Rape And Murder Should Not Be A Cartoon

07/20/2006 05:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Where are all the "Ban Video Game Violence" crusaders when you need them?

There has been a trend in the television news media over the last decade which needs to be stopped. This trend is to show animated mockups while reporting war stories. These seldom enhance the news value of the story, instead merely giving viewers something to watch while the anchor reads the story.

This reduction of war to the level of a video game is disrespectful and demeaning for all concerned: soldiers who fight and die on the battlefield; relatives of soldiers who watch their loved ones' deaths reduced to a cartoon; the news media for sanitizing the brutality and reality of war to the level of a bloodless video game; and finally the viewing public for being essentially told they are children who can't handle adult images of combat wounds and death.

What pushed me over the edge was how the media portrayed the recent breaking news that five Marines had been charged with raping an Iraqi girl (age 14) and murdering not only her but also her mother, her father, and her sister (age 5 or 6). NBC and CBS (and probably other networks) ran the story that evening on their nightly news shows, complete with an animated depiction of the alleged crime.

The animation starts by showing a little cartoon house. Some cartoon soldiers appear and move into the house. One of these cartoon soldiers hustles three cartoon Iraqis into a back room. His little cartoon gun goes off and the Iraqis immediately become dead cartoon bodies. The cartoon soldier returns to the main room in the cartoon house and (thankfully) does not cartoon-rape the cartoon teenage Iraqi girl. Instead, the images freeze while the rape is described by a disembodied voice. The cartoon soldier then returns to life and shoots the cartoon teenage Iraqi. I cannot say whether the cartoon soldier was then shown to burn the cartoon Iraqi girl's body, because I had to turn the television off at that point out of sheer disgust.

I was not disgusted at just the crime itself (though that was disgusting enough), but by the fact that a brutal quadruple murder and rape should be portrayed as a cartoonishly crude animated video game. Did it really add anything to the spoken text to see it all played out on the screen?

Don't get me wrong, I protest not out of squeamishness. When President Bush recently complained about seeing dead soldiers on American television, I wondered what channel he had been watching. In all the news coverage I've seen yet, I don't think I've seen a single dead American soldier on television. There were the four Americans brutally killed and mutilated in Fallujah, but they weren't even soldiers, they were contractors. And that footage was forced on the American networks, since everyone else in the world had already seen it. Even then, most American networks pixilated out the shots of the burned bodies.

Go back to television archives and take a look at what Americans saw on the news every night during the Vietnam war. War is hell--and there it was for the public to view. Wounded American soldiers screaming in pain, soldiers with limbs blown off, and dead soldiers' bodies. What do we get now? Bloodless, costless, emotionless sanitized video games. The administration even bans photos of distinguished flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers' bodies because they're scared we might figure out that people die during war.

So I do not argue that these cartoons need to stop because they are too graphic, but because they bowdlerize and cheapen the harsh realities of warfare: people get hurt, there are often bloodstains and body parts in the streets, people die, and yes, atrocities are sometimes committed. But if you don't have footage of it, spare us the animated reenactment.

I first noticed this cartoon effect while watching the news coverage of the invasion of Iraq. Each little tank battle had to have its' own graphic animated sequence. But as far back as the 1980's, American soldiers started training using video games. I wondered then about life imitating art imitating life.

After seeing a recent segment on CBS news of a Lebanese-American family in Beirut, I wonder if anyone can tell the difference anymore. The segment started by showing the city through the family's window, complete with explosions and smoke columns. It then showed the family's two pre-adolescent boys in front of their TV, playing a sophisticated military-style video game. They appeared to be shelling a video-game warship with video-game artillery. Outside, real-life Israeli ships were shelling their city. And I was watching it after I had seen the network broadcast animated representations of the shelling itself. Boundaries between art and life seem to have disappeared.

I can't believe I'm the only one annoyed by this. Whether you agree with it or not, the argument against violence in video games has always been that it desensitizes children to violence in real life. But now we have the mainstream media desensitizing the violence of real-life war by reducing it to a cartoon for adults.

There should be a chorus of voices loudly complaining about this issue to the networks. Dead soldiers' relatives should lead the pack. Also loudly protesting should be veterans' groups and the folks against video game violence. If the anti-war left were smart, they would condemn it too, since the easiest way to convince people of your position would be to show them the true picture of war every night.

So where are they all? Why is there such a resounding silence on the issue?