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Jewish World Review April 25, 2001 / 3 Iyar, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Consumer Reports

Finger Points to Permissive Parents -- HERE we go again. The families of several Columbine victims are suing some 25 entertainment companies for marketing violent video games, Web sites etc. They're seeking punitive damages in the amount of $5 billion.

"Absent the combination of extremely violent video games and these boys' incredibly deep involvement, use of and addiction to these games and the boys' basic personalities, these murders and this massacre would not have occurred," their lawsuit alleges.

It is difficult to figure out what the worst part of this whole thing is. Is it the remorse industry's insatiable desire to make money off of tragedy? The media's bottomless capacity to wallow in the suffering of others? The parents' understandable but misplaced willingness to turn a personal catastrophe into a national cause with a fat paycheck attached? Or the ever-increasing tendency of Americans to search for easy blame for a complex issue?

Americans are deeply conflicted about the concept of blame. We don't want to blame the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold for their murder spree because, in part, if their parents were to blame, then parents everywhere are culpable for what their kids do, too.

For parents of teens who do embarrassing things like pierce their faces with enough junk to set off an airport metal detector or listen to incomprehensibly offensive music, the idea that acorns fall anywhere near the tree is unacceptable.

This is the natural consequence of a culture so deeply invested in the glories of personal liberation. In the wake of the 1960s, we've become enamored with the baby boomer idea that children are on a path of "self-discovery" and that it is cruel for parents to block that path.

The sad irony is that these lawsuits have it exactly backward.

Violence in the popular culture is nothing new. Despite what some wishful thinkers might say, violence has been an enduring staple of art and culture since the first caveman drew a bison catching a spear.

From Greek tragedies to Grimm's fairy tales to Japanese kabuki theater to Chinese poems and Indian oral histories, blood and gore have been the paint on the canvas of the human imagination. Talking about a sudden rise in violence is like saying there's a disturbing increase of people interested in tasty food.

Some say what's new is how graphic it is. While it's true violence is more realistic, why would realism, with all of its screaming, gore and horror, be more likely to encourage violence than to deter it? Indeed the fantasy violence of the 1940s to 1960s would seem more likely to encourage violence.

For example, John Wayne was the most popular movie star in history. His movies, though, often involved him slugging, shooting or smashing a chair over someone. And the consequences seemed much less disturbing. The Duke would effortlessly shoot a guy and go on about his day, confident he did the right thing. Wouldn't that send a more persuasive copy-cat message?

The significant difference between the violence of yesteryear and the violence of today is the moral context into which it is delivered. Today, self-expression is the highest value. Whereas, when John Wayne would shoot the bad guy, one thing was clear: There was an actual bad guy. Today, the popular culture regularly champions villains (the Sopranos, are one good example) and often makes fun of the idea that there any good guys at all.

"Janie, today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to go (expletive) himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost $60 thousand. Pass the asparagus," declares Kevin Spacey, playing the classic self-liberated baby boomer, in the Oscar-winning film "American Beauty."

Spacey realizes he's wasted his life on bourgeois considerations like career and family and declares that he won't be telling his daughter what to do anymore. The other parent with a large role in the film was a cruel ex-Marine who didn't understand that children cannot be ordered around. The message was typical: Parents who live and let live are great.

Consider that children, specifically boys, have a natural tendency to act out in mock or real violence. In almost any culture in the world, if you give a young boy a Barbie doll, he is more likely to pretend it's a knife or a gun than to play with its hair.

The trick now, as ever, has been to channel that natural rambunctiousness into positive directions, not to say, "Go with your feelings." That usually means blocking children's path to "self-discovery." This is what the writer Hanna Arendt was getting at when she observed that every generation of Western Civilization is invaded by barbarians, we just call them "children."

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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04/11/01: Decrying hoopla over diversity in newsrooms
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03/19/01: "Traffic" moves propaganda into drug-policy debate
03/15/01: Appeal of 'Sopranos' lies in strict code of honor
03/09/01: Organic claims are cleverly written fiction
03/07/01: Snow job: There the media go again
03/02/01: It's a vision thing
02/28/01: SAT is best measure of general aptitude
02/26/01: Easing the estate tax
02/23/01: Clinton defenders finally admit to his power abuses
02/21/01: Failed dot-coms missed rules of the marketplace
02/15/01: Clinton heeds my Harlem advice
02/12/01: Harlem could be Bill's best move yet
02/06/01: Lying, betrayal essential parts of journalism
01/18/01: How to polarize candidates
01/15/01: Dems never tire of using 'race card'
01/11/01: Taking the celebrity out of politics
01/08/01: Unfairly 'borking' Ashcroft
01/04/01: Want to be more efficient? Increase number of politicians
01/02/01: Whole lotta exploitin' goin' on
12/28/00: Hypocrisy police pounce on Clinton book deal
12/26/00: Sometimes, it's good to be a Grinch
12/21/00: Though symbolic, Bush's diversity sends a message
12/19/00: Gore concedes --- but why did it take so long?
12/14/00: Is 'Queer as Folk' what we asked for?
12/11/00: Election mess hardly a 'civics lesson'
12/07/00: Clinton's tacky legacy
12/05/00: Marriage civilizes the manly beast
11/30/00: Gore's speech more pompous posturing
11/28/00: Rabble-rousing Dems act irresponsibly
11/27/00: Duking it out with democracy
11/16/00: Issues irrelevant to most voters
11/14/00: Gore's us-vs.-them campaign
11/10/00: Dot-com disasters missing brand-name success
11/06/00: Conventional wisdom turns with the polls
11/03/00: Clinton photo, appropriately, hits below the belt
11/01/00: Electoral college ensures democracy
10/30/00: New Yorkers, media letting Hillary off the hook
10/23/00: Gore needs to put first things first
10/20/00: Treatment of Farrakhan glosses over odd issues
10/16/00: Secrets of election can be found in 'Star Trek'
10/12/00: Arafat hardly 'provoked' into violence
10/10/00: Undecided voters may be ignorant, not discriminating
10/06/00: The importance of character isn't debatable
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09/18/00: Tough questions target Hillary Clinton's elitism
09/14/00: Hollywood morality to blame
09/11/00: Specifically, AlGore's detailed plan is meaningless
09/07/00: Time-honored tradition: Insult the press
09/05/00: Scouting out justice
08/30/00: The ADL's historical revisionism
08/28/00: Sitcoms will survive, post-"Survivor"
08/24/00: Candidates' choice of movies shows refreshing honesty
08/21/00: An AlGore victory? Only if dead birds fly
08/17/00: AlGore is doomed, but Dems ignore warning signs
08/15/00: Proud and true: He's a Jew
08/10/00: Exploiting religion would be tragic mistake
08/08/00: Cheney serves up tempting appetizer
08/03/00: Republicans now 'nice,' media still nasty
08/01/00: Presidential campaign could use some anti-metric mania
07/27/00: Government shouldn't subsidize Reform Party
07/25/00: Campaign finance 'reform' gives too much power to liberal media
07/20/00: Hillary slur speaks volumes
07/18/00: AlGore's McCarthyism
07/11/00: 'Survivor' shows hypocrisy of animal rights groups
07/05/00: McDonald's deserves a break today
07/03/00: On July Fourth, time to reflect on America's founding
06/28/00: America bashing becomes international pastime
06/23/00: If Fonda is sorry, let her say so
06/06/00: NAPSTER exposes artists' hypocrisy
04/18/00: Not much difference between TV journalists, TV actors

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