Americans are the Cockroaches of Violence
It’s Not to What We’re Exposed, it’s How We React
Americans are no strangers to violence. You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind to avoid a media blitzkrieg that spews out violence minute by minute, day by day, year after year. We all feel the effects of mass shootings and terrorist attacks that have amped up in our country within the past twenty years. None of this is news. We watch constant streams of horrific news stories on hundreds of channels on a myriad of electronic devices. In fact, we won’t go a day without being plugged in. Again, none of this is news.
I guess you could say that I have been doing my own personal, longitudinal study on the effects of violence in this country for the past half a century. As an American educator for 35 years, I have seen the effects of our violent trends in the classroom. I have also grown up through these changing trends. For example, when John F. Kennedy was president, our parents wouldn’t allow us at nine or ten years old to stay up past 7 or 8 p.m., let alone to watch a TV blaring unmonitored in our bedrooms. Violent programming simply wasn’t allowed on network television in the 1960s and 1970s. (Ironically, when I was nine, President Kennedy’s assassination was my first experience with violence.) I was ten when my ignorant, weekend father and his wife took me and my older brother to the adult movie “The Silencers” starring Lee Marvin. I vomited during the silent gun shoot-out so we had to leave the theater. When I was a child, we had no reason to build up an immunity to violence because the exposure was not nearly as intense as it is today.
I hear from my fourth graders on a daily basis that they have their own cable access programming on televisions in their bedrooms. They claim to watch TV until they fall asleep at 10 or 11 p.m. You’d also have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know that cable TV is rife with gratuitous sex and violence. Even network television past nine p.m. is extremely laden with adult content. I’m not allowed to show PG rated educational movies in the classroom. When I explain to the children why we can’t watch PG literature movies, at least one child will say, “We watch R rated movies all the time.” That’s only one example of too many to recount here. Just take a minute and watch your teenager’s face when they play digital games like Mortal Kombat. Let me translate: “Dude, killing is kickass fun!”
My comparison of Americans to cockroaches is that our societal skin has thickened with respect to violence. No amount of visceral horror against mankind keeps us away from viewing it. Like the cockroach who can’t be eradicated, we keep coming back for more. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me, “Mexico is so dangerous right now, how can you go there? Aren’t you afraid?” In the meantime, there are several murders in any one day just 30 miles from where this conversation typically takes place. During one day in Sacramento, California, a mother and her child were killed by random bullets because they happened to shop in a gang-riddled neighborhood; a young woman’s remains from a casino abduction were found in a field; a pregnant woman was still missing; a young boy was killed on his bike by a hit and run driver; and, a man murdered his wife, then killed himself with a handgun. Not one friend or family member ever thinks about looking up the violent statistics per capita between the United States and Mexico when they question my travel plans because local violence is so much a part of our social conscience. Apart from the drug cartels concentrated in specific areas of Mexico, we win the violence race, hands down.
I’m only one American educator who can’t reverse the amount of media exposure given to violence in this country, but I can teach and live by the values that made this country great. Hopefully, if enough parents and teachers work together to give our children a loving, appropriate value structure that promotes respect for our fellow man and all living creatures, then maybe, just maybe, we will have a non-fighting chance to become a more peaceful society.