Thinking Out Loud

May 9, 2019

The Contagion of Mass Violence

Despite what these nuns may think, the gun issue in the United States is no laughing matter.

School shootings have now been with us for a generation; two decades. Or so some news media would have us think, preferring to use the Columbine (Littleton) event as a game changer. In fact, a look at the School Shootings List on Wikipedia shows that incidents so classified go back to the 1800s.

A close look at the list shows that Columbine had been preceded by just eleven months by an event in Springfield, Oregon where four people were killed but 25 were injured.

There are also two other significant outliers: In August, 1966, 18 people were killed at the University of Texas (Austin) tower shooting; and in May, 1986 there was an event in Cokeville, Wyoming involving a bomb which injured 79, though only one death, other than the perpetrators’, involved gunfire.

When you scroll through the whole list however, events since the year 2000 take up far more than half the page, so the Columbine thesis has some validity.

I’ve written about this subject before and it has often brought accusations that I, writing outside the United States, should not be meddling in the gun control issue, since that is a political issue that Americans need to work out on their own. So I won’t state the obvious here and suggest that maybe, just maybe, civilian access to the AR-15 is a bad idea.

But when I’ve written before, I’ve talked about the idea that the killer(s) had no regard for human life.

While I believe that there is a contagion of gun violence — not dissimilar to other things which have swept through U.S. culture, such as the contagion of divorce — I think we need to dig a little deeper and try to figure what has fostered the disregard for human life.

Hang on, this is going to sound very 1950-ish or 60-ish.

I believe American television has played a role. A big role.

Last week I was watching a situation comedy on a U.S. network. Lighthearted fare. Watched by families and children.

During the second commercial break, which included promotions for upcoming shows, I watched three people get killed.

I found it interesting that here was broadcast content advertising programs which probably aren’t allowed to be shown before 9:00 PM, and yet at 8:17 they can air scenes depicting the very violence which causes those programs to be designated for later viewing.

How many shootings have American kids watched on television compared to their UK counterparts?

I think the answer would be significant because UK adventures/suspense/mystery programs wouldn’t broadcast people pulling out guns and committing murder if in fact the weapons are not in the average citizen’s possession in real life.

Up to this very day, it is widely agreed that the focus of censorship in the U.S. has always been on sexual content not violent content, whereas in parts of Europe violence is censored and the treatment of sexual scenes is more liberal. Do American television networks have complicity in the gun violence we’ve been seeing since 1991? Or the actors themselves? When I wrote about this on Twitter, I received this comment “The irony is Hollywood actors who speak out about gun violence but make millions of dollars wielding and shooting guns in their movies.”

Do British children have a higher regard for human life?

I don’t think that television is the only factor at work; furthermore if there is a contagion of violence, those germs are capable of crossing the ocean through social media and the export of U.S. film industry products around the world.

Children are imitative. If that’s what we show them, that’s what they grow up thinking is normal behavior. We’re telling them that life is cheap.

So to my American friends, yes by all means look at gun control and even the Second Amendment itself.

But also look at media control, broadcast control, film industry control.

 

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