Now it’s a theater in Louisiana! Fewer and fewer days pass between headlines reporting another wanton act of violence. The fuel for these incidents is no mystery.
Frequent and graphic depictions of violence in movies, television shows and video games increases seemingly by the day. For years now in op Ed essays, sermons, talks in schools and appearances on TV news shows I have railed against this trend.
As I pursue this campaign I feel like the solitary man of Jewish legend who visited the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah each day to urge the people to repent and change their wicked ways. “Why do you bother?” a friend asked him. Don’t you know those people will never change and become like you?
“Perhaps not,” the man answered, “but I must keep proclaiming my message, so that, I do not become like them!”
On the Ninth of Av, the Hebrew calendar date associated with numerous tragedies in history, we must now add to the list of those calamities we remember, the shootings at Hartford’s West Indian Day parade in 2008.
Why can we only expect the violence to increase? Statistics show that the average 11-year old has witnessed 8,000 TV murders. The acts of violence in movies and video games are mind numbingly gruesome. As study after study shows they desensitize kids to the impact of violence, and kids imitate what they see in the media.
I am an example, and I do not write this with pride.
As a nine-year-old kid I watched my TV cowboy heroes sneak up behind preoccupied bad guys, extract revolvers from their holsters and tell them, “Hold it right there!”
I thought that was so cool that I tried it myself on the cop who stood on the corner near my elementary school. Fortunately my exploit did not end tragically.
Today the violence available on TV is 100 times more graphic than when I was nine, and there are hundreds more TV stations for kids to watch. Throw in the movies and video games, and the events that grab—and will continue to grab—such horrific national and local headlines should not surprise us.
In video games the kid becomes not just the consumer of violence but also the perpetrator of it. In these games there are no moral consequences for these actions. Indeed the ability to commit unspeakable acts of violence is one of the most important skills necessary to succeed in so many of these games.
Of course parents should be the first and strongest line of defense. But society has a stake in this problem too.
The media will not become interested until it is in their economic interest to do so. They need to hear us demand that they tone down the violence or we will turn of our sets and not buy their games. Otherwise, as one producer told me, asking media outlets to eliminate violence from their programming is the same as asking Exxon not to sell gasoline.
We should also hold advertisers responsible for programs they sponsor. We must let them know that we shall choose not to buy products that advertise shows with graphically violent content.
When I implored former Congressman Henry Waxman, who represented LA’s Hollywood district at a conference once to use his influence to persuade the media industry to tone down the violence for the sake of our children’s lives and safety, he replied disinterestedly, “We can’t impose censorship.”
I do not ask for censorship, but I do ask for self-discipline both by the consumers and producers of violence. There can be little doubt that a serious reduction of media mayhem will result in a serious reduction of violent crime in our streets. For the sake of our children and grandchildren it is time that we the people take media violence seriously and demand that parents, politicians and the perpetrators of media violence all address this vital issue.