It's over a quarter-century now since Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, held congressional hearings to determine whether there was a link between heavy-metal music and cheap sex and violence. At a session Al probably doesn't want to remember, classic hard-rock anthems like Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" were blamed as "contributing factors" to the ills of society. Times have changed, but the politician's instinct to blame external factors for life's most troubling problems remains.
Now it's Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, a Republican, blaming the entertainment industry for the mass killings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. "In a number of these tragic shootings, there has been a pattern of shooters playing violent video games," he says. "Common sense tells us that the level of violence on TV, in the movies and in many video games is a problem."
It's certainly true that violent games are becoming more popular. It took just over two weeks for the latest version of the first-person shoot'em-up "Call of Duty" to reach $1 billion in sales, shattering the record set by Hollywood's silver-screen blockbuster "Avatar." Linking this wildly successful game to violence in society, however, is not as easily done as some observers claim. As violent games displaced movies as the most popular entertainment choice for the young, violent crime, as measured by the statistics, has declined.
If television, for example, has no power to persuade viewers to leap to action, the networks should refund a lot of money to a lot of brewers, automobile manufacturers and soap companies. "Heavy viewers of violent TV shows in first and third grade were three times more likely to be convicted of criminal behavior by the time they were in their 20s,"writes Brad J. Bushman in Psychology Today, "and were [later] significantly more likely to abuse their spouses and assault others."
Yet violent media is nothing new; it has been with us since Homer first told his brutal tale of the sacking of Troy. Gritty stories, games and movies reflect an essential element of the human condition, but they're not the cause. The story of Adam and Eve addresses the root cause of evil, which is not something to be taught by banning books, movies or games. Ignoring personal responsibility is only likely to encourage violence. Treating criminals as if they were the victims of violent games supplies them with an excuse for their bad deeds.
The crusade against violent games mirrors New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's effort to restrict access to salt, sugar, soda and tobacco or Al Gore's late war on music. It makes politicians feel good to imagine they are doing something to fix the ills of society, but as Al and Tipper learned, society is made up of individuals who make their own moral choices and take individual action based on all the influences in their lives. No amount of trampling the Constitution with government meddling based on agenda-driven studies can ever eradicate tragedies caused by the bad and the broken. There's no law against wretched taste, and a good thing, too.
The Washington Times
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