about college football; however, in real life this puts someone up for top contender in the Darwin Awards.  In the movie, the kids get up off the road after the director yells, “Cut!”  In real life, the kids who had the brains, or lack thereof, to attempt this cinematic spectacle were picked up off the road by a coroner and irreverently tossed in a body bag.

 Take a look at the real-life exploits of teenagers, both at home and abroad, who cite the Oliver Stone movie, Natural Born Killers, as their inspiration to go on killing sprees.  For the longest time, this movie was the patsy for all that is deplorable in this world.  Never mind the fact that the movie was parodying how murderers became pseudo-celebrities in real life.  If people have a mindset that when watching this particular movie, and focus only on the violence and the death scenes, they are simply using presupposition to come to a fraudulent conclusion what the movie is about.

 Personally, I can see the correlation between watching something on television and attempting to try the same based on what you saw.  Obviously if you have never thought of lighting yourself on fire, then one day see MTV’s Jackass, and the next day you’re a human torch with 3rd degree burns over 90% of your body, that would be indicative of the medium being a prime motivator contributing to an act of ignorance.  This is when the left brain should begin to function and tell us this is a very bad idea.  Unfortunately, some people have a natural immunity to logic.

 Movies and television are not the only red-headed step-children in the world of malevolent entertainment choices.  Music has bore its brunt of criticism over the years.  In the 50’s, Elvis Presley was considered shocking and distasteful.  By the time the 80’s rolled around, The King was dethroned by Ozzy Osbourne, and subsequently by gangster rap acts like Ice-T and 2 Live Crew in the 90’s.  Lyrical content plays a major role in the debate.  Conservative Republican Bob Dole even took a moment to grandstand a little by denouncing these types of groups, and calling our culture “dangerously coarse”.  This type of behavior isn’t exclusive to those on the far right wing of the political spectrum.  Left wing bleeding heart liberals dabble in this mess as well.  Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman is a harsh outspoken opponent of violence in the varied forums of entertainment and has demanded taking federal action against those who put out violent video games and television shows.

 Given these more prominent examples of how someone has tried to harm themselves and espouse that the music made them do it, or how it looked cool in the movie, exactly how does one combat this widespread epidemic?  Some have gone as far as to give a knee-jerk reaction of, “Ban It!”, while others take a more sensible approach.  Given the First Amendment argument of free speech, the entertainment industry puts out pretty much what they feel they can get away with, and using their massive purchasing power, the American public will exercise their free-market sensibilities and throw its money where they think is most appropriate.  This brings up the next question of: What is appropriate?  As far as I am concerned, when you are 18 years of age, and you are not breaking the law, anything is appropriate.  If you want to look at and watch the most sick and twisted pornography, go ahead.  If you like to play first-person shooter games in God mode and turn every zombie you find into a bloody mess, go ahead.  If you want to listen to songs about raping a woman with a knife and having oral sex with a severed head, go ahead.  To the best of my knowledge, pictures, video games, and lyrics have not killed anyone.  As such, the federal government has no business in policing these areas.  Society may not approve of such horrid lyrics, but not everybody approves of their parents’ taste in Billy Ray Cyrus.

 For those who are under the age of 18, that all falls within the responsibility of the parents to raise their kids up in such a manner that the child knows right from wrong, fact from fiction, and movie violence from real life violence.  Being a young adult at one point, I can unequivocally say that my parents were clueless on current trends that permeated in the schools and how peer pressure influenced me to be “cool”.  In that regard, parents need to familiarize themselves with the music their kids are listening to.  How much time do their kids spend playing video games, whose purpose is to kill the opponent in creative ways?  Is your 15-year old son going to see R-rated movies at the theater, and if so, how is he getting in without a parent or guardian?  Just because a movie receives numerous Oscar nominations, doesn’t necessarily mean your 10-year old child should be regurgitating quotes from Pulp Fiction for grandma.

 What are the effects of violence in entertainment?  Does it desensitize us to real world horrors?  Can the accumulative hours, days, and years of taking in scenes of gruesome death make you a callous person?  Is it possible for profanity laced and homicidal lyrical compositions to drive you to the brink of killing?  To answer these questions, two numbers come to mind: Nine Eleven.  I seriously doubt Usama Bin Ladin or  Mohammad Atta had their sick urges fed by the latest releases of Jay-Z or Eminem.  When it comes to desensitization, I can see that in regards to movie violence; in other words, fake violence.  It is no secret that movies try to see how much they can top and outdo the previous year’s blockbuster hit.  We expect that.  Studies have shown that the average person has watched tens of thousands of deaths in movies, on television, and video games.  Given these overwhelming statistics, it would seem that nothing would even faze us.  I believe that hypothesis was proven incorrect as we all watched the airliners slam into the World Trade Center.

