Entertainment and Guns

May 13, 2013

A lot of discussion goes on in the media about gun violence and who to blame for it. Most of the blame gets directed towards the "gun culture", in particular the NRA, and comes to the conclusion that banning guns and stricter gun control laws will solve the problem.

I am not so sure. I was involved in a discussion recently that directed the blame at violent entertainment. The counterargument was that it was an insult to peoples intelligence to suggest that entertainment, in particular visual imagery, could affect their behavior. I am not so sure. If so, then advertising is a waste of time and money.

I have recently been reading a book, "Over the Edge, Death in Grand Canyon", which has a chapter on suicide. The book notes that 1993, the year after the release of the movie "Thelma and Louise", there were three "copycat" drive off the rim suicides.

In 1997, we had the "North Hollywood shootout", where two bank robbers armed with fully automatic rifles became involved in a gigantic gunfight with police. This is widely regarded to be a copycat crime modeled after the 1995 movie "Heat".

People will argue that most people and normal people can draw the line between fantasy and reality. The problem is that we are not talking about normal people, nor are we claiming than violent entertainment turns normal people into psychopaths. People who already have a few screws loose can certainly be inspired to do bad things though. And there is no question that everyone is affected in some way, and it is hard to find any positive spin to put on it, by violent entertainment.

In an April 2013 blog posting entitles "Why the NRA is Right about Hollywood", Selwyn Duke takes up this issue. He notes that in rural areas of New Yorks Catskill Mountains, young people began wearing baggy pants and imitating "gansta" culture -- with the only source of such influence being television.

During world war II, Japanese soldiers would have to watch and cheer while a few of their fellow soldiers bayoneted prisoners to death. Afterwards they were treated to the best meal they had had in months, sake, and so called "comfort girls". How different is this from our children watching vivid images of suffering and death while chomping on candy and their favorite soft drink and enjoying their girl friends perfume.

Psychologists understand this, and call it operant conditioning.

Feedback? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's Essays / tom@mmto.org