14 December 2012

Culture of Violence

When The Offspring was a baby, I swore there would be no toy guns in the house. Nine years later, somehow he owns several water guns and nerf guns.  I caved.

We have no television, we turned off the radio when he was a baby and never really turned it back on, and we're careful about violent movies.  Yet somewhere, T.O. has learned to cock his hands and make machine-gun noises.  All summer, the neighborhood kids played "Hunger Games."  Before school started, we finally let him read the book.

The news about the shooting doesn't seem to have filtered down to the younger kids. At pick-up from school, T.O. was holding a piece of graph paper, and said he wanted to go to Staples and get a whole pad of graph paper.

"Sure, what for?"

"I'm making a death maze."


"It's a really hard maze."

Then he said something I didn't catch (it's noisy among hundreds of kids who've just been freed for the weekend) about "ammo."

His imaginative world is full of weapons and violence.  It's a big feature of the books he reads -- Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl.  He's growing up in a culture where violence is constantly represented as exciting, honorable, and fun.

And that culture has been around us for millennia.  Last year, I read him The Odyssey, with all its depictions of death and destruction.  I lingered a bit over the scene where Odysseus scolds Eurycleia for her joyous reaction to the death of the suitors.  In Fagles' translation, Odysseus says: "No cries of triumph now. It's unholy to glory over the bodies of the dead" (XXII. 436-7).  Yet this is one line in a long narrative in which Odysseus' survival depends on death upon death upon death.

The anti-war hippy tunes that form our family soundtrack are lost in the winds of this culture.  Anything I've said about peace, pacifism, the wounds of war -- it's drowned in a cultural message that makes violence so much more engaging.

I don't really know, aside from moving to a remote island, how to insulate T.O. from that culture.  I can only hope that he will never find himself at the wrong end of a gun, and that at some point he'll turn aside from killing games and find other ways to express his energy and creativity.

And maybe, in my wildest dreams, he will use that energy and creativity to help to change the culture.