Skip to comments.Harmless Entertainment? Viewing realistic violence dulls our capacity for compassion.
Posted on 12/19/2012 7:34:19 AM PST by SeekAndFind
In the wake of past mass shootings, when the national conversation has focused exclusively on guns, I have argued that our appallingly inadequate mental-health system was a better subject of reform. At least half of the shooters in the rampage killings that are ripping our hearts out are young men with serious mental illnesses, and our system has neither the legal nor the financial resources to get them the treatment and restraint that they, and we, desperately need.
This time, mental-health reform has received passing mention, along with the usual pleas for gun control, better security at schools, and so forth.
Some control of ammunition might be useful at the margins (though the Connecticut killer seems to have obtained his deadly arsenal from his mother). As for security, some have argued that placing armed officials in schools would profoundly alter the tenor of American life. I can report that in Fairfax County, Va., where my children attend public schools, every middle and high school has an armed police officer on duty every day. It doesnt feel like a prison camp. Its somewhat reassuring.
Modesty is called for in judging what causes these mass killings in America and elsewhere (Australia, Norway, and China have also experienced them). Guns have always been readily available in this country, yet these random massacres in classrooms or malls or movie theaters full of innocent strangers are new. Is it the dissolution of families? The decline of religious faith? The fading of civil institutions such as churches and community groups? Is popular culture to blame? Is it the wall-to-wall coverage?
Its worth considering all of the above. These are the acts of profoundly disturbed or insane individuals, yes, but culture affects the way even the mentally unbalanced behave. The rate of violent crime has been declining for more than a decade, which suggests that we are not in the grip of mass depravity. But if we believe great works have the capacity to ennoble, we must concede that vile works can corrupt.
Mass shooting has become an American form of psychosis with each new horror inviting an even more grotesque imitator.
Mental illness takes different forms in different times and places. Before American culture became obsessed with thinness as a standard of beauty, anorexia nervosa was exceedingly rare. In Japan, a culture that prizes social cohesion, people suffer from taijin kyofusho, an extreme fear of offending other people through body odor or appearance. In Malaysia, reports Scientific American, an illness called amok (from which comes the expression running amok) periodically afflicts young men. They respond to perceived slights with a brooding withdrawal, followed by explosions of violence. In Greenland, some seal hunters get a syndrome called kayak angst featuring intense panic while out on the ocean.
With our splintering families, declining participation in civil society, and greater alienation, we are nonetheless entertaining ourselves with an endless stream of depraved violence and sexuality. Many kids are not having a family dinner with their moms and dads every night, but instead are closeted hour after hour with a shooting game on Xbox. No one is watching with them to offer commentary or perspective.
Violence and sex have, obviously, always been with us. Hamlet has its violent moments. Yet the violence of great literature, or even of ordinary melodrama, was usually presented within a moral context. It was nearly always the case that heroic figures used violence to thwart evil, not for the fun of it.
Some filmmakers scoffed at the antiseptic violence of the old Westerns in which the bad guys would take a bloodless bullet, cry Ah, you got me, and fall from their horses. Far better, it was argued, to show a simulacrum of the real thing.
But viewing realistic violence and suffering, far from repelling or sensitizing people, has the capacity to inure us to horror, dull our capacity for compassion, and coarsen our sensibilities. Worse, for a subset of unbalanced viewers, graphic violence is perversely pleasurable. It may also be disinhibiting. The Columbine killers were great fans of the movie Natural Born Killers.
It will require tremendous effort, time, and resources to repair our mental-health system. But it would be a simple matter of will for entertainers to ask themselves, before marketing a violence-soaked film or game: How will this affect the mentally unstable?
Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist
I think realistic violence games does change people. I know gamers who max out the gore on their games. When I’ve asked them why they don’t turn the gore down, their response is usually along the lines of, “because it’s less fun.”
That does not mean that everybody who plays violent games will become uncontrollably violent, just as not everybody who does marijuana moves onto harder drugs.
But they are indicators of possible future behaviour. Most heavy drug users did start out smoking marijuana and many of the uncontrollably violent nuts did prepare themselves by participating in violent scenarious, somewhere.
Contrast that with the Grand Theft Auto series, in which the player attempts to rise as a street criminal by stealing cars and having sex with hookers. It simply cannot be healthy to produce games like that, particularly when the game may actually mirror the lives of many of its players.
The same is true for films in which there are no clear cut right and wrong characters; merely those who outshoot and survive.
Violent games/ music/movies seemingly turn out violent people. However they do so because we have abandoned the perspective of morality, right and wrong as a taught concept.
Multi-decade gamer here. Metal fan. A reader of fantasy. And I never killed/maimed/tortured. Because I was taught the difference ann consequence of right and wrong.
