Why is America so violent?

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In order to adequately address America’s emerging meanness/insensitivity we must also have a look at the trends of the past thirty years of our main source of information and entertainment: television.

From about the 70’s onward, issues that were normally swept under the carpet such as racism, homosexuality and senseless violent crimes were brought to the forefront in family programming.

In terms of changing the views regarding Blacks in the United States, the television series “Roots” brought about an enormous surge of passionate responses from the Black population in terms of the injustices done to their ancestors that still continued into the 20th Century. This spawned a change in television and film in regard to Black people, and a demand for European Americans to make amends. In questioning Baby Boomers, the general consensus seems to be that Roots was the beginning of a nastiness that has carried through over three decades. Lest this sound racist, it does make sense. Whenever a group of people who has been discriminated against start making waves, the majority will resist and history has shown that there is no right way to make those waves without getting mean in some way.

The views of Michael Moore and Karal Ann Marling, however, do represent a minority of Americans. Most Americans are simply trying to live a life, raise their kids, and stay sane in a society that has become overly vocal about nearly everything.

If we take a philosophical, empirical look at the current trends of meanness and nastiness in our country, we can see that this is nothing new; history reflects that this trait is worldwide and has been around forever. The difference now is, we all have too much information and conflicting stories and we really don’t know what to do with it all.

As a nation, we have, in general, become more competitive than ever. Even in looking at “positive” programming such as the Olympics, we still see the fierce competitive edge displayed by Americans as opposed to other teams from around the world.

While in some ways it is true that television has shaped the lives of several generations, it is also true that early television shaped the minds of youth in terms of how things “should be” rather than how they really were. For the first time, children were able to compare their family lives in reality to the family lives scripted by writers in programs that portrayed situations impossible to achieve in daily life. This, in my opinion, is what began to change American thinking: unrealistic expectations and disillusionment in terms of what television was showing us that life could be rather than what is really was.

It is easier to allow our lower behaviors and attitudes to take over rather than to focus on bettering ourselves as individuals; hence, Marling’s statement that “[H]umiliation—other people’s discomfort—is pleasurable stuff…Those are somebody else’s troubles on the screen, and, as such, [are] of no real consequence to [us]” (577-578) is partially true; yet in the light of distractions, the more we pay attention to other people, the less we have to look at ourselves. No two ways about it, we have plenty to look at.

In terms of Bowling For Columbine, this film fits right in with the sadly lacking ethics taught from an early age. In asking my peers what ethics were taught them in early school days or at home, I got blank looks. “Ethics?” Yes, ethics.

If we were a society who exercised the teaching of ethics, it is likely that our nastiness and meanness would be greatly diminished. However, the seduction of acquisition, winners against losers and rampant disrespect for others has firmly taken hold; it is bolstered by television and film, mostly because our ideas of Freedom Of Speech being the ability to say what we want to whomever we want has overridden our sense of some of the finer subtleties of community existence.

Due to the economics of these issues, if something doesn’t sell, it is useless.  That’s the bottom line. If violence and Jerry Springer/Jenny Jones type shows sell (along with the plethora of reality-TV shows displaying every possible spin on confrontation and rudeness and inability to control tempers or tears, then that is what we will see. And that is what our kids will see.

Television, video games, the Internet and other media cannot be blamed for our ills. That would be the same as saying that guns are dangerous in and of themselves. Where ammunition and weapons have become a threat of a physical nature, our media has become a weapon of psychological nature. We live in fear, plain and simple.

Rather than grapple with our personal fears, it is easier to watch others in horrific situations (real or imagined) and be arm-chair critics rather than face our own personal maladies of the psyche.

In these days, fear has been driven like a wedge into the American mind, leaving confusion and anger in its wake. We encourage self-accountability yet we are so afraid of making a mistake and being the subject of ridicule that we turn to other behaviors that are counter-productive to any manner of civility. We are given examples every day of how to counter meanness with more meanness in terms of T-shirts and caps and bumper stickers; we are reminded many times a day that others’ opinions don’t matter.

Ethics is what is absent, not creativity. We have amply demonstrated how creative we can be at destroying our society.

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