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Eleven Days before Christmas: Carnage in Connecticut

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"How do we make sense of what just doesn't make sense?"  "By this time tomorrow we'll probably know a lot about this shooter, but we'll never know why he did what he did."  -Lester Holt, NBC News, on the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on 12/14/2012


Big Media talking heads always express shock, incredulity, and incomprehension when yet another American runs amok gunning down innocent bystanders in a school, a workplace, a movie theater, or a shopping mall.  As if the causes of the continuing epidemic of mass killings in the USA were deeply mysterious, unfathomable, somehow impenetrable.  They are not.  On the contrary, the primary causes of this particular aspect of the breakdown of the social order are readily apparent - glaringly obvious.  And Big Media is a big part of the problem.

American society is marinated in violence.  On screens large and small, from movie theaters to televisions, to computer games, the entertainment industry relentlessly injects socially-destabilizing violent media content into what passes for popular culture in the USA. Hundreds of studies have shown that audiences, especially young, naive, and impressionable audiences - and individuals who are mentally unstable - are negatively affected by exposure to violent media programming.  Regular exposure to violent media content desensitizes viewers to the horror of murder and mayhem and results in more aggressive behavior.  Regular exposure to media violence tends to promote and reinforce attitudes and behaviors based on the mediated perception that violence is a preferred method of problem solving.   Hundreds if not thousands of scholarly studies have indicated the negative effects of violent media content on audiences young and old.  The vast majority of violent media content is devoid of any significant socially redeeming value.  Violent media content is produced and market ed for two reasons: 1) T hese destructive products are hugely profitable for the extra ordinarily powerful Big Media corporations that produce and market them, and  2) the products are heavily freighted with persuasive social and political messaging that the owners of Bi g Media corporations view as supportive of and distinctly advantage ous to their particular social and political agendas.   Dozens of authors have written books about the psychologically and emotionally damaging and socially destabilizing effects of violent media content.  Suggested Reading: Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment, by Sissela Bok; Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano; A is for Ox: The Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in an Electronic Age, by Barry Sanders; and Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture, by Jack G. Shaheen.

It is ever more painfully obvious that t he deluge of violent Big Media entertainment product on TV, in movies, and in video games desensitizes regular viewers to violence, persuades naive and impressionable audiences that violence is the preferred method of problem solving, creates a social and political climate of fear and loathing, and promotes aggressive attitudes and violent behaviors across society.   It is also clear that some Big Media producers purposefully produce and market violent programming precisely because they intend to advance a particular ethnic, social, and political agenda.  One illustrative example is the popular Fox television series 24 that ended in 2010 after eight seasons.  The series, w hi ch won dozens of industry awards, focused on espionage, terrorism, and torture.   It was criticized for its blatant anti-Muslim bias and for promoting torture.

According to Wikipedia, "On June 23, 2006, the politically conservative US think tank The Heritage Foundation held an unusual panel event to discuss ' 24 and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism ' .   The panel event, which was first conceived by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, Ginni, was moderated by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.  In addition to 24 executive producers Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow, and Howard Gordon, and 24 cast members Gregory Itzin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Carlos Bernard, the panel included Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and leading Homeland Security experts James Jay Carafano and David Heyman.   During the event, Limbaugh, a fan of the show himself, commented that, ' Everybody I've met in the government that I tell I watch this show, they are huge fans. ' He specifically identified former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Republican political strategist Mary Matalin as enthusiastic fans.  The event audience also included Justice Thomas and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. "

British au th or , political commentator, and former Atlantic m agazine senior editor Andrew Sulli van criticized 24 producer Joel Surnow for repeatedly u sing the " ticking time-bomb " scenario in "an attempt to normalize torture in the public consciousness."   See Wikipedia article titled Criti cal Reaction to 24

Ma ny US law enforcement official s, who have to deal directly with th e resulting carnage , know quite well that media violence is a primary causative factor in mass killings.  In 2011, a mass shooting in a shopping mall parking lot in Arizona killed six including Chief US District Judge John Roll and wounded 19 including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords . A few days later, Charlie Rose asked Roger Depue, a 21-year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a former chief of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, about the movies and the media and the negative impact of media violence. Depue described the impact of media violence as, "much more profound and significant than a little political rhetoric." See interview 11401 at CharlieRose.com. Depue's observation comes at the end of the interview, at 18.56.

