With the new out cry against bullying and violence sweeping the country, we are once again asked to revisit an age old argument: How do movies and video games affect our children? There are many people who will argue that violence and sexual themes in video games, movies, and television alter a child’s perception of reality because they glorify violent behavior and sexual promiscuity, as well as the use of drugs and alcohol, There are just as many people who will argue the opposite, believing that a person isn’t affected by the fictional worlds created by Hollywood and the gaming industry. Personally, I think there’s truth in both sides, and as experience has taught me, life typically falls somewhere in the middle of what most believe to be true. I’d like to think there are positive lessons to be learned from the same games and movies that people claim are negative. I think we have a duty to make sure that everyone understands the difference between reality and fiction. I think its important that we teach our children to see the best and worst in every situation and to always learn and grow from the experience. This includes their day to day interaction with film, television, media, and video games.
I’ve seen the movies. I’ve played the games. To me, there’s no difference in the situations they expose than we can find in books and the local news. Huckleberry Finn,Tom Sawyer, Native Son, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Frankenstein, A Brave New World, and Animal Farm can be found on almost every AP reading list in the country. They are considered classics by librarians the world over, and all of them contain some sort of violence, hatred, or sexual component. There are countless others that detail graphic arrays of perverse acts, murder, and disregard for human life, and yet they remain a part of the educational system. Why is it that we are comfortable with Mark Twain’s use of the word ‘nigger’ and ‘injin,’ but when Tina Fey says it on the news we are outraged? (And please don’t think for a second that I’m defending Tina Fey.) High school English teachers have no problem discussing the implications of “Bigger Thomas’s” relationship to “Mary Dalton” and his subsequent sexual assault and murder of Mary, but they refuse to discuss the commonalities of “Kurt Hummel” of Glee to the torments of many gay and lesbian teenagers across the country? The argument is that video games and movies give life to these characters making them more real, but from the point of view of the human psyche, there is little in the universe more real to us than that created by our own imaginations. How many times have you awoken from a dream, terrified, out of breath, and scrambling for safety? How many times has your mind wandered over the images in a news article and its account of a local murder, leaving you panicked and frustrated? The human mind is a powerful thing. The difference, I believe, is not in the content or media type, but in the discussion. The fear created by a nightmare is placated by talking about it, sharing it, or “pinching” yourself. Knowing that it was only a dream makes it better. When your mind lingers on the news stories of the day, you can wrest it from your thoughts by simply moving on to another more positive activity. When a person becomes violent through video games and movies, it is because they get lost in the fantasy…and the same can be said for books.
Now, for those of you who say, “I’d never let a movie influence me that much,” you are lying to yourself. You can pretend that your life hasn’t been influenced by Hollywood all you want to, but the fact is, it has. Maybe the influence isn’t readily noticeable, because it’s become so common place. Maybe, you dismiss it because the seed has been planted in your subconscious, or your brain latched on to something that you found humorous or insightful? Here are some examples for the neigh-sayers out there who don’t believe they’ve been “planted.”
Somewhere along the road of life, you’ve found yourself lost, and you turn to your driving companion and say “I think we took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.” (Bugs Bunny) You decide to pull over at the nearest diner or truck stop to ask for directions. You walk in and find a room full of leather clad bikers, a handful of teenagers with pink mohawks and nose piercings, and a waitress with 2 teeth and a mole the size of Milwaukee on her cheek. You think to yourself, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” (Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz)
Don’t act like you’ve never made one of those references. Even if you didn’t get the Bugs Bunny reference, I can almost guarantee you’ve either said or heard the Kansas line. Let’s try another one.
