How the U.S. Media and Popular Culture Promote Violence Among Children


The recent killings of 14 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col., is a deed that should not surprise anyone who has made a thorough study of capitalism from a Marxist viewpoint. The mass media and other elements of popular culture under capitalism have systematically conditioned young people to accept and participate in anti-social violence.

Crime reporting-when it comes to common crime, not that of the big corporations-is often based on confusing data. This is partly due to the fact that two, sometimes conflicting, government crime reports are produced each year.

One is published by the FBI, based on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies. The other is an annual report based on a national survey of crime victims that bases its findings according to the number of crimes per household.

In 1994 the FBI report showed a 0.4 percent decrease in the per capita aggravated assault rate. This was the first decrease in a decade. But the same report also showed a 2.2 percent increase in the per capita murder rate. The other government report reflected a steady increase in allviolent crime-a rise of 5.6 percent.

There is also much evidence that in many high-crime areas, assaults that would have received great attention 30 years ago (for example, drive-by shootings in which no one is hit and beatings in which no one is killed) are routinely ignored today.

“The aggravated assault rate indicates the incidence of Americans tryingto kill one another, and it is going up at an astounding rate,” states Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his book, “On Killing” (Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1995).

“Between 1985 and 1991, the homicide rate for males 15 to 19 increased 154 percent. Despite the continued application of an ever-increasing quantity and quality of medical technology, homicide is the number two cause of death among males ages 15 to 19. Among Black males it is number one.”

Knowing the above facts is important, but neither the government nor the mass media has offered sensible reasons for the increase in violent crime-especially that committed by young people.

P. Watson’s book “War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology” (Basic Books, New York, 1978), reports on the techniques used by the U.S. government to train assassins. In the book, Dr. Narut, a U.S. Navy psychiatrist with the rank of commander, tells about the techniques he was developing in which conditioning and social learning methodology were being used to help military assassins to overcome their resistance to killing.

The method used was to expose the subjects to “symbolic modeling” involving “films specially designed to show people being killed or injured in violent ways.

By being acclimatized through these films, the men were supposed to eventually become able to disassociate their emotions from such a situation.”

The trainee was forced to watch the films by having his head bolted in a clamp so he could not turn away, and a special device to keep him from closing his eyes. Some of these films were of actual incidents that had been caught on film and others were realistic high quality special effects.

Movie and TV cartoons

If most of us are horrified to find out about these terrible methods used on our young military teenagers (age 17 through 19) and young men, then why do we permit the same process to occur to millions of children throughout the nation?

It begins with cartoons depicting violence and then goes on to the countless thousands of acts of violence shown on TV as the child grows up and the competition for ratings steadily raises the threshold of violence on TV.

Then, when children reach a certain age they begin to watch movies in theaters with enough violence to receive a PG-13 rating due to brief scenes of spurting blood from bullet wounds or chopped off limbs.

Then within a year or so most parents permit their children to watch movies rated R because of even more spurting blood, bullets exploding out the back of bodies in showers of blood and brains, etc.

Finally, at the age of 17, children can legally watch R-rated movies, and at 18 they can watch movies rated even higher than R. These movies sometimes show eyes being gouged out, along with a part of the brain, as some military and police special forces are trained to do.

Thus, at the malleable ages of 17 and 18, the age at which armies have long traditionally begun to indoctrinate their soldiers into the speciality of killing, our children are receiving an inhuman form of military training.

Movie characters Hannibal the Cannibal, Jason, and Freddy are sick, unquestionably evil, and criminally sociopathic. They have nothing in common with the exotic and misunderstood Frankenstein monster and Wolf Man villains of an earlier generation.

The horror movies of today are very well made in life-like color as well as terribly violent, and then simultaneously provide the (usually) adolescent viewers with candy, soft drinks, group companionship, and the intimate physical contact of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Thus, these viewers learn to associate these rewards with what they are watching.

Powerful group processes often work to humiliate and belittle viewers who avert their gaze during the most gruesome scenes. Thus, many of them have their heads bolted in a psychological clamp so they cannot turn away, and social pressure keeps their eyelids open.

