HICKS: What bred Loughner?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the photographs of 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green and her purported killer, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, may speak volumes about American youth culture.

Christina was the third-grade victim of the shooting that took place at the “Congress on Your Corner” event sponsored by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday in Tucson. The image of Christina released to the media is the picture of innocence and wholesomeness — her sweet smile and wide eyes conveying the kind and capable spirit for which she was known.

Christina’s friends point to her fun sense of humor and willingness to talk with anyone as traits they will miss at Mesa Verde Elementary School. Recently elected to the student council, she had started to develop an interest in government, which prompted her neighbor and friend Susan Hileman to take Christina to Mrs. Giffords’ event.

Born amid fear and foreboding on September 11, 2001, Christina was the picture of possibility and promise. A baseball player who also took ballet lessons, Christina was being raised in a faithful home and recently received her First Communion. By all accounts, she exhibited a zest for life that was fed by the love and encouragement of her family and friends.

The portrait of the man charged in her death is a stark and scary contrast, indeed.

Mr. Loughner is variously described by friends and acquaintances as a loner, a nihilist and a “pothead.” His anti-social behavior, revealing a fairly obvious case of mental illness, is well-documented, though he appears not to have been treated.

And while political pundits on the left eagerly attempt to attach Mr. Loughner’s motives to right-wing causes and conservative beliefs in a grotesque effort to exploit the Tucson tragedy for their own purposes, there’s virtually no evidence thus far to connect Mr. Loughner to any belief system except “crazy.” That is, unless you consider the satanic altar that was found on the patio behind his house.

It’s interesting to note that the mainstream media is quick to promote a political explanation for Mr. Loughner’s actions, but doesn’t seem even remotely curious about other influences that might have inspired his rambling, irrational thoughts and threatening behavior.

So far, only the Rev. Franklin Graham’s statement about the Arizona shootings suggests the cultural connection to the dark and disturbing persona that has emerged in Mr. Loughner’s profile: “What frightens me is that our country has accepted murder, violence and rape as entertainment, which we see portrayed every day on TV, movies and video games … . If we as a nation are not careful, we could see the destruction of the foundation this nation was built upon.”

I can’t help but wonder if Jared Loughner may have grown into a deranged killer thanks, in part, to a popular culture that feeds not on vitriolic political speech, but on a fascination with death, violence and evil. High school friends say Mr. Loughner seemed relatively normal until his teen years, when one friend says he started to obsessively play video games, listen to music on his headphones and generally isolate himself. Others also recount that his headphones were fixtures in his ears.

Studies indicate that constant exposure to violent media desensitizes teens, as well as causes increased levels of aggression. While I’m not suggesting a direct causal relationship between Mr. Loughner’s media consumption and what happened on Saturday, we can’t pretend as a society that it’s OK for young people to engage in violent fantasies through video games, Internet pornography and graphic films and music without any consequences to their hearts and souls and ultimately to their mental health.

As long as we’re trying to understand the motivation of a twisted 22-year-old, I suggest someone check the playlists on his iPod and take a look at the games in his video collection.

No, violent music and games didn’t “cause” his descent into violent and disturbing behavior. But they sure couldn’t help.

Contact Marybeth Hicks at www.marybethhicks.com

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