Do We Tell Our Children: Harold Schechter vs. Hillary Clinton
all the bona fide murder, bombings, suicide attacks, decapitations,
and point blank head-shots reported in the media on a daily basis, Senator
Hillary Clinton's campaign
against the perils of make-believe video violence is a curiously
is no doubting the fact that the widespread availability of sexually
explicit and graphically violent video games makes the challenge
of parenting much harder," Clinton said in a letter to Federal
Trade Commission Chair Deborah Platt Majoras.
doubting? I guess that settles it.
order to soften the challenges of parenting, Clinton wants the federal
government to step in and save us all from vicious and salacious
pixilation. She’s even given a Bill Frist-style diagnosis
of violent video games. According to Clinton, they’re "a
silent epidemic" among children — the type of epidemic
that warrants $90 million worth of federal research into how exposure
to simulated flesh, torn or caressed, affects young minds.
remarkable to see how Clinton's new found concern about her popularity
with the Moral Values demographic dovetails neatly into the challenge
of parenting and simulated violence. It's downright chilling when
you consider her post-Fallujah announcement that she was "not
sorry" she voted for President Bush's resolution authorizing
violent military action in Iraq — even, as transport tubes
filled with bodies of America’s parenting products, young
sons and daughters, were being shipped home.
opportunism aside, the junior senator from New York might better
serve parents by asking if the censorship of make-believe violence
leads to a less violent society. In that regard, she should talk
to Harold Schechter — a man who’s spent his life detailing
the nuances of ultra-violence as entertainment.
absolutely convinced that in 20 years, when virtual video games have
been invented and children actually feel the blood from a zombie's
brain splatter on them, people will be looking back to nowadays as
a golden age of innocence,” says Schechter, a true crime author
and professor of American Literature and Culture at New York’s
his latest book, Savage
Pastimes: A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment, Schechter
asks the question on the lips of every member of Accuracy
in Media: "Does violence in movies, on television and in
comic strips and cartoons rot our children's brains and make zombies — or
worse, criminals — of adults at the fringes?"
believes that a basic human need is given an outlet through violent
images in popular media. I spoke with him on Weekly
Signals, a KUCI radio show I co-host with Mike Kaspar.
fact that there is all this violence in the media is paradoxically
a very encouraging and heartening fact," Schechter says. "It’s
a sign of how increasingly civilized we’ve become.”
entertainment — going at least as far back as the middle ages,
probably before that — has always been full of incredible amounts
of violence,” Schechter says. “When you look at the pop
culture of the past, in many ways it was more violent than contemporary
popular culture. The kind of moral outrage that we nowadays direct
against video games has been going on ever since there was such a
thing as popular entertainment. In fact, there is no correlation
between crime in society and the amount of violence in pop entertainment.”
ask Schechter how he came to write Savage
number of years ago there was a movie that you may or may not remember
called Money Train,” he
says. “The villain set a New York subway token clerk on fire.
He pours gasoline into the booth and ignites it. Not too long after
that, there was a similar actual crime that happened. Of course,
everybody in New York City pointed fingers at the movie as being
the inciting cause. As it turned out, the kids who committed that
crime hadn’t seen the movie.
ended up writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times in
which I pointed out that this kind of accusation had been has been
made by moral critics for centuries.
the time I was working on a book
about a 13-year old serial killer called Jesse Pomeroy, who was
known as the “Boston Boy Fiend.’ When he was arrested
all of the grownups immediately claimed that he had been influenced
by reading too many violent dime novels.This was in 1872."
a result of that op-ed piece, Schechter was invited to take part
in a panel discussion with Senator Joe Lieberman, now a co-sponsor
of Hillary Clinton’s anti-video violence legislation. As an
example of violent entertainment, Lieberman brought in some clips
from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
responded by bringing in some stuff from an 1846 Davey Crockett almanac,” Schechter
said, “which was not only insanely racist, but very graphically
violent. It describes how Davey, while wrestling with an adversary,
gouges out the guy’s eyes. It describes how he could feel his
thumbnail scraping on the eye socket. This is stuff marketed to children
the popularity of Walt
Disney’s Crockett in the 1950s, it makes you wonder if
Ms. Clinton ever wore a coonskin cap or if she’s prepared
to state that Davey Crockett stole the innocence of our children.