 The physiological effects of listening to rousing music or watching movies are undeniable.  Getting a large crowd at Arrowhead Stadium to react in a unified frenzy requires nothing more than playing “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones, or “We Will Rock You” by Queen.  Being glued to the screen during the final action sequence with big explosions and car chases gets our adrenaline pumping.  Watching a graphic sex scene get us hot and bothered.  These are both harmless effects, although the latter can be frustrating.  If Hollywood or record companies put out products that can cause us to do bad things, why is there not a massive onslaught of incidents occurring?  Like lemmings going over the cliff, we should all be uncontrollably killing ourselves and each other.

 This is an issue that has so many differing opinions, that occasionally some unlikely groups often agree.  For instance, in my research, I actually found myself agreeing with the ACLU. Anybody who knows me well enough can attest to the fact that I am not a big fan or theirs. I suppose between their stints of opposing nativity scenes, God in general, defending the rights of the Ku Klux Klan to have parades, or defending NAMBLA in its promotion of the idea of sex with children, the ACLU has the occasional nugget of truth.  As a conservative Republican, I find most of their views abhorrent, but they got it right this time.  Quoting from one of their newsletters in why we should not let the majority’s morality dictate what entertainment we have access to:

The answer is simple, and timeless: a free society is based on the principle that each and every individual has the right to decide what art or entertainment he or she wants – or does not want – to receive or create.  Once you allow the government to censor someone else, you cede to it the power to censor you, or something you like.  Censorship is like poison gas: a powerful weapon than can harm you when the wind shifts.

In a perfect world, nothing negative would ever fall upon our children that could harm them in any way.  Graphic video games would be a thing of the past.  Explicit lyrics in music would be cause for dropping a band from a record label.  No movies except for wholesome G-rated Disney features would take up space in the latest 30 theater megaplex.  Is that what we really want?  Old Yeller may be a touching movie about a boy and his dog, but doesn’t the occasional action movie like Die Hard or Terminator sound good?  If anything, movies like this break up the monotony of rehashed good feelings.  Variety is the spice of life. 

 If we really want to go to extremes, should we ban the Holy Bible?  After all, there are numerous accounts of war and vicious killings.  Even Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame hasn’t attempted drive a spike though some victim’s head, pinning them to the ground, as was the fate of Sisera in the book of Judges 5:26.  Now that I think about, banning Old Yeller wouldn’t be such a far fetched idea.  There is gunplay.  And given that it is a child shooting the gun, that obviously only feeds this epidemic of accidental deaths of children.

 My parents raised me to have common sense and decent reasoning abilities.  There were news stories when I was a kid back in the 1970’s of children playing Superman by putting a towel around their neck and jumping off the roof of their house.  Some were merely injured, but things happen and the next thing you hear about is a kid who essentially hanged himself because the make-believe cape they were wearing had gotten caught and the child asphyxiated.  My friends and I used to play Six Million Dollar Man, but we had the rationale to know that we could not do all Spartan acts of Steve Austin without hurting ourselves.

 Kids will be kids, and teenagers have an innate predisposition to be rebellious towards authority.  For little Billy, listening to music talking about smackin’ bitches or lightin’ up the chronic is his  way to feel like he is all grown up.  Soon enough he will be grown up, and if the parental units were the role models they should have been throughout little Billy’s life, then we as a society have nothing to worry about.  If on the other hand, they were the epitome of what not to be as parents, then let us hope that some survivability genes got passed down through a few generations, or else little Billy is going to have a rough life.  Is it Judas Priest’s fault, or Eminem’s fault?  How about Marilyn Manson or Snoop Dogg?  If there are decent lines of communication between the parents and the kid, I honestly do not see a problem with violence in entertainment. 

 As we can see, it comes down to personal responsibility.  That responsibility stems from a son or daughter’s upbringing.  Just for the sake of curiosity, I wonder how many modern day parents of 14 or 16-year olds used to listen to the controversial artists back in their days.  Society as a whole is good, but there are some bad apples that ruin it for all of us.  When a tragedy occurs due to illogical behavior on a child’s part, young or old, the parents of these same children need to stop pointing fingers at everybody else.  They need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask a very simple question, “Who’s To Blame?”

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