Sabbath, August 19, 2012

Posted August 19, 2012
By Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explores subject above and beyond the job world.]

The Lesson of Violence

The 60s radical H. Rap Brown said, “It [violence] is as American as cherry pie.” Little has changed since he spoke those words.  Just over the past few months, we’ve witnessed two mass shootings at a movie theater and a temple.  In my city of Chicago, gang wars take lives every weekend, often innocent bystanders, including young children.  We shake our heads and speak pieties, but we never look in the mirror.  Are we, those of us who would never pick up a gun, part of the problem?

This weekend the Air and Water Show is taking place in Chicago. One of the most popular features of the show is displays of fighter planes and pilots, including the Blue Angels.  A local peace group has been running commercials asking listeners to call the mayor and their alderman to protest the glorification of war and violence. When I first heard the commercial, my response was to dismiss it.  It’s only an air show.  People enjoy seeing the planes.  No one is being harmed.

Then I remembered a lesson that one of my friends in Kiwanis taught me some years ago.  Someone gave me a hand-held version of the game Battleship.  I didn’t want it (I’m addicted to Scrabble and don’t have time for a second addiction).  I offered the game to Reverend John Hudson to give to a kid at his church.  He politely declined to take it.  When I asked why, he answered, “Clay, it teaches violence.” At first I didn’t get it.  Even kids know the difference between a game and real life.  Then I thought more deeply about what John was saying.  We teach violence in our games, our movies, and our language.  It’s easy for us to accept violence because it’s all around us, which makes us think it is natural, just the way things are – inevitable.

Take football as one example.  When a quarterback is pressured by linebackers or the secondary, we call it “blitzing,” a term taken from the German blitzkrieg attacks of World War II.  A long pass completion is “the bomb.”  More recently, it’s common to refer to a hard hit as “blowing up” an opponent.  Big hits are shown again and again during games, and they are available anytime on the Internet.  I won’t deny that I’ve whooped and hollered when one of my favorite players leaves someone from the other team prone on the field.  But what does that kind of reaction do to our minds, the way we look at life?  Does the language of football make us more accepting of violence?

I don’t have an answer to this question.  Part of me is with Reverend John, we do teach violence and we should work just as hard (even harder) to teach peace.  Another part of me wants to give people credit.  They know the difference between an air show and the air attacks a dictator is making on his people in Syria.  They know that a first-person shooter game is not the same thing as a madman committing murder in a movie theater.  Are we as a culture culpable for the violence around us, or is it simply a matter of individual responsibility?  That question is too easy.  The answer is much harder, and I don’t pretend to know it.