by Kim Nagy
Last night, my father asked me what I thought was the real solution to all of this–to the pervasiveness of violence in the media and its association with “masculinity” and violence like that at Virginia Tech. “Maybe you should write about how the women’s liberation movement liberates men too,” my dad said thoughtfully.
Monday was the tenth anniversary of Columbine—and talk about school shootings and violence–how far we’d come (or how far we hadn’t come) was in the air.
Being that my dad is a lawyer, we started to dig into the legal questions. Like the obvious problem of gun control–which despite so many tragedies seems like the elephant stampeding around the room. Like how do we balance free speech and censorship with the existence of games like Virtual Rape and How to Kill a Prostitute—as well as the legal precedent for what kind of market limitations can/should interfere with their sale?
After all, the jury is still out (there are arguments for and against) as to whether violence on TV and movies and/or violence in video games actually causes violent behavior. Interestingly, a study published in May’s (2009) Psychological Science, explores the issue of video games and addiction, which showed that almost 10% of children studied suffer from poor grades, lack of interaction with family and friends, and felt “they couldn’t stop” playing video games. Some critics of the study felt that the term “addict” was inappropriate for video game use and that these kids must already suffer from anxiety and/or depression.
At the film-discussion I attended most recently, a 17-year old boy talked about how uncomfortable he felt when his friend pulled out a certain video game, a game in which the sole purpose was to kill as many people as possible at the mall. His description filled me with grief.
I know what you are thinking. Pervasive violence is nothing new. Yes, perhaps there are links to the drive behind video games designed for simulated killing and the public’s insatiable thirst for a LIVE hanging during the Medieval Era (let’s not even talk about the gladiators)–and the darker sadder loops of the human psyche. The problem is when we let those corners dominate the psychological reality of kids (and adults) without question. After all, the average American child sees 200,000 violent acts on TV by age 18.
So, what is the solution?
I found myself stammering for one final all encompassing answer –a blur of facts, statistics and arguments (and counter-arguments) surging through my head–and my brain began to feel a bit like Grand Central Station.
I think that is because there isn’t ONE final solution.
There are many.
The problem with final “solutions” is that they undoubtedly fall short at some point, because of two things: one: life is inherently variable and as poet Louis MacNeice puts it “incorrigibly plural.” Combine that with another maxim: “the only constant is change.” Which is why most (even the best-intentioned) “isms” eventually fail. In the case of the media as soon as we thought we had print, TV and radio covered, along came the internet, right?
And, in my view, unchecked censorship is not only dull and depressing, but quite frankly, more dangerous than any alternative. So there is a slippery slope to navigate here. It requires that we keep paying attention even when scary headlines about Columbine and Virginia Tech fade from our memory.
The other day in yoga class my teacher said, “If you are heading for one single destination you are bound to crash—it really is just a matter of time.” (Particularly useful a few moments later when I almost fell smack on my head in a balancing posture… until I remembered to reach out to the sides and behind me—and breathe.)
Whether it is the drive towards making money or gaining knowledge or winning or “being right” when we pursue one goal at the expense of all else, isn’t it true that we crash?
So in the case of violence and video games and school shootings, to me, the beginning of one solution is: Reach out. Find a place to balance. Surprise yourself.
And here are some other things we CAN do.
–Create alternatives. “Art is the attempt to solve a problem.” said Pamela Tanner Boll in a recent interview, award winning film-maker of Who Does She Think She Is www.whodoesshethinksheis.com and Co-Executive Producer of Born into Brothels.
– Challenge yourself. Check out Jackson Katz’s list of Ten Things Men can do to prevent gender violence. http://www.jacksonkatz.com/wmcd.html
–Talk. And LISTEN. Learn about and support positive organizations that support peaceful means of resolving conflict like the J.William and Harriet Fulbright Center http://jwhfulbright.org/ or local groups such as the Institute for Empowerment which helps teenagers become more conscious of media messages and provide healthy alternatives to stereotyping for teenaged girls and boys.
–Express yourself. In a speech for PEN World Voices, Israeli David Grossman (whose son had been killed in the army) talked about the ways in which writing has healed him. “When I pick up the pen, I cease to be a slave…. It is a gesture of opening up. I am not frozen and paralyzed before the predator…I can breathe with both lungs….a natural full breathing where I manage to escape the claustrophobia of the cliché.”
–Breathe. Support yoga centers like Saraswati River Yoga in New Hope, PA (and other places like it) www.saraswatiriveryoga.com which help support a life of spontaneity, peace, and wonder.
Kim Nagy is Executive Editor of Wild River Review www.wildriverreview.com