I paused for a moment today while reading the news and thought about media violence. How long has it been controversial? My first considerations of it were in undergrad during classes on mass communication as well as media law. We absorbed the numerous theories of media affectation. As a punky young kid, I was quick to grab on to the "no direct link" loophole or how lack of empirical evidence topples any argument that media violence causes real world violence. Growing older, I began to see that the affect of media messages on a youth seemed in direct proportion to how many or how few filters they had in front of them, filters with the names Mom, Dad, Grandma, Teacher, so on and so forth.
That's my personal history with the issue. But how far back does it really go? Probably to the time of Aristotle, maybe even Plato but I haven't found texts to support that yet. Aristotle contended that violence in drama could serve as catharsis for the audience, whether in the form of brutal justice to the villain or merely as safe exploration for the dark, fetid corners of our souls that we really don't like to let out into the light of day. It could also be seen as "spectacle," something rouse and rivet a reader or watcher. Now, as the nation purports to re-examine its political rhetoric, many of these same questions and arguments are surfacing once more...and I have finally learned one, immutable truth about the issue:
The affect of violence, whether consumed through art or instilled in political vitriol, is always exaggerated or downplayed depending upon one's political objective.
A conservative will decry the amount of sex and violence in the books and films of popular culture, demanding that we return society to diversions based upon "traditional family values." They will then load automatic weapons and place them in the hands of children.
A liberal will holler "free speech" in defense of any expression, no matter how putrid or vile. They will then be the first to run and hide when a gangbanger rolls them for their wallet and sniffle in bewilderment at how violent our society has become.
There is no stopping violence. It has always been there, just as there have always been individuals capable of unspeakable acts of cruelty or pornography.But there is something different this time. There is something in the air. There is something that actually makes doomsday cults look less crazy. There is something new in the political jibes that right and left take at one another, something that hardens and reinforces the robots on both sides to steel their resolve and "screw their courage to the sticking place" as Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth (itself a violent study in evil and political assassination.) There is a residence of malice in each pair of headlights I see pressed against my bumper in the rear view mirror. Their is something, an apocalyptic electric undercurrent, pulsing its way just beneath the national epidermis...and I'm starting to smell the skin burn.
I'm afraid of Americans.
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