265. Violence

Violence is part of life. If we’re lucky and, to some degree, careful, it isn’t a big part of our lives. We try to live in places where violence is less prevalent. Some people move from nations where violence is too common to nations that seem safer. Within a nation, people seek out sections that seem safe. It’s not the only priority; affordability of homes, convenience, schools, community character, and other factors contribute to the complications when people decide where to live. But safety is a pretty important factor, and people often decide to spend more than they want to and/or commute further than they want to make sure their families are safe from violence. And some can’t, but wish they could.
Once we have given our children the safest homes we can, they turn on the television, go to the movies, play a video or computer game, or open a comic book, and there’s the violence we worked so hard to avoid. For the time being, at least, it won’t physically hurt them; they’re still safe. But it can fascinate them.
Some of it depicts the real violence we may have struggled to avoid or escape, and some is violent fantasy.
One possible response to this phenomenon is to carefully monitor all media our children see. We can ban certain television shows, movies, games, or comic books. Much of what’s left may be boring to our children, but it doesn’t have to be; life and art can be quite exciting without being violent. But we have to recognize that part of the appeal of media violence is how exciting it can be.
I remember seeing the movie “Bonnie and Clyde” in 1966. It was the first time I’d seen violence that looked real; the camera stayed focussed on people after they’d been shot. Up till then, cameras had made violence seem fun. At first I thought this new approach, though disgusting, would have good effects, making people aware that real violence is not fun.
But that didn’t happen. “Bonnie and Clyde” was a trend-setter; people now expect to see the blood and guts that shocked people when they first saw “Bonnie and Clyde.” And that includes children.
As I tried to hold back the rising tide of media violence, both as a parent and as a teacher, it became clear to me that it wasn’t going to be easy. There came a point when I started to see that my attempts to ban violence were making it harder to relate with some children. If I was just going to be another adult who was going to react with indignation when they told me about their favorite destructive monsters, I wasn’t going to be as able to know some children.
So now, a child who gets a new action hero doll gets positive attention from me. I try to work my pacifist reaction into the conversation in a way that doesn’t get the child to look elsewhere for appreciation. And as I help a child write a story about this action hero, I try to gently guide the child away from violence. I still feel the indignance I’ve always felt, but if I let on too soon or too firmly, I don’t stand a chance of having an effect.

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