amusing ourselves to death

It’s amazing how much “bad” news is reported each and every single week.  Personally, I keep up on national and international events through foxnews.com (yes, I know that I should read the local paper more than I do).  With everything that occurred last week there was one particular story that struck me. 

This past week in Olathe, Kansas, Fox News reported of a 16-year-old teenager who was killed in a fight (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,329827,00.html).  As far as I can gather from the article there were no weapons used of any-kind and the youth lost his life through the injuries that he received. 

This is a terrible tragedy that would not only shock ones family and friends, but a community as well.  But with everything that occurred last week on a much larger scale, why did I decide to write about this particular event?

What struck me most about the loss of this teens life was the fact that 1 of the 4 youth watching the brawl recorded a video of it on their cell phone.  I wonder if watching such a fight through the lens of a camera enabled this youth to deny the reality of what was taking place?  I wonder if he/she intended to post the fight on the Internet so that others could see it and be amused by it and receive some temporary fame at school, nationally, or internationally?  What if they decided not to record the fight and actually attempt to break-it-up, would the teen who lost his life still be alive?  Probably.     

David Myers wrote in his book titled The American Paradox that “By showing brutality to some children or adults but not others, they have identified two cognitive effects of viewing even a short stream of violent acts, much less a hundred thousand plus.   Viewing violence desensitizes people to cruelty…Viewing violence molds our perceived reality” (200-201). 

What Dr. Myers is basically saying is that people, such as the youth who videotaped this fight, do not realize the severity of the violence going on right in front of them, not to mention their community.  They have seen violence so much on television, movies, Internet, and music, it doesn’t appear to be as bad as it really is.  Therefore, people are less apt to do something about violence in their lives as well as community. 

Talking about viewing violence, did you know that “by the end of elementary school, the average child views some 8,000 TV murders and 100,000 other violent acts” (197)?  Not only is this the case, by network programs offer us and our children something that can be refused: “three violent acts per hour – and six times as many (18 per hour) during children’s Saturday morning programs.  From 1994 to 1997 the National Televisions Violence Study analyzed some 10,000 programs from the major networks and cable channels.  Six in ten contained violence (“physically compelling action that threatens to hurt or kill, or actual hurting or killing”)….In 73 percent of violent scenes, the aggressors go unpunished,  In 58 percent, the victim is not shown to experience pain.  In children’s programs, only 5 percent of violence is shown to have any long-term consequence;s; two-thirds depict violence as funny” (197). 

Even though this is a tremendous amount of statistical information, it is imperative that we become more aware of what we are not only exposing ourselves to in life, but what we are allowing our children to be exposed to as well.  I’m not necessarily calling for the extinction of all programs, which is the vast majority, that contain violence, but rather common sense. 

How much violence are you, as well as your family, exposed to through the various means of media (television, music, movies, etc…)?  What type of violence is it?  Are the aggressors punished or unpunished?  Do the victims show any signs of pain?  Is the violence depicted as funny?  Is there any point to it or is it just for entertaining purposes?

There are numerous questions we could ask along these lines and these are questions that can serve as great leads for teaching opportunities. 

All in all, be aware of how much violence you are exposed to as well as your family.  You might be very well amusing yourself to death, literally.

For a related resource, you should not only read David Myer’s The American Paradox, but should consider Neal Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death as well

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