January 29th, 2013
Education: What’s missing from the post-Newtown gun debates
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, pundits and politicians have been engaged in rapid-fire debates about gun control legislation, mental health and the overall sorry state of society. Not surprisingly, the blame game went into full effect immediately following the shootings. I won’t even begin to try to catalogue and cross-reference all of the accusations flying back and forth, but the initial sentiments of Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the National Rifle Association, have been ringing loud and clear with no contest in the newsroom echo chamber:
“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse…Then there’s the blood-soaked slasher films like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers” that are aired like propaganda loops on “Splatterdays” and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it ‘entertainment.’”
The wholesale blaming of the media for the massacre of twenty children is about as lazy as you can get. Rather than address something tangible, like gun legislation, you are choosing to condemn a blanket culture of violent media for which there is no legislative prescription. LaPierre knows quite well that violent video games are not going to be banned, any more than private gun ownership is going to be banned. The government can’t regulate video game content or legislate against it; any change in demand for and tolerance of violence in media comes from the mass public. But we do love our war games and horror movies, and while a drive for the type of massive cultural sea change that would render Grand Theft Auto obsolete is a worthwhile fight—The LAMP, after all, wages it daily—that shift will not happen overnight.
I said LaPierre’s remarks were about as lazy as you can get. The truth is that you can in fact be lazier, and he is. He points the finger at violent media and walks away, with no prescription or thoughts about what we can reasonably do to curb media violence. The screaming matches on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News all bear this in common. Where is the discussion about education? Are we now, finally, ready to recognize that providing a framework for understanding and processing media should be part of every child’s education? Media fluency certainly won’t solve any problem on its own, but if it is a step we can take to address a three-headed problem of gun laws, mental health and the impact of media, don’t we owe it to our kids to try? Research suggests that it can prevent risky behavior like smoking, and the US government recognized media literacy as a violence prevention tool back in 1993. The phones at The LAMP and every other media education organization should be ringing off the hook with calls from every pundit on television asking about actions we can take to address what seems to be, in their minds, the top sidekick in senseless massacres like the one at Sandy Hook. However, I can assure you, they’re not.
The question of how much violent video games negatively impact people is a complex one, with seemingly credible research pointing just about every direction. But for those people, like LaPierre, who do believe violent media are at the root of massacres like the one at Sandy Hook, it’s time to stop pointing fingers and start being brave.