In the wake of the tragic events in Texas in Uvalde and the media storm that it has provoked, I’ve been struggling emotionally and philosophically. And, as generally happens in the wake of these unspeakable horrors, I get calls from media people asking what impact toys and video games had in creating the monster that murdered children and teachers.
I generally ask people to think about their world when they were ten, the freedom and joy most of us experienced. And then ask them to consider a world where active shooter drills are part of everyday school life, where the specter of fear overshadows elementary school, however subtle it is. What are we doing to children when this is their daily reality?
And then I talk about what’s going on. In our current cultural structure, guns are essentially totems of power for the powerless, or those who fear they have no power. As a result, the bigger and more lethal the gun, the more power it purportedly confers on the individual who carries it. Thus, we see the need to carry an automatic weapon into the Piggly Wiggly, or some other place, as an assertion of individual power and validity where the carrier is inherently fearful that they have none. The people who carry out these tragic, heartbreaking massacres are apparently mentally ill, though I am not qualified to diagnose that. And the marketers of these weapons of mass destruction play into that. As do politicians fomenting anger and increased fear. As a result, they try to create a community (and voting bloc) around this perverted expression of power, which others buy into—literally and metaphorically. To blame toys and video games for this, or even a “lack of Jesus” (on which I have no comment), is as reprehensible as it is incorrect.
The media wants simple answers. They want to reduce the complex and interrelated issues around guns, violence and mental health into sound bites. Politicians want to protect their funding sources, and they tortured logic they often use boggles the mind.
And that’s where blaming toy guns and video games come in. It’s an easy solution, seems to answer the question, but does it?
It’s been well-documented by writers such as Gerard Jones that boys, especially, play power and conflict. Our natural mammalian aggression finds expression in this type of activity. Jones argues that the catharsis of such play actually lessens the need to act this out in real life in mentally healthy individuals.
Moreover, it is impossible to do any kind of research that demonstrates the impact of aggressive play on future behavior. Researchers cannot control for only one influence in a child’s life to identify a root cause of this behavior. This opens the door to the equally unfortunate attitude of: “Well, I played violent videogames, and I didn’t act out.” That’s every bit an avoidance as trying to find one cause—or one solution—to the problem.
It then falls to the society to socialize children into an acceptable expression of these natural tendencies. Hence, video games, paintball, NERF blasters, etc. These can be very healthy and empowering for kids.
That is what has broken down in our current culture–the border between abstract play and fantasy and real, deadly actions. When a broad swath of the culture lionizes the violence and, more importantly, the threat of violence as a valid expression of power, that message is what is imprinted on children. The hate-filled cynicism of all of this is that those defending unfettered gun rights are the ones who are, to use a current word, “grooming” kids to see violence as acceptable and even justified, at the same time, desensitizing a much larger portion of the culture who begin to see these horrific events as inevitable.
There are no simple answers here. In the days since the Uvlade murders, we have seen more mass shootings, though they have gotten less coverage and at least two arrests of people making threats on social media. Tragically, this is a new reality, and it will not go away soon. We will feel the effects of the generational trauma of violence, guns, sound-bite rhetoric, and, yes, the pandemic, for many years. And I wonder what can be done that will be effective in the current political climate. At times I despair.
But think back to when you were 10, what your days were like…and remember that that is what is being stolen from today’s children.
And since Shakespeare knows everything, Leontes from The Winter’s Tale sums up the loss perfectly:
“We were, fair queen,
Two lads that thought there was no more behind
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal…
We were as twinned lambs that did frisk i’ the sun
And bleat the one at th’ other. What we changed
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dreamed
That any did. Had we pursued that life,
And our weak spirits ne’er been higher reared
With stronger blood, we should have answered heaven
Boldly “Not guilty,” the imposition cleared