It is true that America is awash in firearms and that unstable and irresponsible people too often have ready access to guns.  It is also true that the Swiss own many more assault weapons per capita than do Americans.   Shooting sports are the Swiss national pass ti me, and shooting competitions are to the Sw iss as baseball is Americans.  Switzerland has compulsory military service for men (voluntary for women), and official Swiss government policy stipulates that the soldiers keep their personal equipment - including all personally assigned weapons - at home when they are not serving in uniform in the field .  Until 2007, this included government-supplied ammunition .  Yet Switzerland has but a tiny fraction of the gun violence and mass shootings that we experience here in the USA.  The important difference is that Swiss citizens and American citizens have very, very different views and attitudes about guns and about violence. Unlike the increasingly desperate situation in the USA, Swiss society is not marinated in violent media content, and Swiss popular culture is not suffused with media violence. 
 
America's problem is that Big Media corporations , which profit directly from socially -destabilizing violent media content freighted with political messaging, are so powerful and influential that our democratically-elected representatives - at even the high est levels - dare not criticize them openly .  Big Media systematically make a mockery of the notion of freedom of speech.   Big Media is powerful.  Big Media is coercive.  Big Media is pathologically violent.  Big Media is killing Americans, because Big Media owners and executives find it profitable and politically useful to do so.  

Media violence is the glamorous, seductive, and deadly gift that media moguls give Americans and the world every day, whether we want it or not, because, even though it is destroying much if not all that is good and decent about America, it enriches and empowers a very few.  See the article titled "Media Conglomerates, Mergers, Concentrations of Owners hip" at Global Issues.org.  

 

Michael Gillespie writes regularly for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. A 1999 graduate of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Iowa State University, he was inducted a member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the national (more...)
 

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Over 80 percent of the gun deaths in the world... by Michael Gillespie on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 11:07:15 AM
It's a pity Americans don't understand the languag... by Phil Linehan on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 12:00:00 PM
It's a pity you don't understand the Constitution ... by Paul Rye on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 3:20:46 PM
... by Douglas Jack on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 12:17:23 PM
Why are we so enamored with guns and violence?&nbs... by Bayard Waterbury on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 1:27:27 PM
Thank you, Bayard, for taking the time to comment ... by Michael Gillespie on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 2:59:07 PM
Aren't the consumers also to blame? Is this escal... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 3:03:07 PM
The short answer is yes, Paul, it is much worse. ... by Michael Gillespie on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 3:32:46 PM
I don't seek to defend the Media or any sector of ... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 4:24:44 PM
On the contrary, Paul, the social costs can be mea... by Michael Gillespie on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 4:39:25 PM
That would not solve the problem, any more than la... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 6:08:08 PM
Hunger GAmes, anyone?... by PJ Moore on Sunday, Dec 16, 2012 at 10:30:39 AM
Many don't know, but on the same day in China a ma... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 2:37:18 PM
Before we can hope to improve our society or our i... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 2:55:25 PM
there are a large number of violent movies in Chin... by Doc McCoy on Sunday, Dec 16, 2012 at 12:12:42 AM
In Connecticut, maybe guns should be taken away fr... by Steven G. Erickson on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 2:46:38 PM
We are all "At Risk". Being a police officer proba... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 2:59:24 PM
Thank you.... by Meryl Ann Butler on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 3:02:57 PM
Thank you, Meryl Ann Butler. I always enjoy your ... by Michael Gillespie on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 3:35:56 PM
;-)... by Meryl Ann Butler on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 4:26:33 PM
Excellent article, MIchael Gillespie. Those of us ... by Charles-Eva Manning on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 7:11:44 PM
Thank you for your kind words and for the interest... by Michael Gillespie on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 9:02:38 PM
The root of the problem is certainly the flaws in ... by John Rachel on Saturday, Dec 15, 2012 at 8:15:55 PM