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by Kimberly Topping
In terms of the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado, there are many questions to be raised about the US media’s responsibility for violence, in addition to the responsibilities involved with gun ownership. The media bombards us with messages each day about violent norms of our culture. We say we believe in non-violence – but that does not jibe with the reality of the norm of violence that exists in this country’s mass media.
As an American college student, I often ask myself: ‘Why is it that I’ve been hearing about the same issues over and over since elementary school?’ When I first heard about the Columbine massacre in 1999, I could not believe that something so terrible could happen in a high school that was similar to my own. What could the government do to make sure that such an act could never happen again? I wondered.
Thirteen years and many shootings later, people are still asking the same questions.
Some argue that the mental health of the individual shooter was the key factor in Aurora; others shame a system that did not prevent James Holmes from easily purchasing assault weapons .
But is there something obvious – the glamorization of violence in our mass media – we need to look at as well?
When I think about “violence,” I see a thin young woman stripped of her clothes, with a tie wrapped around her neck by a tall, well-dressed man. It may seem strange that this is the first example to come to mind, but this image is a reminder of a form of violence prevalent in the United States -- rape. The fear of sexual assault is not an unjustified one; it is a reality for many young girls. Meanwhile, the media is constantly reminding us of its presence – sending out images that glamorize sexual violence. The same glamorization goes for violent images in other media such as in video games such as Call of Duty, in which carrying guns – not to mention blowing things and people up -- is glorified.
I’ve seen several friends playing these games while shouting profanities and violent threats at the other players online. Two of the most frequent comments that I remember are ‘I’m going to rape you,’ and ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Sure, they were playing a game and trying to make the most violent threats possible, ones that were not meant to be taken literally but instead to intimidate the other players. Yet, the fact that these words become part of daily vocabulary for these players is something to be concerned about. It may seem trivial to the players at the time, but it seems that time spent playing these games allows for the insulting and threatening of peers without understanding the seriousness of their comments.
I am not saying that the terrifying acts of criminals are directly provoked by a single offensive advertisement or a violent video game – I am simply wondering why the creators of this content are producing such violent imagery that contrasts with our supposed belief in non-violence. In addition, why are these ideals being put out there so regularly, when we are all well aware of the susceptibility of children and adolescents to such influences? If young people are using the media as a means to guide their understanding of their culture, then why aren’t we more careful about the messages we permit the media to send out to influence them?
So, when we look for the trigger for the events in Aurora -- who is right? Is it gun control advocates, who insist that weapon accessibility is most dangerous to the public? Is it those who believe that this was simply a shooter’s search for fame?
For me, the epidemic of gun violence is a complex problem, but three issues should be considered: adolescents and young adults are continually exposed to violent media; they are also exposed to media coverage of those who commit violent acts – which does indeed, combined with the media’s fictive glamorization, offer a kind of ‘fame’ to troubled young people; and finally they are left vulnerable by a defiant political gridlock over the Second Amendment. Each of these issues helps to create an environment in which gun violence can become possible. Until there is action taken on all these fronts, no single opinion can prevent a future attack. Instead, we need to begin a serious discussion of what actions to take on all of these fronts, if we are to decrease the chance of additional violent acts in the future.
:: photo courtesy of Robert Crouse-Baker, via Creative Commons license ::
I am a 19 year old college student studying Psychology and Sociology. I am passionate about discussing and finding solutions to the many problems that exist.