Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 03 August 2012 00:00
Recently, the nation woke up on what should have been a normal Friday morning and learned the terrifying news about another shooting spree and the loss of many innocent lives. As details of the horror emerged, reactions were filled with shock, disbelief, sadness, and concern for the victims, their families and the Aurora community. The first thought that came to my mind, and I’m sure many others had the same feeling, was, “Oh no, not again.”
A few months ago, I wrote a column comparing the major news stories of 50 years ago to those of today, and how strikingly similar they were. However, one notable and awful exception has been the increase in these random acts of violence perpetrated against innocent victims. In 1993, when Colin Ferguson opened fire on a LIRR train and killed six innocent Long Islanders, there were immediate calls for stricter gun control laws and other necessary actions that would prevent such an event from occurring again. Unfortunately, events like these have happened again, and, it seems that they are becoming more frequent. Since the LIRR massacre, the country has witnessed the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine Shooting, the Virginia Tech massacre, the killing of five girls at an Amish school in Pennsylvania, and too many other acts of senseless violence that robbed innocent victims of the precious gift of life.
Following the Columbine shooting, then-Vice-President Al Gore said, “We can rise up and we can say ‘no more’.” However, terrifyingly, there have been more. And with each random act of violence, politics usually enters into the equation with some arguing in favor of stricter gun control laws and others saying that the rights granted by the Second Amendment should not be infringed upon. Whichever side of the debate people are on, most agree that these acts cannot keep occurring. Yet they do.
While the gun control debate will continue on, I think one aspect that is often overlooked is how insensitive to violence our society has become and the blatant disregard for life that is portrayed in film, television shows, and other forms of entertainment. One of my elementary school teachers always told our class about how awful the violence on television was and how we should not be influenced by it. What two shows most appalled her? That would be The Dukes of Hazard and Looney Tunes featuring the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. The Dukes raced their car, the General Lee, and baited law enforcement into driving into a ditch, a pond, or up a tree. The Road Runner always outwitted Wile E. Coyote so that he would blow himself up with dynamite or race off a steep cliff, and this was intended to be humorous. Yet, he always managed to come back, unscathed, as if these acts were harmless with no actual consequences.
If my teacher was upset at those shows, I cannot fathom what she would say about today’s offerings. Past generations played Atari games, where the stick figures bounced a ball around a screen, shot asteroids out of space or guided Pac-man through a maze gobbling up dots. One of today’s most popular games series is Call of Duty, in which players simulate being actually in warfare as they try to kill their enemies while avoiding death themselves. And this is meant to be an escape from reality?
Watch an old western flick featuring John Wayne and you’ll see violence, including saloon fights and gun battles. Leap forward to today and the level of violence has grown exponentially. Instead of John Wayne shooting someone and having the bad guy fall down, today’s flicks have to feature an elaborate scene in which someone is “blown away” in gory detail, with blood and body parts scattered. Perhaps it is telling that the alleged gunman in the Aurora killings, James Holmes, dyed his hair in what authorities allege was an attempt to emulate The Joker, a villain from previous Batman movies, and allegedly told police that’s who he was as he calmly waited for them in his car. It’s also alleged that he booby-trapped his apartment to kill the authorities who would come looking for him, something that seems to be right out of a movie.
Maybe the increase in violence portrayed in entertainment is not the cause of the surge in these mass killings. Maybe it’s just a reflection of a society that more easily accepts violence and is even demanding it in entertainment.
Something has to change. It’s been 13 years since Al Gore said, “No More.” When will that day come?
Ron Scaglia is the Special Sections editor of Anton Newspapers.