Do we live in a culture of violence?

The recent shooting of a Congresswoman in Arizona, and killing and wounding of many more innocent bystanders has opened up wounds in our psyche. Some have attempted to politicize the event as symptomatic of the immorality of the people and media with conservative political or social views while others seek to minimize the importance by seeing the event as another "deranged lone gunman" episode. Neither explanation may be close to the truth. The reality may be that American culture has become a culture of violence, which is now exemplified in many forms. The Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies published a list of countries by number of guns divided by number of residents in 2007, and listed the U.S. as number 1, with Yemen second. The U.S. had 90 guns per 100 residents, while Yemen had 60. The FBI has estimated that there are over 200 million privately owned guns in the U.S. According to the CRS Report for Congress; Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2002-2009, the U.S. is the biggest supplier of military arms to other countries in the world, followed by Russia and France. From 1998 to 2001, the USA, the UK, and France earned more income from arms sales to developing countries than given in humanitarian aid. The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002) cites the U.S. as having the largest number of people in prisons, followed by Russia and China. The U.S. had in 2002 ½ million more than Russia. Nick Turse, a fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute and author of The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan, cites data which shows there are between 700 and 1000 U.S. military bases around the world and that the U.S. Federal government spends between 42-57% of spending of tax revenues on the military. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation report, the National T. V. Violence Study reported that 2/3 of T.V. programs contained some violence, averaging 6 violent acts per hour, and violence was found to

be more prevalent in children's programs than in other types. Since the 1960,s a body of research including that of the National Institute of Mental Health has been accumulating on the effects of T.V. violence, leading to the conclusion that T.V. violence is one of the many factors that contribute to aggressive behavior. A University of Toronto study used neuroimaging techniques to conclude that exposure to violent media images results in damaging effects on the frontal lobes of young brains. The Media Awareness Network cited a study by Laval University professors Guy Paquette and Jacques de Guise, who studied 6 major Canadian T.V. networks over a 7 year period, examining films, situation comedies, dramatic series and children's shows, and reported that incidents of violence had increased by 378%. Other research indicates that media violence has not just increased in quantity; it has also become much more graphic, much more sexual, and much more sadistic. Explicit pictures of slow-motion bullets exploding from people's chests, and dead bodies surrounded by pools of blood, are now commonplace fare. And one of the top-selling video games in the world, Grand Theft Auto, is programmed so players can beat prostitutes to death with baseball bats after having sex with them. More than half (51 per cent) of boys living in war zones and highcrime areas chose action heroes as role models, ahead of any other images; and a remarkable 88 per cent of the children surveyed could identify the Arnold Schwarzenegger character from the film Terminator. UNESCO reported that the Terminator "seems to represent the characteristics that children think are necessary to cope with difficult situations." The notion of violence as a means of problem solving is reinforced by entertainment in which both villains and heroes resort to violence on a continual basis. The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), which has studied violence in television, movies and music videos for a decade, reports that nearly half of all violence is committed by the "good guys." Less than 10 per cent of the TV shows, movies and music videos that were analyzed contextualized the violence or explored its human consequences. The violence was simply presented as justifiable, natural and inevitable -- the most obvious way to solve the problem.

Music and music videos are pushing into new and increasingly violent territory. When singer Jordan Knight, formerly of the popular New Kids on the Block group, released a solo album in 1999, Canadian activists called for a boycott of the album because it included a song advocating date rape. And when the controversial rap artist Eminem went to Toronto in 2000, politicians and activists unsuccessfully called for the government to bar him from the country, on the grounds that his violent lyrics promoted hatred against women. For instance, his song Kim graphically depicts him murdering his wife; and Kill You describes how he plans to rape and murder his mother. Eminem's success is not exceptional. Extremely violent lyrics have moved into the mainstream of the music industry. The Universal Music Group, the world's largest music company, lists Eminem, Dr Dre and Limp Bizkit all of whom have been criticized for their violent and misogynist lyrics among its top-grossing artists. And Madonna's 2002 music video What It Feels Like For a Girl contained such graphic violence that even MTV refused to air it more than once. Violence in general, and sexual violence in particular, is also a staple of the video game industry. The current trend is for players to be the bad guys, acting out criminal fantasies and earning points for attacking and killing innocent bystanders. Although these games are rated M, for mature audiences, it's common knowledge that they are popular among pre-teen and teenage boys. For example, players in Grand Theft Auto 3 (the best-selling game ever for PlayStation 2) earn points by carjacking, and stealing drugs from street people and pushers. In Carmageddon, players are rewarded for mowing down pedestrians -- sounds of cracking bones add to the realistic effect. The first-person shooter in Duke Nukem hones his skills by using pornographic posters of women for target practice, and earns bonus points for shooting naked and bound prostitutes and strippers who beg, "Kill me." In the game Postal, players act out the part of the Postal Dude, who earns points by randomly shooting everyone who appears -- including people walking out of church, and members of a high school band. Postal Dude is programmed to say, "Only my gun understands me." Nor is the culture of violence limited to physical violence. We exist in

a culture in which violence is reflected at many levels, from poverty to healthcare to Wall Street and the "dog-eat-dog" free market economy philosophy which emphasizes winners and losers, a means-to-an-end ethos and winning at all costs. The cultural ethos that we have embaraced of ruthless competition, domination, material consumption with no consequences and a "me first" lifestyle pits us against one another. In the end, if we sanction violence at any level and in any enterprise either overt or tacit-as a means to accomplish anything, we support anyone who is prepared to use this justification for any purpose, however twisted it may be. Who is responsible for the tragic event in Arizona? All of us, for allowing a culture of violence to thrive.