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Culture of Violence Does Desensitize

I’m writing in response to Eric J. Plosky’s column [“Reflecting on Littleton, Colorado,” April 27] concerning the school shootings in Colorado. While I agree with Plosky’s assertion that “terrible” parenting and easy access to guns played a key role in this latest tragedy, I disagree with his statement that these “shootings have little to do... with our ‘culture of violence’,” and his assessment of the lack of responsibility of the entertainment industry.

These school massacres are a recent phenomenon, dating from 1996. Bad parenting and firearms, alas, have been around for many years. So what is different about the present? I would argue that it is indeed our increasing culture of violence, created by a nationwide addiction to visual entertainment and the irresponsible abuse of its power by the entertainment industry. There is no question that the entertainment industry is an incredibly powerful force in our society.

The use by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris of action-movie dialogue (for example, one killer bent under a table and said “peek-a-boo” to one student before shooting the student with a shotgun) shows that the killers were very much influenced by pop culture images of violence. This past Saturday (April 24), NPR’s John McChesney reported that Doom, the video game played avidly by Klebold and Harris, is used as a training exercise by the military to desensitize soldiers to violence. Video games have been around for awhile, but anyone comparing Pong to Doom or Quake could tell you that they’ve become a lot more realistic.

Of course, many people play Doom for hours and watch action movies, and yet have no urges to go on a shooting rampage. That doesn’t mean that these violent images don’t desensitize us to violence. I was surprised to observe my own lack of reaction this past August to the “unreal” images of missiles raining through the sky over Osama Bin Laden’s compound.

Television and movies have also heavily reinforced the social strata of high school. Yes, teenagers have always formed cliques, but I believe that movies like The Breakfast Club (a movie I really enjoyed, by the way) have heightened our awareness of the boundaries. I don’t believe in censorship, nor do I support the use of litigation to enforce morality. In fact, I believe such actions only make the situation worse by creating the idea that all that is legal is ethical. Rather, I’d like the media to realize that with its incredible power and influence comes an ethical responsibility.

And, of course, as Plosky pointed out, “media moguls do nothing more than provide, obediently, what the market demands....” We, my friends, are the market. As is often the case, the solution to these seemingly remote problems lies within ourselves. Why have we given the entertainment industry so much of our time, so much political influence, and the role of baby-sitting our children? Why have we asked Hollywood to titillate us by having Keanu Reeves blow away a SWAT team? Why do some of us play Quake to the point of inducing carpal tunnel syndrome? The media has given us a way to “harmlessly” satisfy our inner demons -- but it hasn’t been so harmless after all.

So yes, we need to have better control over access to arms, and yes, we need to work towards a culture of inclusion and yes, parents need to be more vigilant. But we also need to realize that the roots of violence and cultural degradation are within all of us, and so is the solution. Don’t be a passive receptacle for the ideas of Madison Avenue. Use your wallet to demand ethical behavior from the media. Know that giving in to our darker impulses affects our world, even if we stick to fantasy. And, the next time you have an urge to “kill an hour” with Doom or to lose yourself to the television, think about going for a walk or playing a game of cards with your friends instead.

Samara L. Firebaugh G