In the middle of the golden age of Hollywood, a slap-stick trio of buffoons managed to work their way to the top of the comedy ladder, continuing to be an inspiration to many, while known to all but the very few. The antics of Moe, Larry and Curly (and Shemp) became iconicly known as the Three Stooges, forever saved on t-shirts, reenacted in one sit-com after another and even the genesis of a recent feature film.
At the same time, it didn’t take long for some in the 40’s to blame violence in society on the images being portrayed on the silver screen. Poked eyes, slapped heads, twisted noses, hands smashed, skulls bashed with hammers, feet stomped and stomachs punched were a mainstay in their shorts as well as their feature films. As a youngster, I would catch these in late-night reruns on the UHF band. (For the younger readers, look up television prior to cable, satellite, Netflix and on-demand.) I would crack up to see these actions. They were silly characters acting silly. I never once remember thinking to myself, hey, if I get a hammer and bash my brother on the noggin’, the hammer will end up looking dented and not the other way around. And neither did any of my friends.
During WWII, cartoons were used to ridicule Hitler and Stalin. Bugs Bunny would use flame throwers on the enemy, all to bolster pride in the American GI fighting force. Later, the Looney Toons gang became less political, but no less violent. How many times did we see Elmer Fudd blasting Daffy Duck in the face with a shotgun? How many times did the Coyote’s scheme’s backfire, often in hyper-violent manner, while he perpetually chased the road-runner? Tom and Jerry ran through homes, yards and streets being equally abused (and then parodied on The Simpsons with the Itchy and Scratchy Show). Cartoons like Popeye, portrayed a muscle-bound hero forever having to protect the damsel from the bully, were built on one violent scenario after another.
And, as the cartoons played, there were people blaming all the ills of society on the images playing out on the screen and in the homes. At the same time, kids played cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers or war. I cannot begin to recall the hundreds of summer nights spent playing out mock battles with realistic looking cap guns or M-16s that made a rattling noise when pulling the trigger. At no point did any of us think how cool it would be to buy real guns and shoot people. We just knew better. We were raised to know better.
Movies were becoming more realistic in their portrayal of violence, from the slasher movies of the late 70’s and 80’s, to gangster movies, monster movies and war films. There was a Friday the 13th film released just about every year in the 80’s and yet the two years there was no release, violence didn’t suddenly go away in society, but Jason, Freddie and Michael Myers got their fair share of blame for increasing murder rates.
Music started getting the attention of a then young Al Gore, whose wife, Tipper, waged a “holy” crusade to ban heavy metal. Apparently, if someone commits suicide with a poster of Judas Priest on their wall, it must be the fault of the music.
And, while music and movies were in the proverbial cross-hairs of those who wanted to blame them for all the murders and violence in America, the popularity of the Atari 2600, ushered in a brand new medium for entertainment. Now the whole family could engage in side-by-side Western gun fights, jet combat over a 2D sky or wage tank battles with tanks that could only move/shoot in eight directions, all right on our own televisions. As computers became more powerful, the games became more complex. They became mini-movie productions with sound effects, music scores and art design.
All those kids (like me) who grew up pretending to blow each other up during summer vacation, began to create first-person shooters — games that made it look like you were seeing the game world through your own eyes. The first-person shooter has since been traced as far back as Maze War, in 1973 and 1974’s Spasim. But, it wasn’t until 1992 that Wolfenstein 3D became the basis on which almost every FPS game is based. Soon, Wolfenstein gave way to Doom, Doom II, Quake, Quake II, Unreal Tournament, Half-Life and the list goes on and on to today’s most advanced war simulations seen in Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty.
And, I’ve played just about every single one of these games. In fact, I’ve been a gamer so long that now my kids play these same games with me. Instead of playing world domination over a Risk board at the kitchen table, now we can wage war on our laptops, all connected via wifi, with hundreds of other players from around the world. Yet, my kids have not once expressed a desire to go on a shooting rampage. The same can be said for all of my friends’ kids.
But, it doesn’t matter.
The longer our society is allowed to play victim and not accept personal responsibility, there will always be those looking for something else to blame as the source of violence — never the individual. And for those bent on taking away more and more of our personal freedoms, anytime there is an incident in our country, they pounce on the chance to play on emotions and introduce their statist ideology.
We don’t blame the depression for someone committing suicide. We blame the music.
We don’t blame the child and their parents for bullying. We blame cartoons.
We don’t blame the gunman. We blame the gun.
So, sitting in the shadow of the 24 hours since Aaron Alexis went on a shooting rampage in the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., we have anti-gun politicians like Diane Feinstein clammoring for gun legislation while others are blaming video games. Even the President has said he will use the power of Executive Order to once again step on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
It doesn’t matter that we have reports that Aaron Alexis was suffering from some severe mental disorders. It doesn’t matter that something caused him to snap and he made the decision to go on a rampage. We cannot blame the individual for their own actions because there is no political gain there. After all, no tragedy should be allowed to go to waste.
Before allowing yourself to have your emotions manipulated, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions. In all of the history of violent movies, cartoons, music and video games, how many have you been exposed to over the course of your life? How many times have you “killed” your friends and family online? How many music videos did you watch as people were killed or robbed in-time with the lyrics?
Now, how violent are you? How many crimes have you committed?
Violence is something that exists in all of us, like jealousy, anger and greed. These are part of the human psyche. But, unlike animals, we have that extra piece of our brain that allows for introspection. We are the only species capable of that. We can analyze our own thoughts and emotions and determine an acceptable course of action.
If you want to look for a source, it’s not the entertainment industry in all of its myriad forms. Look to the breakup of the family. Look to a lack of spirtuality (this is not the same as “religion”). Look to a society where we refuse to instill shame in our children while they are young. Look at yourself and ask, are you always playing the victim or do you accept your own role in the decisions you make?
The Three Stooges made a fortune acting silly on the screen, never thinking about the consequences of their actions or being held responsible for their stupidity. But the Stooges were not real. They were characters. And we all knew that because we were raised to know better.
The real stooges today are the ones who look for blame where it does not belong and failing to see it where it truly lies.