By Bruce Meyer
After the terrible tragedies and prevalence of violence we have all witnessed recently, people all over the country are once again asking when this madness will stop.
There are two primary strategies that have been discussed for several years. The first strategy discussed by Democrats and the media is gun control. The second strategy discussed by Republicans is arming schools and citizens and eliminating stringent gun control laws. We can debate for years (and we have) the advantages and disadvantages of each proposed strategy; however, at the end of the day, they are not solutions to the problem. They are, in fact, just a band aid. The infection is still raging and both strategies are not the “antibiotic” that will cure this disease.
Let us go back to our past to discover a “third” strategy that will lead to an actual solution to this disease plaguing our great Country.
Prior to World War II, America was very family values oriented and morally protected. There were no video games or internet. For entertainment, children would go outside and play with their friends, read a book, listen to the radio or see a movie. The movies had a very strict rating system in place that protected the general public from excessive violence and gore, let alone pornography. Families were religious and had values that were passed down to their children. Back in the 1930’s gun ownership was very routine in the typical American household and yet, violent crime and mass shootings that are commonplace in today’s society were very rare. People would respect their firearms and were taught that they are not toys. The only exception to this lack of violence was the mafia and even their violence was a fraction of what we see out of the gangs, street thugs and cartels today.
One must ask what changed. Was it World War II? The answer is NO. These very same children who grew up in the 1920’s through the 30’s were drafted into the armed services after Japan attacked us on December 7th, 1941. Millions of our finest now had to grow up fast and learn to fight. These innocent young men were now fighting hand to hand, witnessing violence, blood, gore and things you would never wish on your worst enemy in order to protect the Free World and their loved ones at home. They would have to kill the enemy or be killed themselves.
In interview after interview of these brave soldiers, researchers and reporters discovered that the vast majority did not like to discuss what they experienced overseas. Most of these soldiers returned home and went on with their lives and helped to turn America into the Superpower we are today. You did not see mass murders by these individuals. One would think that once you become desensitized to the violence as were our soldiers, then they would find life cheap and the murder rate would increase dramatically. This did not occur. The reason? These brave veterans knew that the violence came with a price. They knew that life is to be respected and that violence, murder and gore were not a game and were a very serious and moral issue that could not be turned off with an off button.
This brings us to today. What is different from what the Greatest Generation experienced versus what all of us are experiencing now? Let’s break this down.
Let’s take a look at video games. Back in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, the games were benign. We had games like, Pong, Donkey Kong, Pac Man. Harmless and fun. In the 1990’s more violent games began to emerge; Duke Nukem, Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto. A rating system was implemented; however, it was full of holes and the kids still purchased those games. In the 2000’s, psychological / violent games such as Manhunt emerged with chilling scenarios. Then Call of Duty: Modern Warfare became the “gold standard” of violence. Now, during this same period, violent crimes, gun violence and mass shootings began to increase in numbers, especially the mass shootings. Coincidence? I think not. Our children were slowly becoming desensitized to the sight of violence, blood and guts. Violence without any consequences.
Now, let’s mix in “popular culture”; television, movies and music. In the 1970’s through the 1980’s television had violence, but very little gore and blood. There were still regulations against what could be shown on television.
There were TV shows like, MASH, the “A Team” and Magnum PI. These shows had clear demarcations of good versus evil and any violence did not show blood and always presented consequences of violent acts. In the 1990’s more shows were pushing the boundaries, seeing what they could get away with. NYPD Blue increased the violent acts on tv and pushed the envelope of sex and displayed body parts. The networks kept pushing the boundaries, paying occasional fines until today, where the typical crime show is extremely violent. Look at one of the most popular shows – Criminal Minds. The show focuses on psychopaths, serial killers and violence. The special effects of most shows would equate to a “R” rating in the 1960’s and 70’s if they were movies.
These shows are routinely watched by the same youth playing these video games. Now, factor in the negative message, sexually degrading, profanity-laced music that has infiltrated our listening on radio stations, cd players and internet music streaming services. Children listen to music, memorize these lyrics, many find comfort or try to relate.
Movies in the 1970’s were primarily rated G and PG. In the mid 1980’s PG13 debuted. As we entered the 2000’s more and more films were debuting with PG13 and R’ ratings. A PG film in the 1970’s would now be considered a G rated film today. More violence, more sex, more complex, moral dilemmas are being shown on the screens in great numbers. The violence in the 1980’s was now becoming extremely real in the 2000’s thanks to special effects and directors who wanted to show “realism”. An example of this is how Paramount Movies is considering making Star Trek now rated “R” for the first time because it is trendy.
Finally, let’s factor in the Internet. The above factors have all been magnified 100 fold thanks to the internet. At a push of a button, our children can watch ANYTHING they choose no matter how violent or sexually promiscuous. Most parents are working and some kids now have untethered access to this content. Now let’s factor in the advent of “Chat Rooms”. These same kids who may have issues at school or home are now reaching out to strangers, who may or may not have mental issues themselves. They find solace with these people throughout the Country (or around the world). In some of these chat rooms, these people would discuss violent acts as retribution.
I am going to stop right here. People with mental illness have been around for thousands of years. The difference between now and then is that prior to the advent of the internet, these folks could not connect with other people and learn different techniques to harm people or get “retribution”. They basically would sit in a room or basement of their parents’ home and talk to themselves.
Now let’s add all of this up. The prevalence of violence and sex in today’s society, multiplied by the ability to witness said violence and sex on tv and movies, listening to violent songs multiplied by instant access via the internet multiplied by the participation in lifelike violent video games multiplied by lack of parental supervision and access to certain questionable chat rooms equals massive increase in gun violence and mass shootings. The fact of the matter is that today’s youth are becoming desensitized to violence, blood, gore and sex without the consequences and price that those of our greatest generation had to pay over 75 years ago. The statistics back this up. Mass Shootings were very rare prior to 25 years ago. What changed?
Back in the 1930’s and 40’s, we did not have access to any of these technologies. More importantly, society governed itself by a very strict rating system governing the media at the time, coupled with strong family values and religious morals.
How do we fix this severe problem? The answer is the following:
1. Congress needs to bring back a stricter rating system for TV, Movies, Music and Video Games
2. The Internet must develop stricter ratings and access for our youth. This too must be created and implemented by Congress.
3. Families need to bring some sort of religion into the home. Even if they are not true believers, the moral foundation that their children will develop will help them in today’s challenging times. They also will have a safe place to turn to if their parents are not available.
If this strategy is implemented it will take 10 – 20 years for us to see the actual results. Today’s elementary students could be the first generation since the Greatest Generation to not experience all of this violence and sex that has become so commonplace in today’s society. At the end of the day, unfortunately, we as a society are not mature enough to totally self-regulate our behavior. We are a nation of laws and there is a reason for this.