Dear Straight Talk: This generation is not just born and bred on the Internet, but on an insatiable diet of violence in movies, video games, and rap. The other thing uniquely part of their world are mass shootings. If these shootings were terrorist attacks, everyone would be rallying against the terrorists, but instead, everyone watches in horrorstruck fascination. Is media violence too addicting and does this generation enjoy it too much for that? Are mass shootings the price of a culture steeped in gore? -- Curious Reader, Fairfield, Calif.
Dear Curious -- This question prompted such an outpouring of commentary from the panel that we are running a two-part column. I've given much of the floor this week to the young men on the panel. -- Lauren
Colin, 19: Roman citizens enthusiastically attended bloody gladiatorial games. People watched enemies burned alive during the Middle Ages. In Victorian England, public hangings of pickpockets were enjoyed. Just 150 years ago, Americans owned other humans. Humans have always been violent, sadistic, and vengeful. Trying to pin an external cause (the media) on our natural violent tendencies may be comforting, but it's false. In fact, Center for Disease Control statistics show that youth violence has plummeted since the 1990s when video games became widespread. There always have been/will be crazy people who do random things. When that random thing is a killing spree, we suddenly need an external cause? What happened to, "That person was crazy."
Chuck, 18: I play video games and listen to rap and haven't noticed violent tendencies in myself -- or my siblings and friends. I wasn't allowed PG-13 movies until I was 14 and didn't play an M-mature video game until 17, but kids exposed younger didn't go on killing sprees either, obviously. Nonetheless, I believe age of exposure is important and age ratings are worth rallying for. Would I rally against video games in general? No. Sometimes I want to slay dragons and blow up tanks.
Peter, 25: I shudder at the thought of taking a life, but I've racked up literally tens of thousands of computer game "kills," starting at age 5. Many were realistic, gory, violent, bloody, and morally questionable. But computer games are not real. Period. At no point have I had trouble understanding this. Do they stimulate pleasure centers in the brain? You bet! Are they addictive? Absolutely. But they are NOT real. If someone has trouble grasping that, that person needs help.
Taylor, 15: Violence is deeper than media. I went to a school where media is discouraged, and kids still played "shooting" games. Don't misunderstand, I HATE media violence. It bothers me that people find joy in virtual killing sprees and that kids are engaging in violent games and movies younger and younger.
Readers: Almost all boys have a biological drive for a "warrior experience" or "rite of passage." Video games, rap music, and violent movies are what society offers them today. No wonder they defend them with such warrior viciousness. While I agree that violent media is not the cause of mass killings, and that mentally disturbed individuals are, please don't buy the panelists' conclusion that it is harmless. This steady diet of virtual screen violence is causing a literal neuro-cognitive breakdown in our children. More next week. -- Lauren
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