At five o’clock in the morning, a bleary-eyed crowd awaits our Delta flight, immersed in the sounds of a news report on the week-old Newtown tragedy. From eighty-four to forty-four to four years old, each person hears the same devastating story blaring from a television, sees the same horrendous images, and is forced to process it all right now, whether they’d like to or not. Not that a four–year-old child has any capacity to do that, nor should he be asked to try. Yet short of physically turning him away from the screen and covering his ears, there's little for parents to do but concoct a distraction, monitor their child’s reactions and cross their own fingers.
Two hours later and at 30000 feet, Delta Airlines has chosen the Bourne Legacy as the overhead, in-flight entertainment. Guns and point-blank executions, start to finish. Not even a week after unspeakable disaster, a parent has no way to turn it off, no opportunity to decide whether their child is ready for Bourne.
Over the last few years televisions and computers have been placed everywhere, without time yet for any specific research about the effects of these constant background images on child development. Personally, I was raised on Clint Eastwood (whose movies were, in retrospect, tame compared with those of today) but my parents allowed me to watch his films only after reaching an age when they felt I could put the violent content into context. Right now, as I write, a woman in the movie cowers behind a table, stalked by a man with a handgun. Only a few weeks ago several families waited in line with me for Sunday morning bagels, while the kids were “entertained” from behind the cash register by a 9/11 documentary showing the collapsing buildings—a never ending fabric of visual violence.