Like everyone else, I was shocked, saddened and outraged at the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT last month. The aftermath was predictable. Paid talking heads and everyone with an opinion took to the airwaves and social media to vent, opine and debate the merits of gun control and the dear price we pay for mental illness in our society. What surprised me though was the relative lack of attention given to what I believe is the single biggest root cause of these tragic events: The glorification of violence in our society.
Over Christmas break, I took my 12 year-old son to a matinee movie. We sat through the obligatory previews and I was dismayed that we sat through six previews and nearly 20 minutes of massive gratuitous violence. Every single preview was filled with graphic and glorified violence – each with smartly crafted and glib one-liners for kids to repeat over and over again with their friends. No preview was more offensive to me than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Stand (no link provided because I’m not going to promote it). Consider yourself warned that if your kids go see it when it opens this weekend you’ll be hearing “Consider yourself deputized,” “Nice shootin’ Sheriff,” & “You effed up my day off” for weeks to come.
What’s so disturbing about Arnold’s latest is that he was a Governor for cripes sakes. He knows what’s going on. He’s been privy to the dark side of violence. Yet the first thing he does is make a film that is a two-hour homage to gun violence, all for a buck. I think he should be ashamed.
Look, I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve enjoyed a good deal of violent films in my life. I also don’t think my 12 year-old son is going to go postal some day because he likes this stuff. He’s a mentally healthy, thoughtful kid and we have regular conversations about the glorification of gratuitous violence in our society. What worries me is how many kids out there that don’t have engaged parents. Impressionable kids that might have undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues. Kids that play killing games for hours and days on end on their computers and TVs.
I don’t remember films and games with nearly the degree of gratuitous violence when I was a kid, and I surely don’t recall killings like Virginia Tech, Newton, CT or Columbine back then either. Call me crazy but I believe in my heart that there’s a connection. So I’ve decided to take a stand. I think that every time we go to one of these movies, or buy our kids another shoot ’em up game, we become complicit. Every time we buy a ticket, watch a TV show or play or a game which glorifies guns and killing, we’re telling Hollywood and the gaming companies that this is what we want – more guns and more killing. The feedback loop is simple: we stop buying and they’ll stop making – I can promise you that.
I’m not getting on a soapbox here. I subsequently took my son to see Lincoln – plenty of violence but certainly not glorified – quite the opposite. I’m not even forbidding my son to see these movies or play these games. I won’t buy him the games or play them with him but I believe forbidding a kid to do something is the surest way to get them to do it. All I can do is stay engaged and teach him to make good decisions. The rest is up to him.
I can do one more thing though. I can vote with my wallet. I’m done with gratuitous violence in my life. There’s a plethora of alternative movies and games out there. If enough of us do that, I really believe we can turn the tide.