You’re hanging with your friends. One of them stands up to announce he’s about to order pizza and setup the beerpong table. You point your index finger at him as though wielding a pretend gun and say, “Make it so.” (Jean Luke Picard, Star Trek: TNG). While playing the game, you find yourself in desperate need to make a truly awesome shot to win the game. You fire the ping pong ball against the back wall, it bounces, hits your friend in the head, ricochets onto the table, bounces up and hits the ceiling, and fires down into the glass for a slam dunk. You’ve won and you exclaim, “SPOOOOOOOON.” (The Tick)
Don’t tell me you’ve never walked out of a place and turned to say, “I’ll be back,” or “Hasta la Vista, baby” in your best Arnold voice. Don’t pretend that you’ve never told someone to “Live long and prosper” while attempting to create a V with your fingers. If you’re telling me that you’ve never once said, “Booty traps” or “Goonies never say die”, either you’ve never seen the movie, or you’re full of shit. We’ve all tried to perform moves from the Matrix, mimic the dances in musicals, or at least made the wheezy, whispery voice of Darth Vader, as we misquoted “Luke, I am your father.” Hell, I’d be willing to bet some people have even walked into a room with no reason at all, and said, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” If you haven’t, you should try it.
The point is, Hollywood does leave its mark, but no more so than books do. Video games can be violent and expose people to subject matter that they otherwise may not have seen, but no more or less than picking up the local newspaper or watching the 11 o’clock news. If someone has a tendency toward violence, it’s going to manifest itself at some point in life, sooner or later. While viewing acts of violence can trigger the predisposition, it isn’t the cause, anymore than the child hearing his parents argue or experiencing the death of a loved one or pet. Now, make no mistake, I wouldn’t let my 7 year old play Grand Theft Auto, but not because I think he’s going to run out and have sex with a hooker or steal a car. A 7 year old doesn’t fully understand the concepts of life and death. He doesn’t know about gun safety or appropriate types of affection. Once he’s learned those things, and I’m satisfied he understands them, he can play it. That’s the key. If you expose a child or teenager to a concept they do not fully grasp, they are going to be “interested” because it’s new. To keep those seeds of the silver screen from growing into monsters, you need to demystify and discuss the concepts, even if it happens by accident. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. “Out of sight, out of mind” is the dumbest parenting tip EVER blathered. It doesn’t work. They WILL be exposed to it at some point in their lives. You have to make sure you either deal with it before it happens OR be ready to deal with it when it DOES happen. I say all of that to say this…
Video games, movies, books, media and the like do NOT create serial killers. They can plant thoughts or concepts, but they don’t create anything. They do NOT cause children to take hand guns to school, bully each other on the playground, or to express affection inappropriately. Children learn what they live, and in turn live what they learn. They look to the adults in their lives for guidance and answers. If dad is slapping mom around, and junior is playing “Bully” on the Wii, the two concepts reinforce each other. If a teacher allows Jimmy to make racial slurs and homophobic statements in class, and Tommy has just read The Diary of a Serial Killer, it’s not unlikely that he will become an ‘injustice collector.” In both instances, the adults in the situation failed the youth involved.
We as adults are responsible for what we say and do. We are equally responsible for reinforcing positive behaviors and discouraging negative ones. We are called to explain what is appropriate and what is not. We must come to the defense of injustice and do our utmost to prevent ridicule and bullying. We must monitor and be prepared for the inevitable, and NEVER blame the inanimate or the fictional for a false reality that we allowed to come into being.
I’ll be the first to admit that in recent months I’ve been more angry and bitter than I have in many years. I’ve said things that were extremely harsh and attacking. I know that I could have voiced my opinions in a way that was less volatile and threatening. I can make excuses, hide behind the freedom of speech, and explain away my actions, but it doesn’t change the fact that I could have made a more positive choice, or at the very least, a less negative one. I don’t make apologies for much in life, and when I do they are well thought, justified, and authentic. There are many young people who look up to me and are following in my footsteps, and I do them a great injustice when I behave in poor taste. The majority of the population of the planet lives in a state of chronic hypocrisy, and I don’t want to be one of them. I prefer to practice what I preach. So, in the interest of fairness, for those who have been legitimately harmed by my words or deeds, you have my word that I will do my utmost to make sure that it never happens again. That doesn’t mean I won’t disagree with you. That doesn’t mean I’m going to like every person I come in contact with. It doesn’t mean I won’t be angry, loud mouthed, or any less truthful about how I feel. What it does mean is that I won’t hate you for being different from me.
I’m Jason Garrigus… good day.
(10 cool points if you can get the last reference.)