A culture of violence / The need to change - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Press Editorials

A culture of violence / The need to change - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Press Editorials

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A culture of violence / The need to change

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Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012 12:01 am

As policymakers debate what actions, if any, we will have the courage to take following the senseless murders of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, the usual arguments are voiced.

Some people seek to limit the far-too-easy access that the killer had to the high-powered rifle he used in the massacre. Others point to the gaping holes in our programs for treating or housing the mentally ill. And some argue that we are surrounded by movies, television shows and video games in which violence is so pervasive that it is easy for weak or damaged minds to consider mass murder.

Surely these factors are not mutually exclusive. And, just as surely, there is no single, all-encompassing answer to the mulitfaceted problem of violence in America.

It is the guns. And it is the decision to shutter mental health institutions without adequately providing for care outside them.

But it is also, we must admit to ourselves, the culture.

Just as it makes sense to ban weapons with the capacity to create the kind of carnage seen in Newtown, Conn., it makes sense to rethink our acceptance of violence in popular culture.

Some groups are suggesting parents leave the violent video games on store shelves this Christmas. That's a start. But we can do more.

Last Sunday, on ABC's "This Week," Joe Klein, a columnist for Time magazine, phrased it this way: "I think that ... what we need to do in this society is treat people who create violent movies and violent video games with the same degree of respect that we accord pornographers. They need to be shunned."

That idea - that we can change behavior by shaming it - may be more powerful than it first appears.

Not long ago, as countries measure these things, public drunkenness was considered funny. A campaign by Mothers Against Drunken Driving and other groups slowly changed that. These groups worked hard to make sure legislatures and courts would treat drunken driving as a serious crime. More important, they managed to change the prevailing attitude toward drunkenness.

Not long ago, stereotypical portrayals of minorities in books and films were seen as just good fun. Slowly, activists were able to change our attitudes. Now most of us see these things as shameful.

But during the same period, we came to accept depictions of over-the-top, graphic violence - depictions that would have shocked and disgusted our grandparents - as mainstream entertainment. More, we accept them as mainstream entertainment for adolescents and even children. And those children are not just passive observers of this violence, in video games they are participants, deeply immersed in the experience.

Yes, many young people play violent video games without becoming violent. Yes, there is a First Amendment protection for people who want to create and profit from these forms of entertainment.

But Klein is right. We don't have to honor the people who make these violent fantasies by treating them as mainstream filmmakers or gamemakers. And we don't have to make them rich by consuming their products.

There is something we can do. We can disapprove.

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