As the anniversary of Sandy Hook approaches, perhaps it's time to have a candid conversation about our culture of violence. Sadly, we are not any closer to real gun legislation in this country, and we continue to be addicted to violence in all its forms. Although guns are the weapons that kill, there is another more insidious killer that pervades our culture: violence in the media. As the nation's rhetoric revolves (no pun intended) around guns, I think it's time we shift the conversation to the cultural and societal addictions that are the hidden drivers of our obsession with guns.
We all know the cold, hard facts. The amount of shootings, murders, homicides and other horrific acts in the U.S. surpasses all other countries. A recent survey showed that the United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents. None of the 16 other countries included in the survey came anywhere close to that ratio. It's no surprise; we also own more guns then anyone else. Now couple these stats with the fact that you can't turn on the TV without being inundated by violence - whether on the news, movies, TV and now even social media, and you have a bad tasting cocktail. We have become a nation obsessed with violence, anger, hate and all things dark and evil. Not only are we obsessed, we are paying to be fed this type of entertainment. Every time you watch a violent TV show, movie or buy a video game for your child, you are supporting the corporations and sending them this message: "Please make more violent media for my consumption. I will pay you a lot of money for it!"
Ever since the deregulation of the major media outlets back in the '80s and '90s, our TV programming has gradually disintegrated as corporate cable channels started to spring up. Currently, broadcast television networks are banned from using explicit profanity and "non-sexual" nudity between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. If the networks don't comply, the FCC is permitted to impose fines of up to $325,000 per incident. This is in contrast to cable networks (FX, Comedy Central, AMC, etc.) who don't face these same restrictions.
As cable networks continue to push the envelope with violent/sexual/crude humor series like "American Horror Story," and "The League," and "Breaking Bad," they also see increased ratings according to Nielsen data. With an increase in ratings, advertisers want to advertise on cable networks more than broadcast networks. We are essentially giving advertisers the green light to produce more violent programming for our viewing pleasure.
If you ask a TV writer in private whether they feel good about what they write, I'm sure most of them would say their conscience is eating away at them. But they don't have a choice. BIG TV run by BIG media decides what sells. Violent programming is rewarded, as we recently saw with the hit show "Breaking Bad" receiving numerous Emmys. The message it sends to the entire industry is that violence sells, and you better come up with something even more depraved if you want to compete. They have absolutely NO incentive to change their programming or to come up with programming that is positive, loving, makes you feel good, uplifting or educational for that matter, and the cycle goes on and on, until you feel your soul leaving your body.
The outcome of all this is that we are becoming more and more desensitized to violence. Our tolerance for violence has gone way up, and so has our appetite for it. We believe that it's cool to shoot guns, make and sell drugs, kill people for money etc. Our children watch this and think it's normal -- they don't have the ability to distinguish TV from reality, the way adults can. They are highly influenced, and the video games, TV shows and movies they watch are all sending them the same message: Violence is cool. Violence is OK.
The sad part is that not many of us are linking violence in the media to what's happening in our society. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the relationship between violent images and violent behavior, like the studies that show the link between violent video games and rates of aggression amongst kids. More and more children are turning violent, and recently a 12 year old in Arizona shot and killed his teacher and then himself. Is this the world we want to live in? Is this the world we want to raise our kids?
I sure don't, and that's why I'm asking you to stand up and do something about this. It's up to us to flex the power of our purse string and begin choosing what we consume. We have to accept that the solutions are not going to come from our politicians or government. It's time to take full responsibility and realize that we have more power than we think to influence change. Just imagine what would happen if all of us became more conscious and decided not to purchase or view violent TV shows, movies, and video games.
Our consumption habits drive media and advertising. If we can change our consumption habits and give up our addiction to violence, then we'll be able to shift the message to: "Stop feeding us violence.". What would eventually happen is that media and advertising would have no choice but to change their programming. Dare I suggest that we could even replace our preference for violence with the opposite, like openhearted programming centered around themes of love, compassion, collaboration and kindness? Aren't these the values that you'd like to see reflected in the world around you?
Because here is the depressing alternative: living in a world of increasing fear. Fear that you or your child might one day be the victim of a violent crime. Increasing rates of violence, suffering, and tragedy in a more violent world. More Sandy Hooks. And the insanity goes on and on and on.
It is not normal for a first world, democratic, advanced society like ours to have the rates of violence that we have in this country. We need to wake up to that fact, face the dire situation we are in, and begin to make choices that can have a positive impact on all of us. It starts with what we value, and ends with what we consume.
Join me in this movement and lets make Sandy Hook our nation's rock bottom, instead of making it just the tip of the iceberg.