Much has been made in the media about children who pick up weapons and kill half their high school because of the negative influence of violent films and video games. There was an excellent film made a number of years back by Gus Van Sant, which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, called “Elephant”, which in itself is a fictionalisation and re-interpretation of the Columbine High School massacre. Society placed the ultimate blame on the children’s premature exposure to overly-violent media, which supposedly determined them to pick up shotguns and massacre their mates.
I am going to walk a very fine line with this post, because while I partly believe this to be true, I also very firmly believe it to be untrue in other ways.
It is true that there is an excessive emphasis on negativity and violence in today’s world, and nobody is more guilty of propagating this than the media. Movies are, generally speaking, a lot more violent, gratuituously violent, these days than they were prior to the 70’s. In the Studio Era, because of the strictly censored nature of the movie industry, films in general were made to contain positive messages, heroes and values to aspire to, there was little violence or sex presented, and even when it was, it was more implied, rather than explicitly shown. Nowadays, filmmakers have no problem to show us a person’s head being blasted by a shotgun, graphically seeing bits of brain splattered against the wall. Then we see the killer grinning, and in many films, even great films like “No Country For Old Men”, the villain more of less gets away with it. Or Hannibal Lecter bashing people’s heads in while listening to Bach and preparing a gourmet meal. You might say, well, the explicit and the macabre is also an art form, following on from prior traditions such as Grand Guignol. But it’s undeniable that a great deal of what we see on TV these days, including the violent news reports that insist on mostly showing the disasters happening daily, has a bias towards violence.
Then we have the video games. Here we have even more gratuituous violence than in movies, shown even more explicitly in some cases, and the difference here is that the person who plays the game gets to COMMIT these virtual atrocities – as opposed to a film where the viewer simply watches it happening. There are many games in which the main objective, from start to finish, is to shoot your way through endless rooms and levels, blasting a huge variety of monsters, aliens, robots, animals and other human beings.
Having argued this point enough, I will now switch sides and argue for the other side. Personally, I am the best example that an exposure to violent films and video games in my youth does not produce a killer. I have watched violent and scary films pretty much since I was in primary school, and have started playing video games in earnest, in middle school. My first video game was “Doom”, one of the earliest “shoot-em-ups” in which you blast your way through an alien invasion. And never had I taken what I was seeing as anything more than entertainment. Even in primary school, I was able to make the distinction between art (even violent art) and reality. I have never had any kind of violent, homicidal urge in my life. I am not a rapist, or sadist, or junkie, or drunkard, or a person lacking chivalry and moral fiber because of playing those games. I am one of the most non-violent, most non-combative people I know. Even from a verbal argument, I tend to be the one backing down if I see that it’s dragging on for too long. Except if the argument is with an intelligent girl that I fancy. In those cases, I find a good intellectual argument very enjoyable, à la Tracy and Hepburn. 🙂
So what is the correlation between violence in media and a teenager picking up and using a shotgun? Well, I am the best example that exposure to simulated violence does not produce a criminal. So it must be something else. Maybe those kids were neglected, unloved. Who knows? Maybe it’s just something part of your nature. You either have those tendencies, or you don’t. And if you’re already predisposed to violence because of the genes coded in your DNA, or because of some sort of dysfunctional upbringing, then, violent media and games may influence and stimulate that. But the argument that they are universally responsible for it is wrong, and in placing the sole blame on it, these people are washing their hands of more serious responsibilities to our youth.