Fewer and fewer days pass between headlines reporting another wanton act of violence around the country or in Greater Hartford. We don't know where it will end, but the fuel for these incidents is no mystery.
It is two years since I began to campaign against the increasingly frequent and graphic depictions of violence in movies, television shows and video games. The campaign has included numerous speeches and considerable media coverage.
As I pursue this campaign I feel like the solitary man of Jewish legend who visited the biblical city of Sodom each day to urge the people to repent and change their wicked ways. "Why do you bother?" a friend asked him. Don't you know those people will never change and become like you?
"Perhaps not," the man answered, "but I must keep proclaiming my message, so that, I do not become like them!"
On the Ninth of Av, the Hebrew calendar date associated with numerous tragedies in history, we must now add to the list of those calamities the shootings at Hartford's West Indian Day parade. Doubtless we can expect more of the same both locally and nationally.
Why? Statistics show that the average 11-year-old has witnessed 8,000 TV murders. The acts of violence in movies and video games are mind-numbingly gruesome. As study after study shows, they desensitize kids to the impact of violence, and kids imitate what they see in the media.
I am an example. As a 9-year-old kid, I watched my TV cowboy heroes sneak up behind preoccupied bad guys, extract revolvers from their holsters and tell them, "Hold it right there!" I thought that was so cool that I tried it myself on the cop who stood on the corner near my elementary school. Fortunately my exploit did not end tragically.
Today the violence available on TV is 100 times more graphic, and there are 100 times the number of TV stations for kids to watch. Throw in the movies and video games, and the events that have grabbed such horrific national and local headlines should not surprise us.
In video games the kid becomes not just the consumer of violence but the perpetrator of it. In these games there are no moral consequences for these actions. Indeed the ability to commit unspeakable acts of violence is one of the most important skills necessary to succeed in games such as "Grand Theft Auto."
Of course, parents should be the first and strongest line of defense. But society has a stake in this problem too.
The media will not become interested until it is in their economic interest to do so. They need to hear us demand that they tone down the violence or we will turn of our sets. Otherwise, as one producer told me, asking media outlets to eliminate violence from their programming is the same as asking ExxonMobil not to sell gasoline.
We should also hold advertisers responsible for programs they sponsor. We must let them know that we shall choose not to buy products that advertise shows with graphically violent content.
Of course, we ourselves are part of the problem. When HBO was broadcasting the final episodes of "The Sopranos," a Courant story reported that viewers were dissatisfied with recent shows because they did not contain enough blood and guts.
Given this attitude, it is no wonder that candidates for office and legislators rarely if ever address this issue. When I implored Los Angeles' Hollywood district Congressman Henry Waxman at a conference this spring to use his influence to persuade the media industry to tone down the violence for the sake of our children, he replied disinterestedly, "We can't impose censorship."
I do not ask for censorship, but I do ask for self-discipline. There can be little doubt that a serious reduction of media mayhem will result in a serious reduction of violent crime in our streets. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must demand in the upcoming election campaign that parents, politicians and the purveyors of media violence all address this vital issue.
Stephen Fuchs is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford. He serves on the Commission on Social Action of the Union for Reform Judaism and as an adjunct professor at Hartford Seminary.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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