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Jewish World Review June 11, 1999 /27 Sivan 5759

Larry Elder

Larry Elder
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Is America desensitized? -- IT'S BECOME A MANTRA. America is "desensitized." Violent movies, music and videos make Americans impervious to the pain and grief of others.


Can we hit the pause button on this "America the desensitized" stuff?

In ordering a government investigation on how Hollywood markets violent movies, music and videos to young people, President Clinton said, "There are now over 300 studies that show that sustained, lifetime, week in and week out, night in and night out exposure to indiscriminate violence through various media outlets, over a period of time, makes people less sensitive, both to violence and to the consequences of violence."

Note the conditions here --"sustained," "lifetime," "night in and night out," "week in and week out," "indiscriminate violence," "through various media outlets." Yeah, and as Johnny Carson once observed, "If you inject a laboratory mouse with 20 gallons of milk, he will explode."

Who watches violent media "day in, day out" in a "sustained," "lifetime," "week in and week out" manner? A sick pup, that's who. Could a violent scene in a movie or a graphic passage from a rap song trigger violence in such a person? Sure. So could a guy who steals his parking space or the rude department store clerk.

What violent movie desensitized Adolf Hitler? What gangsta rap video inspired Josef Stalin? Were those in the Pol Pot regime, responsible for killing 2 million Cambodians, addicted to the interactive video game "Doom"?

And what does "desensitized" mean? How is it measured? Is it necessarily a bad thing?

Consider boxing, a fierce, brain-damaging sport, so brutal that the American Medical Association calls for its ban. Yet I know of no boxer who, having killed an opponent in the ring, ever completely recovered from the trauma. Similarly, veterans who experience combat, particularly those who killed, rarely shake the haunting feeling of having ended a life.

My grandfather was a strong but gentle farmer. In my many summers with him, I never heard him curse or lose his temper. Yet, I watched him methodically wring a chicken's neck for dinner. Little did I know how thoroughly "desensitized" my grandfather was.

Recently, pay-per-view fans watched as a wrestler accidentally fell to his death in the ring. Later, many fans expressed grief, anguish and, in many instances, disgust over the failure of the World Wrestling Federation to cancel the event after the death. But aren't wrestling enthusiasts insensitive degenerates, immune to pain and suffering?

At the end of the Steve McQueen movie "Bullitt," airport travelers witness a bloody shootout. Bystanders momentarily stare at the carnage and then collect themselves and move to catch their flights. Desensitized? No, people had places to go, people to see and little time to waste. But had this been real, do you believe they would have slept that night? Or the night after?

Do we call coroners "desensitized" because they calmly examine corpses? Are emergency-room physicians "desensitized" because they coolly stitch up shooting victims? No, they adapt and adjust emotions in order to perform. Let's distinguish "desensitization" from simply not wigging out every time some unhappy thing happens -- as it invariably does.

Our "desensitized" America witnesses some 20,000 murders a year, millions of acts of violent crime, as well as millions more instances of robberies, car thefts and the like. We see floods, fires, humanitarian crises, Y2K hysteria, unsolved murders, unexplained plane crashes, bombings -- all while dealing with life, paying the bills, maintaining work and family. We marry. We divorce. We contract illnesses. Loved ones die. We persevere.

We "desensitized" Americans give more foreign aid and humanitarian assistance than does any other country in the world. However misguided, Americans, for humanitarian purposes, sent troops to Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Why? Because this "desensitized" America somehow, some way, still cares.

Did our "desensitized" America act indifferently toward the Columbine High School tragedy, the dragging death of James Byrd by white supremacists, the explosion of the Challenger, the death of Princess Di, the beating of Rodney King?

I recently saw the incredible World War II epic "Saving Private Ryan." When the film ended, nobody moved. We all sat, numb, as the credits rolled, too "desensitized" to move.

I once worked in an office with a guy named George, a popular 35-year veteran of the organization. He retired, and the staff gave him a big going-away party. For several days, people talked about "good ol' George" and how things would never be the same without him. The boss parceled out George's work, and reassigned his desk. After a while, few talked about George, and after a month, almost no one did. Desensitized? Or does life go on, and like it or not, we adjust, readjust, adapt and soldier on?

America faces many problems. But I think we're gonna be OK, even if a little "desensitized."

JWR contributor Larry Elder reads all of his mail. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate