Jewish World Review April 27, 1999 /11 Iyar, 5759
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Churches and synagogues are still the place where most Americans seek refuge and solace in times of pain and loss.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not natural born killers. It is easier to think they were deranged than to admit that our culture has been carefully preparing them throughout their childhood and adolescence to wreak death and destruction on their peers, with little or no interference from parents, teachers or neighbors.
The entertainment industry today saturates young people with violent images unlike anything most of us ever saw growing up. While film violence is nothing new -- and indeed violence has been depicted in the theater since the Greeks -- both the quantity and quality has changed drastically in the last 20 years. From the current fantasy flick "Matrix" to last year's critically acclaimed "Saving Private Ryan," violent images of severed limbs, gaping chest wounds and flowing blood are the staple of virtually every action film, whether its theme is frivolous or serious.
I used to think it mattered whether the violence in a movie served some higher, dramatic purpose. Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" was fine, his recent "Payback" wasn't. I don't believe that anymore. It's becoming clear that the images themselves help desensitize youth to violence. They literally fill young minds with violent pictures that can be replayed over and over again, creating a pornographic, violent fantasy that would be beyond the imaginative capacity of normal people had Hollywood not created the images in the first place.
Even worse than the violent films are the brutal videogames that turn players from passive viewer into active participant. Harris and Klebold were reportedly fans of "Doom," one of many popular videogames that require players to mow down as many characters as possible in the shortest amount of time, using a variety of simulated assault weapons. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a retired Army psychologist, says these videogames are similar to methods used by the military to train soldiers to overcome their natural inhibitions against killing other human beings.
In a recent speech that was adapted into an article for "Christianity Today," Grossman explains that most people have a natural aversion to killing and must be trained to ignore their instincts, which even in the heat of battle will prevent most men from firing their weapon to kill another person. In World War II, one study determined that only about 15 percent to 20 percent of riflemen could bring themselves to shoot at an exposed enemy soldier.
In order to solve this problem, the Army changed its training to include specific exercises in brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role-modeling. By the Vietnam era, the Army had achieved a 90 percent shooting rate. The constant barrage of violent films and videogames that are the daily fare of many teen-age boys today serve the same purpose -- with the same effect.
In the last few years, we have witnessed one after another murderous rampages within our schools, each incident more shocking than the last. We created Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold by allowing our popular culture to turn into a non-stop training film on how to kill. And then we left them without proper supervision from parents or schools, with too much money and too much time on their hands to seek diversions in violent films and videogames, and too much access to unfiltered information on the Internet.
If we cannot reduce the violence in our popular culture, there will be more
scenes like those out of Columbine High School in our
04/23/99: Pick your ('protected-class' poison)