“Ours is a culture careening out of control, with violence everywhere we turn.” — Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill.”
Are you old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan was governor of California that he carried on a campaign to close mental hospitals? It was reported that he believed that the pharmaceuticals that had been developed to counteract mental illnesses would take care of the situation. Since then, I’ve wondered how much that had to do with the escalating rash of murders and mass shootings that have horrified us over the years. Of course, other factors have played a role. An important one has been the many ultra violent movies and TV offerings that have escalated since then. No doubt such vile trash has had an effect on young, vulnerable minds, especially teenagers.
A new movie, “Joker,” has stirred up a lot of controversy. It is described by Stephanie Zacharek in the Oct. 7 issue of Time magazine as being “marked by some unhinged brutality and more than a little hero worship of a villainess character. ... Arthur inspires chaos and anarchy — in addition to being a murderer plain and simple — but the movie makes it look like he’s starting a revolution.”
Do you recall the movie “Kill Bill: Volume 1” — put out by Miramax, a division of Disney! It was reported to have reached a new high in gratuitous violence, gore and mayhem — quite a feat considering some similar movies that had desecrated movie screens!
Was there any justification for such productions or video games of that time like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Postal” for young people OR adults except to bring in the bucks? Seems it is way past time that those responsible for such garbage are regarded for what they really are — pathetic specimens of humanity who should be practicing their “freedom of expression” on a psychiatrist’s couch. These products are a threat to the mental health of not only our youth, but also those many adults whose line between fantasy and reality is dangerously blurred.
Some time ago the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association and other related groups signed a joint statement of concern saying, in part, that research suggests that “prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life.” In writing of deplorable video games, Martha Barnette once wrote in “Ladies’ Home Journal,” “Point, Click ... and Kill” reported: “The violence in such games has become so ferocious and vivid that researchers that study the effects of media on kids are becoming increasingly alarmed about how young minds are being affected.”
In between, there have been many other reports of negative effects of such trash on our youth, including this chilling observation by Grossman, “Screen violence is now used primarily to invite the viewer to enjoy the feeling of killing, beating, mutilating … Our children get nothing out of it except the message that violence is OK, even fun.”
As Maxine Schnall wrote in her marvelous book, “Limits”: “We must break the silence on those moral truths that have not been eroded by time or social change. However unsure we are of how to meld them with the particular circumstances of contemporary life, we must still speak out for the major human values imbedded in our collective conscience throughout history: honesty, responsibility, decency.”
If we aren’t repulsed, sickened and moved to action by the prevalence of media that graphically depicts the actions of such depraved human beings, what does that say about us? It says we are losing our capacity for empathy — that ability to put ourselves in the place of others and feel what they feel and modifying our actions accordingly. It says that we are being estranged from each other. It says that we are allowing our culture to rapidly slide into the slime pit of depravity because of people who operate on the outer limits — in the twilight zone of humanity.
“We see that each generation is parent to the next and that we are all children of our culture, determined by our social norms even as we determine them. We also see that a whole generation can suffer from severe narcissistic injury, even as a child does in infancy, when our cultural parents — the authorities, our institutions, our public values — fail to set appropriate limits for us,” wrote Schnall. For the good of future generations, we must come out of our torpor and face the fact that much needs to be done to revive the cultural values that support our young and benefit all of us. As Anne Wilson Schaeff wrote in “When Society Becomes an Addict”: “When we refuse to see what we need to see and know what we know, we participate in a dishonest system and help to perpetrate it.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 1,000 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.