Americans would like to think we are not a nation of violence. However, the United States leads all other “first world” nations in homicide. Recently during a conversation with a documentary film maker from Spain, I proposed that the American people were culturally no more violent than people in other first world cultures; he respectfully disagreed. As an example, he talked about our media, films and video games which are saturated with violence. This is somewhat how the world views America. The current societal anger coupled with increased fear mongering plus more gun sales augers concern for both the future of our children and our hopes for a civilized society.
In CAGV’s newsletter, (Spring of 1997), we began reporting on the $3.3 million, three-year project, “National Television Violence Study” funded by the National Cable Television Association, involving four universities and based at UCSB. This project was directed by Dr. Ed Donnerstein, professor of Communications and Psychology, Director of the Center for Communication and Social Policy. The study was completed at the end of 1998. Dr. Donnerstein explains, “there are a multitude of factors contributing to violence in our society: easy access to guns, drug and alcohol abuse, gang involvement, prejudice, discrimination and economics. There is no primary factor, they interrelate.” However, the factor that contributes most in this interaction is the mass media.
This study focused on 23 television channels. Donnerstein stated, “There is a general belief that violence is the way we deal with anger and solve problems and the media reinforces this attitude.” Sadly the media and the public are either unaware or immune to the affects these violent images have on our society, especially our children. This excellent study only focused on television and did not include movies, which have
become increasingly violent. Additionally, this study occurred prior to the explosive marketing of violent video games.
As a current demonstration that “violence is the way we deal with anger,” in a Los Angeles Times OpEd (April 11, 2011), Gregory Rodriguez wrote about “Our Civility Deficit.” He mentioned the beating of a man at Dodger Stadium along with the recent Tucson shootings as examples of incivility in sports and politics. Rodriguez states, “And our obsession with our own uncivil behavior is nothing new. Lack of common courtesy is a long-standing American character flaw.” The most egregious examples according to Rodriguez, are in politics and on the highways. Social historians say Democratic culture is part of the problem. A society that empowers people to behave as individuals isn’t inclined to look for consensus or think about the common good. As far back as 1795, a disillusioned immigrant complained that “civility cannot be purchased from Americans on any terms; they seem to think it is incompatible with freedom.”
Add to this incivility, the proliferation of firearms and the recent suggestion by some politicians that problems can be solved with “Second Amendment remedies” and the aggressive push by the gun lobby and certain gun owners that they have a “God given right” to carry their weapon anywhere, anytime.
What can Americans do with this knowledge? Are we capable of change, of becoming a more civil society? What can we as individuals do? It begins within ones own family and how conflicts are handled and within ones own community.