War Games

I don't think anyone can argue that modern society has not become more violent. What there is a lot of argument about is what has caused this increase in violence. The radical religious right in the US blames feminism and gays and pagans and essentially anyone who doesn't agree with their narrow interpretation of the Bible. Others blame lack of parental guidance, citing statistics that show that half of marriages now end up in divorce, which means a lot of kids now compared to then are being raised in "broken" homes. But probably the strongest case is made against the entertainment media: from music that advocates rape and murder to movies that contain one scene of violent gore after another to video games whose graphics become more and more realistic. Defenders of the entertainment industry balk at such charges, but let's take a closer look at why they may be standing on "moral quicksand".

One of the arguments used to support the entertainment industry is that everyone knows there's a difference between fantasy and reality. I would agree with that statement if we were only talking about adults. But we're not. We're talking about children too, and children do not understand the difference between fantasy and reality. That much is evident in the way a child's eyes get really big when they see Santa. Or how they try to stay awake at night to catch the tooth fairy slipping money under their pillow. But it can also be seen in grizzlier ways. Six year old children beating another child to death with a chair because they saw it on professional wrestling, for example.

The entertainment industry itself is guilty of blurring that line between fantasy and reality, often in very innocent ways. "Toy Story" is a wonderful movie for kids, but it was widely touted as the first fully computer animated movie. In the movie, it shows toys being alive and having voices and being able to move by themselves. So now toys are "real" and have feelings, just like the kids who own them. Essentially, kids are being told that what they thought was fantasy is real. The line between them is blurred. "Small Soldiers" is another movie in which toys with computer chips come alive and gain consciousness. They attack a family and for all the destruction that they do, no one gets hurt! Kids are the target audience for movies like this and when they see toys using "real" guns to shoot at "real" people and no one gets hurt, the line between realty and fantasy is blurred.

Video games like PacMan and DonkeyKong are being replaced by the more realistic games like "Sniper Cell" and Navy Seals. These games feature realistic graphics, blood and screams. Many have the option of viewing it as if you were actually in the game. With some, you even get realistic jolts to the joy stick when firing a weapon or when you're "hit" with a bullet. But you're never really hurt. In games like "Grand Theft Auto", you can buy the services of a hooker and shoot her for the hell of it. Through use of realistic graphics, sounds and sensations and making reality situations (like being a Navy Seal) into games, the entertainment industry is further blurring the lines of fantasy and reality. And despite the video game rating system, there are five and six year olds (even younger) playing mom and dad's games when mom and dad aren't around. This blurring is even more pronounced in them because they already have a very limited understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy.

When it comes to music, you get artists who are aware that during their concerts, young women are being raped and sexually assaulted in the "mosh pits", yet refuse to speak out against such behavior, saying it's not their responsibility. You get individuals like Eminem who sings songs that advocate violence against women and that degrade and insult women and yet who say "I don't really feel that way." Only problem is, that legions of their fans who hear the lyrics on the radio or CD may not hear or read the interview where he explains that's not how he really feels. Once again, the line between reality (the star is real) and fantasy (the lyrics are fantasy because he doesn't really feel that way) is blurred.

Movies, by their very nature, probably contribute the most to the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality. You have "real" human beings in "real" cities facing "real" situations suddenly surviving "unreal" odds. "Enemy of the State", for example, in which Will Smith plays an everyday ordinary guy with a wife and kid suddenly gets entangled in a government secret mission where he's running for his life and "coincidentally" finds just the right person to help him get the best of the secret government agents. For adults, it is the reality of the situation that makes it such a good movie: for the kids, it is the reality that makes it so dangerous. (I know I'm going to hear "It's an R-rated movie— kids shouldn't be watching it." See my comment above with respect to kids playing mom and dad's video games.)

The latest "reality blurring" entry into the "entertainment" market is reality TV. Real everyday people (so they say) make up the "cast". Shows like "Mr. Personality" and "Married by America" and "The Bachelor" have turned dating and marriage from a serious, life altering experience into a form of entertainment for everyone in the entire country. "Joe Millionaire" taught uncounted numbers of children that it's okay to lie about who you are and how much money you make in order to get someone to marry you. And the consequence for getting caught? The couple received half a million dollars each. Some punishment, huh?

Now the Bush administration has upped the ante and blurred the line even more with their "Deck of Death": the 55 most wanted Iraqi political leaders. This deck, created by the US Department of Defense and issued to military personnel in Iraq, was intended to help them recognize the Iraqi officials the US most wanted in custody by keeping those faces in front of them even when playing. But the new media picked up on the story and ran with it— at night broadcasting which "card" was being sought the most now and which "cards" had been caught. Now we've come full circle, with reality being made into a game. Maybe what someone needs to do in this situation is to come up with a deck of cards that feature images of the reality of the war like those found in the "Shock and Awe" pictorial diary of the US invasion of Iraq found on the March for Justice website. [Note: The photos on the "Shock and Awe" pages are EXTREMELY graphic and some are difficult to stomach. Please view with caution and discretion as many are not suitable for children due to the degree of violence they show.]

What all these forms of entertainment have in common is that they sanitize the violence they depict. The listener of an Eminem song doesn't have to hear the screams of the woman being slapped or raped or deal with the after-effects in the woman's life. The movie-goer or video game player doesn't feel the pain of the bullet or smell the burning flesh or hear the screams and cries of those who are dying. And for the US government to participate in this kind of activity so overtly is shameful. War is not a game, but this administration has made it one and in doing so, has helped blur the line between fantasy and reality, the blurring of which is chiefly responsible for the level of violence in today's society.

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