I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. Most of our staple TV entertainments were shoot-em-up Westerns and shoot-em-up Detective shows. Especially in the ’50s. My formative years. The hero shoots the bad guy. The bad guy falls down dead. No blood, no twitching, no ugliness or remorse.
Then John F. Kennedy was shot to death, and the world was shocked. Two days later, live on national television, we watched Jack Ruby shoot and kill Lee Harvey Oswald. Up close. Live. Dead.
I was 12-1/2, and I was not shocked.
Let me repeat that:
“I was NOT. Shocked.” 12-1/2 year old me after witnessing a real murder. Live. On TV.
It was like watching another TV program. But this time, it was real. Then I was shocked that I wasn’t shocked, and I started asking myself why. It didn’t take me — a 12-1/2 year old kid — long to conclude all the TV violence I’d seen had made it seem normal. Unreal. Today we would say it “desensitized” me.
So I stopped watching those kinds of shows.
But my parents never turned off the nightly news. During that decade, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were also shot to death. As a nation, we were shocked again and again. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised, but we were.
Today, Joyce, who writes consistently excellent posts on Fix It Mommy, asked:
“How did it get so bad?” Joyce, who usually writes about kids, education, and leadership
Maybe we can find some answers in our not-so-distant history.
I remember the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC. (Good night, David. Good night, Chet. And good night from Texaco.) And Walter Cronkite on CBS. Good ol’ Uncle Wally. It was their responsibility to bring us the news. It wasn’t their fault the news was so depressing.
As the war in Vietnam escalated, its images were on television and in the evening paper every night. Every. Night. For more than 10 years. I was 11 when the brother of a girl in my class was killed in Nam. I was 17 and just starting college when the protest movement began. I was 19 when National Guardsmen killed four unarmed protesting students at Kent State. I was 23 when we finally gave up Southeast Asia as a bad investment.
In 1968, at least partially in reaction to that decade’s violence and as social commentary on it, along came Sam Peckinpah — blood and gore galore. He showed us what violent death really looked like, at least in the movies. Followed by an alarming number of like-minded film makers. And television shows. And video games. And rap.
Now, before you get all prickly and obnoxious, I know none of those things cause a person to become violent.
Let me repeat that:
“Violent movies, TV shows, video games, and music do NOT cause mentally balanced people to become violent.” Me. Unequivocally.
They desensitize people to violence — normal, mentally healthy people like you and me. Imagine how that desensitization might affect a less healthy mind, the mind of a person given to violence anyway. The unbalanced mind of a person who is angry at some injustice they feel they’ve suffered — real or imagined, angry at authority, angry at life.
We don’t have to imagine. We see it more and more frequently in horrific mass murders of people who have done nothing to the murderer except end up in the crosshairs.
How did it get so bad?
According to FBI data and media research (July 2009-July 2015, and adding the four mass shootings since then), more than 87.5% of mass shooters are 20-44 years old, with most of those being at least 30. These are the Vietnam generation’s children and grandchildren.
How? We gave them everything. Soccer, Little League, Pop Warner, Karate, Youth Groups, Scouts, dance lessons, music lessons, children’s theater, summer camps with every conceivable theme, home schooling, higher education. Cars! We took them to movies, rented videos, bought them video games, their own TVs, CDs, DVDs, computers. Phones. We gave them the world and access to everything in it. The good, the bad, and the violent.
We even gave them wars to fight in if they wanted to volunteer.
Because this is America.
witch hunters tree huggers bleeding heart liberals some people started whining demanding an end to violent lyrics, TV programs, movies, and games, freedom loving Americans reasonable people said,
“No. Let’s lobby for Entertainment Ratings instead.” Calmer prevailing minds
And we got them. God bless America.
And when the violence started close to home, when emotionally bereft kids started killing other kids . . .
Those two shooters at Columbine High? If they were still alive, they’d be the same age as today’s average mass shooter. Curious. Most of them seem to come from the same generation.
But when those
broken hearted parents damn liberals anti-violence voices start crying for stricter gun control and greater attention to mental health problems, gun nuts real Patriots angry, terrified Conservatives other voices argue about rights and privileges and freedom and oppression.
The arguments continue. They flare up every time somebody shoots a bunch of people. People complain about
the idiots in Congress our elected representatives. But they’re still there, not doing anything. Not about guns. Not about mental health.
Consensus among lawmakers seems to be:
“Mass shootings are part of the Price of Freedom.” America’s lawmakers
So let me ask you: Is that the price YOU’RE willing to pay?
Well, if you’re not running for office, the only real option you have is to vote for other people who aren’t willing to pay that price either. And vote those who are — out.
Because this is America.