The child as a “blank slate”

B.F. Skinner, who conducted experiments in operant conditioning, rejected the Freudian and humanist theories of personality development and held that all behavior is a result of past rewards and punishments.

To Skinner the child is a “blank slate,” who can be turned into anything provided sufficient control of the child’s environment is instituted at an early enough age.

The military is aware of Skinner’s studies, and so, instead of firing at the old-fashioned bull’s-eye target, modern soldiers, usually age 17 through early 20s, fire at man-shaped silhouettes that pop up briefly inside a designated firing line. They have only a brief second to fire, and if they do it properly and knock down enough targets they receive a special badge and usually a three-day pass.

This training method is believed to be one of the main reasons the firing rate rose from 15 to 20 percent in World War II to 90 to 95 percent in Vietnam.

In video arcades today children of nearly all ages stand behind plastic machine guns and other weapons and shoot at electronic targets that pop up on the video screen. When they squeeze the trigger the weapon vibrates realistically, shots ring out, and if they hit the “enemy” it drops to the ground, often with limbs or chunks of flesh flying in the air.

The important distinction between the killing-enabling process that occurs in video arcades and that of the military is that the military’s is focused on the enemy soldier, with particular emphasis on insuring the soldier acts only under military authority. Yet, the video games that our children conduct their combat training on have no real sanction for firing at the wrong target.

There is no drill sergeant present in the arcade to supervise our children in their learning to kill, as there is in the military. And while the drill sergeant has a profound one-time impact and is often a role model for the young soldier, the aggregate effect of a lifetime of movies, TV, etc. may very well be even greater than that of the drill sergeant.

“Birth of a Nation”

It has long been understood that movies can have a negative effect on a society through this role-modeling process. For example, the 1917 movie “Birth of a Nation” (which was premiered first in the White House for Virginia-born-and-raised President Woodrow Wilson) has been widely credited with the revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

I remember that when “Birth of a Nation” was shown in 1950 in Lubbock, Texas, several large crosses were burned the following nights in various places throughout the city, other than just in the African American community.

In general, Grossman points out, “in the war movies, westerns, and detective movies of the past, heroes only killed under the authority of the law. If not, they were punished. In the end the villain was never rewarded for his violence, and he always received justice for his crimes.

“The message was simple: No man is above the law, crime does not pay, and for violence to be acceptable it must be guided by the constraints of the law. The hero was rewarded for obeying the law and channeling his desire for vengeance through the authority of the law.

“The viewer identified with the hero and was vicariously reinforced whenever the hero was. And the audience members left the theater feeling good about themselves and sensing the existence of a just, lawful world.

“But today there is a new kind of hero in movies, a hero who operates outside the law. Vengeance is a much older, darker, more atavistic, and more primitive concept than law, and these new antiheroes are depicted as being motivated and rewarded for their obedience to the gods of vengeance rather than those of law….

“And if America has a police force that seems unable to constrain its violence, and a population that (having seen the video tape of Rodney King and the LAPD) has learned to fear its police forces, then the reason can be found in the entertainment industry….”

Violence is the law of the land

The United States has been governed by a war economy since 1941 and has been involved in “police actions” or wars of one kind or another, all of them related to making the U.S. an empire dominating the world economically (commonly known as imperialism).

General violence and mass murder is not only the law of the land in the United States, but in those parts of the world that U.S. capitalism is trying to conquer, as we see reported daily in the media. In a way, life in the U.S. today is summed up in the bumper sticker: “Whoever has the most things when he dies, wins.”

Every capitalist society is based on greed and therefore can continue to exist and expand only through the threat of violence or through actual violence.

For the U.S. empire to continue to expand, its rulers know they must militarize its young people, regardless of the consequences (and pass more laws, increase the size of its police forces, throw more people in prison, etc.).

When U.S. society begins to unravel, as it is now doing, it is only natural that violence on the part of all groups will increase. I think that the average American wants a society he or she can be proud of. This can come about only through a workers’ socialist government.

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