Can you imagine a world without violence?
Dear Straight Talk: This generation is not just born and bred on the Internet, but on an insatiable diet of violence in movies, video games and rap. The other thing uniquely part of their world is mass shootings. If these shootings were terrorist attacks, everyone would be rallying against the terrorists, but instead, everyone watches in horror-struck fascination, with no rallies against the makers of the violence.
Is media violence too addicting, and does this generation enjoy it too much for that? Are mass shootings the price for a culture steeped in gore? — Curious Reader, Fairfield
Dear Curious — and all readers: This question prompted such an outpouring of commentary from the panel that we are running a two-part column. I've given much of the floor this week to the young men on the panel. — Lauren
Colin, 19, Los Angeles: The notion that our society is "violent" is absurd. Roman citizens enthusiastically attended bloody gladiatorial games. People watched enemies burned alive during the Middle Ages. In Victorian England, public hangings of pickpockets were enjoyed. Just 150 years ago, Americans owned other humans.
Humans have always been the most violent, sadistic, vengeful creatures known. Trying to pin an external cause (the media) on our natural violent tendencies may be comforting, but it's false. In fact, Centers for Disease Control statistics show that youth violence has plummeted since the 1990s when video games became widespread.
There always have been and will be crazy people who do random things. When that random thing is a killing spree, we suddenly need an external cause? What happened to: "That person was crazy"?
Chuck, 18, Toledo, Ohio: I play video games and listen to rap and haven't noticed violent tendencies in myself — or my siblings and friends. I wasn't allowed to see PG-13 movies until I was 14 and didn't play an M (mature rated) video game until 17, but kids exposed younger didn't go on killing sprees either, obviously.
Nonetheless, I believe age of exposure is important and age ratings are worth rallying for. Would I rally against video games in general? No. Sometimes I want to slay dragons and blow up tanks.
Peter, 25, Monterey: I shudder at the thought of taking a life — even animals and insects — but I've racked up literally tens of thousands of computer game "kills" starting at age 5. Many were realistic, gory, violent, bloody and morally questionable. But computer games are not real. Period. At no point have I had trouble understanding this.
Do they stimulate pleasure centers in the brain? You bet! Are they addictive? Absolutely. But they are not real. If someone has trouble grasping that, that person is seriously disturbed and needs help.
Taylor, 15, Santa Rosa: If I rallied against media violence, my brothers and father might start World War III all on their own. It is addicting and has become a lifestyle.
And violence is deeper than media. I went to a Waldorf school, where media is discouraged, and kids still played "shooting" games. If it wasn't a gun, it was a magical fairy arrow.
Don't misunderstand: I hate media violence. My house has the constant background noise of gunfire. It bothers me that people find joy in virtual killing sprees and that kids are engaging in violent games and movies younger and younger.
More from Lauren: Almost all boys have a biological drive for a "warrior experience" or "rite of passage." Video games, rap music and violent movies are what society offers them today. No wonder they defend them with such warrior viciousness.
While I agree that violent media is not the cause of mass killings and that mentally disturbed individuals are, please don't buy the panelists' conclusion that it is harmless. This steady diet of virtual screen violence is causing a literal neuro-cognitive breakdown in our children. More next week.
Boys classically got their warrior experience through hunting, farming, scouting, providing, protecting, animal husbandry, sports, handling business deals, even driving and fixing cars. And I did say boys. Pre-adolescent boys, as soon as they were able, accompanied their fathers in the fields, to market, on hunting trips and had many solo adventures.
By the time they were adolescents, ready to launch into manhood, they had the preparatory skills and experience for a rite of passage. Most of these preparatory experiences are no longer available. The average child has spent 5,000-6,000 hours in front of a screen by age 6 (with about 16 "violent" events per half hour). See study about hours viewing here and study about violent acts viewing here.
Many prefer not going outside. Half have no live-in father figure. Sports in public schools are for a select few. Scouting is hardly mainstream. Even the driver's license is being delayed — or kids aren't driving at all. For many boys, their boy-to-manhood journey has been co-opted by addiction to violent video games, action films and rap music.
The media industry tapped into their journey (for enormous profits) and everyone drank the Kool-Aid. They own your sons.
I maintain that if boys, as growing boys, are NOT given or allowed these games, movies and rap music (the first genre of music with violence as a theme) by their parents or parent, more adaptive and satisfying modern-day boy-to-manhood pathways will emerge.
Instead, our children's brains are literally being broken down in ways previously thought impossible. Parent's brains were/are, too, to a lesser degree. We know now that each generation passes its environmental and lifestyle sins to its children.
I predict an explosion of neurological problems and disorders over the next generation or two. You can't put something this massively maladaptive in and not get something massively maladaptive out.
Just like with food, where we need to return to an ideal human diet, so does our mental intake need to return to ideal. We would never pen animals in front of this kind of stimulation and expect them to remain healthy over a few generations. Any 4-H'er could tell you that.
This is the last thing the media industry wants you to hear. Please see our column "The Male Crisis" from January 2008 for more insight on this important topic.
Lauren Forcella co-writes Straight Talk TNT with a panel of more than 70 teens and young adults. To ask a question or become a panelist, click StraightTalkTNT.com or write to P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA 95628.