Monday, May 4, 2009

Are Children Trained to Kill?

I suppose I would fall in with the catharsis theory of media socialization. Contrary to Grossman’s article, in which he stated that media outlets are essentially programming kids to kill through desensitization and the closing down of the midbrain that normally prevents us from killing a fellow human being, some human beings are just natural born killers. It doesn’t mean they are sociopaths; it is simply a biological advantage they have over others. Grossman said himself that we are very similar to dogs in the way we think when frightened or angered; we still have that basic animal instinct. But overexposure to violent media doesn’t necessarily make us the killers we can become.

On the other hand, television is also not a completely benign invention. Another possible explanation for the increase in violence since the advent of television isn’t tied to the violent imagery we see and hear, but possibly to the fact that television keeps us cooped up inside when people used to be much more active. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there was a correlation between the climbing obesity rate due to less active lifestyles in our young people and the increase in aggravated assault cases over the last few decades.

Whereas people used to be outside and active in the past (where problems still existed because it was more likely for someone to join a gang), the vacuum has now been filled with television watching. The viewing experience itself can be a vicarious experience to relieve the emotional rage a person may have, but now they are no longer able to get rid of that physical tension that accompanies it. So in the moment they decide they are bored of television, or simply were not home to watch it, they now have all of this pent-up physical aggression and no outlet to get rid of it.

I actually believe catharsis theory doesn’t fully explain these events. Some people are just violent by nature, and no amount of television, music, or video games--or lack thereof--is going to make a difference. As stated in 4.1.1 of this section “Agents of Socialization”, the family is the most important part of socialization. Unfortunately, this concept isn’t obvious to everyone, and blaming mainstream media for the downfall of our youth is just another tired crusade by the bureaucrats in Washington. Just like McDonald’s advertising is the reason child obesity is so bad right now. These are simply attempts to create big government that will control more elements of our lives, as opposed to blaming the real source of the problem which is bad parenting. Television, the internet, video games: these are not meant to be babysitters for children. But more and more often that is becoming the case.

Grossman, Dave. “Trained to Kill”. Christianity Today, August 10, 1998.


Beverly said...

Very thoughtful essays, Aaron. I don't always agree with you, but you always make me think. I found your comparison of yourself to a third world country especially amusing, and I was also happy to know you made it through your bad birthday with your relationship still intact.

Jesse said...

Chris Rock, in one of his stand up routines, asks, "whatever happened to just plain crazy?" while he's talking about school shootings and who society tries to blame. I have to agree. Some people are just genetically prone to inability to control themselves physically. I think the knee jerk, PC reactions to public violence often overlooks this fact.

On the other hand, even the most calm, rational person can be socialized towards violence with a steady diet of violent role models and living conditions in which violence is an everyday occurance.

With almost everything in life, much of the violence today is probably due to a mix of genetic predisposition to flying off the handle and living in an environment in which violence and lack of structure is the norm. So I guess some children are trained to kill in a way. But instead of looking at TV or pop culture to blame, we should take a look at the state of our slums and projects.

I definitely agree with you that family is the strongest agent of socialization today. Instead of blaming Marilyn Manson or Grand Theft Auto when Junior goes and shoots his friend in the face, we should take a look at what exactly is going on at home and the level of involvement his parents have in his life.