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Kari Henley Headshot

America Doesn't Torture... We Just Play Grand Theft Auto

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I know the swine flu is top of the news these days, but I am still behind a week or two, trying to take in the torture memos being released, the controversy over what happened, and if anyone should be prosecuted. Our conscience has to live with the abhorrent acts made on behalf of our country that are no longer national secrets.

Apparently, many Americans are just fine with it. In fact, according to a CNN article shown in HuffPo on Friday, those most in favor of torture are churchgoers.

Whether or not this is true, as Americans, we cannot turn our heads away from the impact of our actions, and the broken moral codes of conduct that have long been banned around the world. I have a difficult time deciding where to sit on this fence. While I agree these heinous practices should not be tolerated or forgotten, I see a big pink elephant in the room here.

I believe if we are going to truly come to terms with abiding by moral codes against extreme acts of violence, we first have to start in our own living rooms to explore the increased levels of violence we witness on a daily basis that serves as news or entertainment. We say we "don't f**#$ torture," yet Grand Theft Auto is our favorite video game.

Here's a quiz. See what comes to mind when you read:

Torture.
Unadulterated violence beyond a moral code.
Loss of respect for life.

Answer: Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the Sopranos, Dateline, or World of Warcraft?

Let's face it: Americans are repeatedly exposed to serious scenes of violence when we go out to the movies, watch nightly TV shows, or unwind with video games, all of which drastically decrease overall sensitivity to violence.

Let's start with TV: I hear there are currently 22 cop shows on the air: NCIS, Cops, Castle, the Mentalist, Bones, Criminal Minds, the Unusuals, etc. These shows are the meat and potatoes of the television industry. That's a pretty sad statement. Most of them have the same story lines about bad guys and cops running around killing each other with little remorse or consequences, yet the scenes become more graphic and the drama more intense with each passing year.

The National Television Violence Study performed a comprehensive survey of violence on the air and determined that 47% of the violent acts shown resulted in no observable harm to the victim; only 16% of violent shows contained a message about the long term negative repercussions of violence; and in a whopping 73% of all violent scenes, the perpetrator went unpunished (Zoglin, "Chips" 60).

Films are more of the same, sort of like TV shows on steroids. Most of the drama and horror films today are filled with extreme scenes of blood and gore that I would consider torture, and millions of kids sneak in and pay good money to watch. My husband and older son love Matt Damon's Bourne series and high intensity Mel Gibson flicks. Personally, I think it's a cheap shot to manipulate my emotions with loud music, fast cuts that assault my eyes and scenes of death with little or no consequence.

And what about these modern X-Box and online video games? While I happen to enjoy the "G" rated Wii, over 11 million people are spending their time engrossed in the World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto where the point is to go around and kill people in a calculated way. Tell me again why this is supposed to be fun and relaxing?

According to the research oriented Warrior Science Group, watching violence is a technique used in the military to train soldiers to become killers, and video games do the same thing: "Every time a child plays an interactive video game, he is learning the exact same conditioned reflex skills as a soldier or police officer in training."

Watch this MadTV comedy spoof about a board game version of the Grand Theft Auto game as "family fun" and notice your reaction:

Is it funny? Or is it a terrible reflection of how desensitized we have become to the images around us? If we can laugh at this clip, and then protest about our use of torture, are we being hypocritical?

Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is an internationally recognized scholar, author, soldier, speaker, and one of the world's foremost experts in the field of human aggression, and the roots of violence and violent crime. He writes;

Our children watch vivid pictures of human suffering and death, learning to associate it with their favorite soft drink and candy bar or their girlfriend's perfume. After the Jonesboro shootings, one of the high-school teachers told me how her students reacted when she told them about the shootings at the middle school. "They laughed," she told me with dismay. A similar reaction happens all the time in movie theaters when there is bloody violence. The young people laugh and cheer and keep right on eating popcorn and drinking pop. We have raised a generation of barbarians who have learned to associate violence with pleasure, like the Romans cheering and snacking as the Christians were slaughtered in the Coliseum.

What is your 'torture tolerance?' How much can you stand to watch, to participate in? The line between fact and fiction is fine. If we want to stand as a leading nation in moral conduct, we must first explore why we are inundating ourselves with so many images of violence. Where are the filmmakers who can elicit the thrill of fear without having to watch someone's brain explode? What if films touting 'random acts of kindness' became "A" list summer blockbusters like Pay it Forward? If Al Gore can do it on global warming, anyone can.

It's time to put torture in its place as unacceptable, period, both in our nation's military practices, and in our nation's entertainment standards. Cheney says torture works, but Gandhi showed non-violence works too. Let's try to remember and apply the wisdom of his own words:

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.