There have been many moments that stood out for me with respect to the Aurora massacre. One, was a young black male getting ready to go off to his first year in college. He was in the theater during the shooting. He said, "this was not like a movie or a video game, it's real." I witnessed his stillness and fear, in that moment, as reality and the fantasy of what he thought violence was - converged.
It isn't easy to speak with people about violence or violence prevention. Our culture has accepted it as another one of our rights as Americans. We have the right to be violent. Not until we, or a loved one, encounter(s) "extreme" violence, violence that the culture considers "legitimate", do we rethink this position.
Today, I was happy to learn that Warner Bros. will be donating money to the Aurora shooting victims. I was hoping this would happen. You see, there has been no outcry against violence in movies. People are afraid to lay the blame of the shooting at the film industry. After all, the killer appears to be psychotic. And, his desire to dress up like 'the Joker' is just apart of his psychosis. He was crazy, right?
I have heard many people say, over the years, "I watch movies and play video games but I'm not violent." Only the crazies take it to violence. We live in a culture that does very little until there is a huge catastrophe. You see, there are warning signs all throughout the culture that an event like this would happen. But, because we don't understand how violence on the screen and in music translates to our daily lives, we think it's not a problem.
Did you know, in Chicago, there have been 24 student homicides in 2012? And, 315 wounded in 2012. Young black men are slaughtering one another in Chicago. And, President Obama has not flown in to comfort the families and survivors. There has been no eye-catching font with sentimental music and special coverage given to the deaths. Scott Pelley, on CBS, for two nights in a row this summer, had it as a headline on the CBS Evening News, when no one else was reporting it (for this reason and his work on poverty in America, he is my go-to at 6:30pm.). Anderson Cooper went to Chicago a couple of years ago. He took his crew there, spent some time. And, yet and still, the murders escalate.
Along with this, the numbers of domestic violence and sexual assaults against black women and children are too painful to mention. It seems to be a private affair. Something that most wallow in shame with or believe that it is something that was deserved. There is a chance that most of you reading this have experienced violence, either sexual or domestic, have perpetrated violence or know someone who is in prison for committing an act of violence. So, why is it that we don't make a concerted effort to put an end to violence?
There are very little avenues for understanding conflict resolution or anger management in American culture. As a former domestic violence crisis intervention counselor, one of the first things I was taught is that men who are abusers have anger/violence as their 'go-to' emotion. They can mimic love, express platitudes but once conflict/questioning/confusion is introduced into a situation, the only response they know is violence. They have no tools, no way to negotiate their way out of difficult or simple issues that arise. The most used example is the "she didn't cook what I wanted for dinner." Most of us can negotiate that. If we encounter food we don't like, we simply, eat something else, eat the parts we like, any host of alternatives. Men who batter do not have that capacity.
In studying the why's and how's of domestic violence, we had to learn the causes. Clearly, many learned from the men (and women) in their households but, the larger culture was and is always a major component. Because the 'black american family' has been severely compromised, black males (and females) turn to the larger culture for role modeling. (Or, the restrictive and lack of nuance in the strictures of the church. Be good or you're a sinner. Be good or you will be beaten.) What is conflict resolution in the larger culture? How are problems solved in movies? What does retribution look like in movies? And, what is sexy in movies? The gun has almost become a body part, a pair of voluptuous breasts, a shiny…well, you get my drift. It's the glorification of this type of conflict resolution that's crippling the culture.
It's very simple. When experts need to learn what is happening in a child's household, they are given dolls to act out a scenario. Children who are beaten, abused, etc., will do with the dolls what they see the adults do. OR, will reenact what the adults do to them. Or, will reenact what they see on TV. Depends on what has made the biggest impact. A child who is healthy, will create loving or nurturing interactions with the dolls. I would argue that most of those boys and men that are killing themselves in Chicago are just acting out their experience, acting out what they see in movies and in video games. Violence is conflict resolution. And, one does not have to color their hair 'red' to show the signs. The signs are around us on a daily basis. It's in our choice of song, our hitting of children, our language, our dismissal and 'gaming' of intended love interests. It has been woven into the fabric of our lives and we, as citizens of America, deserve better.
The movie industry can put a ban on cigarettes in movies but not violence? And, I'm not contemplating a complete ban. Violence is an unfortunate aspect of life. But, it's the way that it's presented that needs to be checked. At the very least, discussed. The Catholic Church, Penn State and the Movie industry, all institutions that have white males running the show, are infecting all of us. I still cannot get over what Penn State officials did. Why do you cover-up the abuse of children? What, in Joe Paterno's life story, allowed for that? As we diversify institutions, the problems will decrease because people from varied backgrounds may have different priorities. For example, women entering the criminal justice system have brought new and more effective laws (regarding domestic violence and child abuse) to the books. The culture is broken and it needs to be fixed.
Heaven Sutton, age 7, was shot at a candy stand outside of her home in Chicago. She was, simply, selling candy and a shooting erupted. On the news, there was no headline, no special graphic or mournful music with a blown up image of her- constructed to make you care about her. When the Aurora shootings happened, one of the victims, a 24 year old up and coming journalist, had the story of her life on repeat. And, yes, that should be the case. The picture of the 6 year old, with the ice cream cone, murdered in Aurora, her image has been emblazoned in our minds. And, yes, that should be the case. Do any of you have an image of 7 year old, Heaven Sutton in your mind? Or, any of the other 24 children who were killed in Chicago?
I am not one to compare and contrast, it's all morbid and painful and brutal. But, why is this Aurora massacre any different than the deaths of these children in Chicago? Until America finds a way to address its blatant disregard for the well-being of its' citizenry, in all sectors of the culture, we will find ourselves spending more time, mourning and grieving the actions of the psychotic. Most people are not privileged white men, who when they erupt, try to take everyone with them. Most people are not mass murderers. Most people are suffering from violence, quietly, and in the most intimate segments of their lives - where movies, music and video games are on repeat.