I came across two fascinating articles today that unwittingly cover the same territory – I urge everyone to read them in full, but just in case you’re lazy, the first is Steven Johnson’s brilliant takedown of Hillary Clinton over the “Grand Theft Auto” game fiasco, and the other is a New York Times article about brawling “cage fights” in South Dakota. Compare and contrast:
From Johnson’s article – “Isn’t it possible that kids no longer need real-world environments to get those thrills, now that the games simulate them so vividly? The national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since “Grand Theft Auto” came out. Isn’t it conceivable that the would-be carjackers are now getting their thrills on the screen instead of the street?”
From the New York Times – In Sioux Falls, people are 19 and 20 and 21 years old and looking for something to do, anything besides some youth program at one of the city’s 65 parks or another laser-light show… “There’s really not much in Sioux Falls to do,” said Anna Anderson, 21, a housekeeper wearing black clothes and matching nail polish at her first fight, on Saturday. “People should stop complaining. There’s a bunch of people who want to fight, so let them come here and fight and not cause other people problems. No one seems to get seriously hurt, but if they do, shucks for them.”
First off, I got the last legal copy of “Grand Theft Auto” on eBay, and the learning curve is insane. Forget having sex with prostitutes, I’m having trouble riding the bicycles. Also, it’s funny that the interior of this country is getting the reputation of being a gaggle of Red State meth-heads whose hollow lives are so devoid of meaning that they need to beat the shit out of each other in an octagon. Never mind that my nephews in Iowa City, Sean Patrick and Lucas, are among the most articulate, funny folks I know; the NYT eats the “flyover Americans are koo-koo” meme right up.
But back to the topic: I’ve always been a “let people get their ya-yas out in a safe environment” kind of guy, and my mom used to tell us something along the lines of “I don’t care what you do, as long as I know where you’re doing it” (a rule later rescinded by my father). I thought people who complained about violence on television and in movies were pathetic crones who didn’t get out of the house enough.
A bit of that has changed for me since Lucy showed up. Now I’m beginning to see the benefit of keeping her from seeing somebody’s head from being blown off as long as possible. The violence in today’s movies doesn’t hold a candle to the violence we grew up with – it’s a much more cruel, vindictive, merciless sort of beast with a cold core. And most Americans don’t give a shit, as evidenced by the week after September 11, 2001, when the number one movie was “Don’t Tell a Soul,” which featured a guy getting buried alive by an avalanche of sod.
It’s also hard to watch someone play Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation when – at least in GTA 3 – you could wander into the “gay” neighborhood (full of Chelsea boys wearing wife-beaters and lisping) and smash open their skulls with a tire iron. I’m pretty hard to offend, but that came awfully close.
But shelve your emotion, because the facts don’t add up. All violent crimes involving kids of a game-playing age have gone SUBSTANTIALLY DOWN in the years since video games have been invented. These are the same years that saw the increase of ultra-violent movies. Perhaps Bruno Bettelheim had it right when he said that violent fairy tales – the ones that hadn’t been Disney-fied for toddlers – were actually good for kids, because it gave them an outlet for their darker fears.
I swore long before I had children that I wouldn’t be the whiny, overprotective nimrod keeping my brood from having any fun in a whir of bald-faced control-freakishness. Besides, the goddamn Baby Boomers already outlawed everything right after they went through it – who do you think pushed up the drinking age? Who clamped down on colleges so hard that frat parties resemble Presbyterian Ice Cream Socials? Who is behind the Abstinence Movement? That’s right, your friends in the Baby Boom generation.
How can I tell Lucy not to do the things I did? Well, it won’t be hard, because, to be honest, I was a good kid. I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol until I was 18, didn’t have sex until I was 21, and I’ve probably been actually high about ten times. Let me rephrase the question: how can I tell Lucy not to do the things her mother did?
Sandy and Tessa, 1975
In the meantime, my sensitivities are not video games or randomly violent films – they are things like “War of the Worlds,” which reminded both Tessa and me how impossible the Apocalypse would be with a baby in tow. I’m no big fan of the apocalypse anyway, as it would be totally unfair to Lucy, but anything involving our current obsession with the End Times makes me want to puke.
And lastly, pictures like these were hard before, but now when I see something like this, I need to hold Lucy to my chest and rock her until the pangs go away. Forget video games, movies and Midwestern cage brawls; that a world like that exists for some kids is truly offensive.