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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Private Barney Reporting for Duty...

For years, Bill Bennett and other gurus of public morality have decried the violence and depravity spewing forth from Hollywood. They hypothesized that television and movie brutality would desensitize children to actual violence. As an adolescent in the eighties, I suspected they were right, but still found myself lining up to witness the latest Schwartzenegger blockbuster or rent the latest shoot ‘em up car chase movie. You couldn’t fight it. Being a teenage male in the eighties meant your conversations were liberally peppered with quotes from the Godfather, Star Wars, and any movie starring Clint Eastwood or Robert DeNiro.

While I disliked the sanctimonious tones of the anti-Hollywood crowd, they did have a point, and while no clear causal relationship has been proven, In my heart of hearts I knew that there was some truth to their point of view, but the pull of my guilty pleasures was too strong. In any event, what was the alternative? What else was there in the eighties anyway? Ms. Pac Man and John Hughes movies? Rubix cubes? The way I looked at it at the time, violent movies and videogames helped me vent anger in a harmless way. Besides, Ronald Reagan, the avatar of the times, declared that video arcade players were the “top guns” of the future. How could it be wrong when kindly old Uncle Ron seemed to encourage it? While I hate to admit it, Bennett and Reagan were both right. We have turned into a more violent, desensitized society, and the arcade freaks are now fighter pilots.

Congratulations on your Phyrric victory, gentlemen. In the year 2003, people don’t seem too concerned about violence in the mass media anymore. In fact, violence, and desensitization to violence have received official sanction. Hollywood and the Bush administration have even worked together to create violent movies—with patriotic subtexts, of course…On the night before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the Presidential Mother, Barbara Bush exemplified the prevailing American mentality. In a T.V. interview prior to the war, she quipped "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it's gonna happen? … It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" The message: Not in my neighborhood. Torture, murder and warfare are fine, as long as…
a. The victims are brown and out of town.
b. Their punishment is sufficiently ironic.
c. Uncomfortable facts are suppressed or easily ignored.

Perhaps no better barometer exists for common knowledge than NBC’s Today Show—a show specifically designed to alienate no one. Just the other day, they discussed the U.S. Army’s treatment of Prisoners of War.

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but as I recall, their conversation went a little something like this…

Matt Lauer: “….apparently U.S. troops are using the music of Metallica and Barney to interrogate Iraqi prisoners of war…”
Katie Couric: (sniggering) “I’ve always felt that that listening to that damn purple dinosaur was torture”!
Matt: (chortle, chortle) “I couldn’t agree with you more, Katie. Don’t you just love that whimsical American approach to interrogation?”
Katie: “ If they don’t find Weapons of Mass destruction within a few days, they should have a BBQ just outside the walls of the prison. I mean, who wouldn’t break down for Al Roker’s BBQ pork?
Matt: Great idea, Katie! Muslims craving Al’s pork! The irony is delicious!
Katie: So’s the pork, hee hee hee…
Al Roker: You know nobody does it better than Uncle Al.
Matt: Why don’t you bring your smoker down to Guantanamo Bay, Al? We could shove fistfuls through the towelheads’ cages in the morning, and drink Cuba Libres on the beach in the afternoon!
All: ( Hysterical laughter ensues)

Are we desensitized to violence? Of course! Was it gangta rap and Hollywood that made us this way? Hardly. Violent crime on American streets is down, but societally-sanctioned bloodshed is on the rise. Yesterday’s London Observer reported that the U.S. Military has refused the International Red Cross access to at least 2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva Convention. The ICRC’s spokesperson in Baghdad, Nada Doumani, demanded that the ICRC be given access to the prisoners due to reports of Iraqi prisoners beaten while bound, gagged, and hooded (also a violation of the Geneva convention). Did you read about it in your city’s newspaper? No? Perhaps our American reporters are too distracted by heavy metal and purple dinosaurs.

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