- - Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The bullets fly and all eyes turn to gawk at the pain and suffering in the wake of the latest mass murder. President Obama steps in front of the cameras and scolds America and the press for becoming numb to violence. Then tragedy fades from the headlines with the rest of yesterday’s news. The president pledges to “politicize” what he calls the failure to enact tougher gun control laws, and steers the nation’s gaze from the fundamental villains, the media purveyors of depravity.

This time it happened in a quiet town in Oregon, where a 26-year-old Britain-born gunman with a hatred of Christians and an affection for the all-but-forgotten Irish Republican Army, shot up Umpqua Community College. Christopher Harper-Mercer forced his classmates to state clearly their religion, and those with the courage to identify themselves as followers of the Cross were quickly dispatched with a bullet to the head. Nine were dead before the shooter killed himself.

Before the authorities could unspool the yellow crime-scene tape, Mr. Obama gave his signature speech blaming Republicans for blocking his gun-control agenda. If the president were to channel-surf through the hundreds of programs at the fingertips of anyone with a TV remote, he would see a ghoul’s feast of blood and carnage, including such fare as FX’s “The Bastard Executioner” and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Big-screen audiences can choose between “A Christmas Horror Story,” and “Hell and Back.” This week they can watch “Knock Knock,” where two seductive young women repay a homeowner’s kindness with sadistic acts. The president’s golden tongue, so quick to condemn the guns of a free people, falls silent.

Hollywood argues that it merely attempts to portray an unvarnished view of life as it is, but common sense says that the young and impressionable are conditioned to model their own by the behavior of others. Nothing molds emotions like the sights and sounds on the silver screen. The Parents TV Council estimates that by age 18, the average American child witnesses 200,000 simulated acts of violence, including 40,000 murders. Says film director Oliver Stone: “Film is a powerful medium, film is a drug, film is a potential hallucinogen — it goes into your eye, it goes into your brain, it stimulates and it’s a dangerous thing — it can be a very subversive thing.”

Violent video games add another splash of incivility to young Americans, testing a player’s skill at obliterating an imaginary adversary. Two academic studies in 2009 showed that test subjects who played violent video games and then watched a staged fight in which an actor was “injured” were slower to assist the victim than those who played nonviolent games. The natural response to help easily becomes a yawn.

Freedom of expression is a constitutionally protected right, and censorship is not the answer even in an increasingly violent society. But the flawed human heart is easily led to devilish behavior, and dramatic characters on the screen acting on every roguish impulse undermine the foundation of civilization. Until Hollywood presents more wholesome fare, to reflect and encourage “the better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln called them, the noisy cities and quiet towns of America will face the wrath of depravity unleashed.

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