(Note: To illustrate this article, the links are to examples of the types of imagery no longer shown in mass media. If that offends you, please do not click on links. Thank you.)
The NRA and some mental health advocates claim it is violence in video games and movies that is increasing violence among teens. I disagree. While exposure to staged violence has become a teen staple, teens no longer see real violence: bleeding bodies. If teens knew what real violence looks like, they'd be more likely to avoid it.
It wasn't always like this. Photos of dead and bleeding mobsters used to be a regular feature of tabloids. Some--like the St. Valentines Day massacre achieved iconic stature, disgusted the public and caused police to redouble their efforts to end to mob violence.
Now, government censorship, media self-censorship, and political correctness prevent Americans from experiencing the 'trauma' of seeing real bleeding bodies. When a teen gets his head blown off in a gang-related drive-by, the American media will not show the blown off head in one part of the street and the body in the other. Instead, it becomes a story of which gang 'won'. If the news organizations stopped censoring pictures of teen heads blown off by a bullet, it might help teens recognize violence has real consequences beyond scoring another point in a video game. That's the theory behind crime prevention initiatives like 'Scared Straight'. By exposing teens to the real-world consequences of violence, it makes them less likely to engage in it. And the programs seem to work.
The failure to show the public bleeding bodies could also be what is causing our increasing use of war rather than diplomacy to solve global problems.
Disfigured and dismembered bodies used to be a regular part of war coverage. In World War II, then General Eisenhower insisted reporters for magazines like Life and Look see the Nazi atrocities in concentration camps as a way of mobilizing support for permanent peace. During Vietnam, the iconic screaming child and Mai Lai photos of dead and bleeding babies powered the anti war movement. The White House reaction was to ban Americans from seeing bleeding citizens or soldiers or coverage of returning caskets. President Obama took a small step to do away with the casket ban, but must go further and eliminate the bleeding body ban. After all, it was exposure of censored photos of Abu Ghraib prison that helped America improve our policies towards prisoners of war. Violence has been sanitized. The War Department regularly invites the media to cover stories of brave one-legged veterans living happily ever after as a result of the benevolent treatment they received at VA hospitals. But that's only part of what war looks like.
I would postulate that American violence is not increasing because of exposure to staged violence, it's because we've lost sight of real violence.
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