May 26, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Pointing a Finger

Violence is as American as cherry pie.

H. Rap Brown

April 21, 1999

Yesterday, in Littleton, Colorado, two high school students massacred 13 of their classmates and then killed themselves. The news broadcasts had nothing else. Everyone lamented this tragedy and every pundit talked about how to prevent things like this from happening in the future. I thought that they would continue talking about it for a week or so. It turned out that they still haven't stopped talking about it over a month later.

Despite lamenting the tragedy, the TV news people will immediately go back to business as usual. What is business as usual? For one thing, when a movie is hyped on TV, what they will show are people being killed, blown up, murdered. Why? Because the very same people who are lamenting what happened in Colorado believe that what attracts people to a movie is violence, murder and mayhem; and the more the better.

Attracting people is what their business is. If a TV channel has no viewers it goes out of business. By the same token, if no one wants to see a particular movie, it will lose money. Since the movie makers are in business to make money, they will fail if no one goes to see their flicks. As a consequence movie makers try to make movies that people will buy. The ideal is to make a fine movie, with a fine script, fine actors and a fine director. This will attract some people, but the majority of people will stay away. I think that it is safe to say that the movies that movie makers make are the movies that a lot of people want to see. Those movies are often filled with violence.

This is nothing new. I wonder what the effect of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had on the kids who saw it. How many adolescents were sympathetic and believed that those two scumbags were heroic? How could Paul Newman and Robert Redford be anything else? Fortunately, the vast majority of youngsters will not emulate them. However, enough will do so to keep the news filled with murder and mayhem for a long time. The robber Jesse James is a hero to some people, as are many gangsters.

I remember the games of my childhood. Some games were just games: stick ball, marbles, hockey etc. There was also cops and robbers. It didn't much matter which side you chose, the plot of the game was imitation violence and killing. Some kids took that game seriously enough so that they continued playing their chosen role as adults. Some became robbers and some became cops. Some even became both.

What movies and games do is to delineate what actions are socially acceptable. Those activities often include such things as smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages. Movies depicting this are shown to children regularly, including in those films called cartoons.

But, you say, the vast majority of the kids who watch these things don't engage in those activities. So what? The majority of people who own guns don't kill anyone; most cops never fire their weapons at anyone, even in the line of duty, nor do most members of the military. What does that prove? Absolutely nothing! Those school killings would probably never have happened if those crazy kids hadn't had examples. Originality is not a strong point with most children; or most adults.

What is perhaps even more important is the fact that these movies are now being shown to people all over the world. I think that our country has many things that are worthy of emulation. Unfortunately, the America that is portrayed in the movies is, for the most part, not worthy of emulation. If the viewers in third world countries emulate the characters in those films, everyone in the world is in danger.

We take great pains to shield our kids from pornography and we make sure to expose them to violent behavior. This, at the same time that almost everyone says that war and violence is terrible and the less of it that we had of it the better.

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