As it is, her proposed legislation would make it a federal offense
with a $5000 fine for selling a video game that includes violent
or sexual themes to a minor. What standard would she use to determine
the threshold? The video game industry's own voluntary ratings system.
ask Schechter what accounts for his faith in the human race in spite
of his unsettling field of study.
a very short period of time, evolutionarily speaking,” Schechter
tells me, “we have evolved from being a people who took pleasure
in the spectacle of other human beings actually being tortured.”
the Braveheart parable from Schechter’s Savage
Pastimes, for example:
an excited crowd of a spectators — who comported themselves
as if they were attending a thrilling theatrical performance — Wallace
was first hanged until he began to lose consciousness, then cut down
from the scaffold,” Schechter writes. “After he revived
his genitals were sliced off and cast into fire. Next, his abdomen
was opened and his entrails pulled out and burned before his eyes.
Only then was he put to death by decapitation. Afterwards, his body
was dismembered and dipped into boiling tar. The various pieces were
then put on public display around the city….”
seven centuries later — in the summer on 1995 — this
scene was re-enacted in multiplex theaters around the nation at the
conclusion of the hit movie Braveheart,” Schechter continues. “Only
this time the execution was a highly tasteful affair. The hero (played
by Mel Gibson) was briefly strung up by his wrists and ankles in
a manner that showed off his muscles to handsome advantage. Then,
he was quickly dispatched in a way that the viewer never so much
good news about this contrast in entertainments, Schechter tells
me, is that we, as a culture, are increasingly settling for simulations
of violence rather than violence itself.
was watching the movie the Perfect
Storm,” Schechter says. “I was struck at the
end. There’s a disclaimer that says ‘no fish were harmed
in the making of this movie.’”
the 18th and 19th century, ‘bull
baiting’ was a very popular entertainment in England,” Schechter
continues. “They would tether a bull to the ground and then
set these bulldogs on the bull. The bulldogs would try to rip off
parts of the bull and the bull would try to kill the dogs. There
were some villages in England where butchers were legally required
to bait their bulls before butchering them, because they didn’t
want to deny residents of the village that form of entertainment.
we’ve gone in a very short time from regarding watching an
actual bull being torn to pieces as an acceptable form of entertainment
to becoming a society where we don’t want to kill fish in order
to make a movie.”
don’t we live in extraordinarily violent times?
says. “In terms of crime and murder rates — these things
have all dropped precipitately. The murder rate in Elizabethan England
was five times as high as it now is in New York City.”
does Schechter think about the new guard of moral critics who would
2 Grand Theft Auto for a coming generation of droogs and miscreants?
time a new form of popular entertainment comes along it inspires
exactly this kind of reaction we’re now seeing in terms of
video games,” Schechter says. “People get horrified.
They claim ‘Oh, it’s so much more gruesome and corrupt
than the innocent entertainments of their youth.’ But when
you look at those innocent entertainments of their youth, they were
very graphic and violent.
the one hand, Hillary Clinton is simply repeating what moral critics
have been saying for several hundred years," Schechter continues. “To
me it’s like jumping on a moralistic bandwagon.
the other hand, I would say that I do feel that certain images are
obviously totally inappropriate for minors. There’s no question
about that. Whether there should be a federal law or not is a whole
very similar happened in the 1950s with comic books. Incredibly violent
DC horror comics, which were often full of sexual sadism, precipitated
a senate crusade against the comic industry which finally had to
institute a self-imposed code. There are certain occasions when a
certain amount of self-monitoring is appropriate. But I am totally
against governmental censorship."
is Ms. Clinton able to get traction with this issue?
of the reasons that people are so receptive to this message is that
it’s much easier to blame their children’s misbehavior
on a video game or a rap song than to take responsibility for it
as a parent. For me that’s really the bottom line. But you
can’t enforce that.”
was a time when I admired Senator Clinton, but with her moral values
crusade against gamers, she’s become a pandering opportunist
and a moralizing ninny. Clinton claims she wants to help parents,
but instead she’s helping to shift the responsibility of protecting
children — from irresponsible parents to the general public — by
tightening our entertainment parameters.
not a big fan of make believe violence, but virtual horror may be
just the medicine we need to purge real violence from our souls.
If Ms. Clinton was truly concerned about children, she could do
better than play with our joysticks.
— Nathan Callahan,
July 25, 2005