It is all about perspective.
That said you will never convince me otherwise that overly violent games do not influence the weak minded or soulless.
This is all the same old BS from the days of pin ball machines or even puritan laws outlawing “9 pins” (bowling).
In the 1980’s it was video arcade games like space invaders.
ALL of this is just BS denial.
This was an evil person who was going to do an evil deed.
His life was about to be destroyed and reduced to a living hell in mental care. he was finished as a member of society. He acted like the trapped rat.
My life sucks, badly. I’ve also made use of video games, movies, and books that incorporate violence. I haven’t killed anybody either.
As I said, it’s not a cause, but an indicator of the possibility that a person could head in that direction. I’m not aware of any of these nutjobs that didn’t give indicators of their prediliction for violence. Every one of them, over months or years, prepared themselves for what they did and let it be known, in some way, that they were the type to do this.
And I wouldn’t try. As they will. To a point. Let me explain.
But the weak minded can be strengthened and shown purpose ans responsibility. They are weak for a reason. And for the soulless?
They are soulless. They need neither VGs or Rap music for them to do evil. Any old excuse or none at all is fine. But saying Games et all ‘cause’ X is like saying guns cause violence. All a matter of perspective.
Millions of gamers/metal/rap fans lead peaceful lives.
Seeing the Normandy landing scene in Saving Private Ryan didn’t make me want to leave the movies and kill someone.
I personally attest to the horrible darkness that pervades our entertainment these days.
I hadn’t been to a theater in 2 years until last weekend.
The previews were an assault on the senses and the psyche.
It was horribly spiritually dark and evil.
We are talking about the libs-weak minded, these are not the droids you’re looking for-weak minded. Yes Movies influence the weak minded, look at Ronald Reagan. The libs forget Taxi Driver don’t they?
I’ve never played a video game and never will.
Wait a second. I’ve played chess on my computer. And actually won once.
RE: Ive played chess on my computer. And actually won once.
Were you tempted to smash the computer or punch someone because you lost? :)
Things I have seen on my teenager. If I let him play sports games Madden etc..., when it is time to shut down he does it immediately with no argument and moves on to other things and is not moody nor withdrawn. If I have decided to let him play one of the military type games ( and we only get the ones where you cannot kill humans, if that is any better who knows but to me it is ) he gets so engrossed he zones out and when time to shut it off he tends to try and stay on as long as he can. He also becomes moody and pouty the more time we allow on it.
When we remove the xBox totally he becomes engaging, perky, and seeks other interest. Hence we have a timer attached to the power outlet and I set it. Once it is off, he is off. We allow 30 minutes only on war type games and up to 2 hours on a sports game. Total of 10 hours a week no more than 2 in one sitting, period.
Also, we don’t and will never allow any internet connection to play with others.
Point, we can see a definite personality change.
When we go shooting, and we do a lot, he is never in an off mood before during and after. Guns don;t change your personality but video games do when you are young and still developing. A mature adult may not be affected as much, but I still bet there are changes.
Which is exactly my point about perspective and teaching right from wrong.
Engage him about WHY he gets moody. Perhaps he sees it as bizzare that one game gets 2 hrs and another gets 1/4 that. I know I do. If you think it’s somehow bad, why let him play at all?
Your family your choice. I respect that. But as we are on the subject... if you ask me, and no, you didn’t, I think you’d get a lot farther with this if you played WITH him and used it as a bonding opportunity as you do with shooting.
Don’t make something he enjoys and you apparently approve of (wargames) a point of contention. Make it a point of common interest.
But for what it’s worth. Please remember one thing. The world sucks. It’s a violent place willed with violent people. When your son gets into it, make sure he’s equipped mentally to deal with it. Shielding him from it’s wrongs will ill equip him to deal with it.
Something to consider. Or not.
“I personally attest to the horrible darkness that pervades our entertainment these days.
I hadnt been to a theater in 2 years until last weekend.
The previews were an assault on the senses and the psyche.
It was horribly spiritually dark and evil.”
Full agreement. I quit going to the movies in 1993. I won’t be going back.
Don’t own a video game here. Don’t own an XBox. From what I’ve seen of that stuff, I find it “repelling” — just can’t look at it. I can’t see how being addicted to that improves anyone — including the Freepers who will post here, “I’ve been playing those games for years, and I’m ok....”
Same with a lot of violence on television today. In 1967, “Bonnie and Clyde” shocked critics and everyone else. Today that level of violence is milquetoast.
I’ll guess the majority of folks who view and digest this stuff on a regular basis are ok. The problem is the small number of those who won’t be ok. We saw an example of that last Friday.
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