I won’t become a killer even if I played Call of Duty. I haven’t seen a Quentin Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction and I can’t remember a Clint Eastwood movie, but even if I were a fan of these two movie giants, I’m not concerned that I’ll find violence fun or become a gun-toting vigilante. And I’m not afraid that I will turn into a sexual predator or murderer because I like Law and Order and The Mentalist.
Still there is something disturbing about the constant exposure to carnage from the media. I suspect that the effect of all the murders and mutilations portrayed in the media has a cumulative and subtle effect on me.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I hear my mother scolding whenever I picked up a toy gun or pretended to shoot with my fingers. Guns weren’t fun, she made plain, but objects designed to inflict injury. My mother’s attitude is amplified as I live in a place that is increasingly fascinated by weapons and loners.
Were my mother’s stern reproaches an inoculation? I think they may have been. While it may have made guns a little more attractive by being forbidden, at the same time it made me think about what I was doing whenever I did play with real or imagined guns.
The amount of violence to which I was exposed as a child pales compared to what today’s children see. Here are the statistics: the average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and witness 16,000 murders on TV by the time they are 18. That’s bad enough, but there’s more bad news. Media violence has gotten more graphic and sadistic. Making matters even worse, most violent acts on TV go unpunished or are laughed off.
A 2009 study by Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson, found that exposure to gratuitous violence in the media reduces the aid offered to people in pain. In one experiment, those who played violent games took longer to help an injured victim, rated a fight as less serious, and were less likely to “hear” the fight in comparison to participants who played non-violent games. Another experiment found similar results when participants watched a violent movie.
Exposure to violence in the media numbs us to another’s distress and can lead to the dismissal or not even noticing another’s pain.
So who is responsible? Parents who don’t inveigh against children playing with guns; those in the media whose sole purpose is to increase profits; artists who can’t distinguish between the right to create and what is right to create; gun enthusiasts who make a fetish of guns; an industry that makes billions from selling guns to civilians; and society that mythologizes gunsligners and gangsters.
Cultural change takes place when people say enough. And evidence shows that we’ve had more than enough of violence. It is making us coarser, harsher and less humane.