Lt. Col. Dave Grossman And Gloria Degaetano Crown, Random House. Isbn 0-609-60613
This book targets youth violence as arguably the biggest and most important issue facing North America today. It highlights statistics pointing to the explosion of violent crime worldwide in recent decades. Per capita assaults in Canada alone went up almost fivefold between 1964 and 1993. The meaninglessness of marginal dips in homicide rates and aggravated assaults is discussed within the context of medical advances in the past 50 years. These have managed to lessen the rate at which violence is successfully killing people but have failed to reduce the extent to which violence is used to resolve conflict in the first place. The United States now has the highest rate of imprisonment of any industrialized nation in the world.
Children, say the authors, are our canaries in the coal mines. Escalating youth violence is an indicator of where we are headed as a society if we do not begin to take seriously mounting evidence, empirical and otherwise, that movies, TV and video games are conditioning children to be violent, unaware of the consequences and, in actual fact, teaching them the very mechanics of killing. Video games in particular are singled out as especially pernicious because arcades, frequented by youth, are more removed from parental vigilance and supervision than, for example, television sets. Their interactive nature essentially making them "murder simulators" has given rise to the increasing prevalence of AVIDS (Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
Other harmful effects such as desensitization, fear of violence - real and imagined- anxiety and insecurity are discussed along with a blue print for action on the part of all sectors of society with the usual emphasis on what parents can do. What is different about this book is that it goes beyond familiar tips like simple and consistent viewing rules and the importance of discussing content with children. There are additional, more assertive suggestions such as avoiding video games as entertainment entirely.
Much more pro-activity on the part of society at large is called for. We are cautioned to avoid "pimp logic," advanced by media spokesmen who claim constitutional protection while strategizing in board rooms how to seduce children into buying their products, literally from the time they are first born, that "we only get what we want." Instead, zero tolerance is recommended for this extraordinary accommodation of business-as-usual with no strings attached. The lunacy of relying on "voluntary industry self-regulation" is compared to other toxic products on the market like cocaine, tobacco and guns which cannot be sold to children legally.
Americans are urged to support emerging legislation in Congress to curb children's access to violent cultural products with tougher penalties for those who market such products to children and higher taxes on violent media such as video games.
What is also new in this book is emphasis on the law as the best teacher in a free market society which provides a way of curbing industry recklessness, irresponsibility and lack of accountability. Regular publication of lists of the top 10-20 companies who benefit from selling violence to children is recommended with emphasis on making media violence an issue of high priority in the upcoming presidential race.
The authors also call for an industry code of conduct. Precedents for one are already established in other countries including Canada. While it is still needed in the United States, having one in Canada has, so far, had little impact on reducing either the prevalence of violent media or rising levels of youth crime. Before such a strategy can work in either country, more vigilance from governments is required to ensure that industry actually begins to take its own codes seriously. To expect voluntary compliance would be, as the authors themselves acknowledge, lunacy and evidence of insanity which they define as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
The book concludes with numerous resources, definitions, places to direct complaints or concerns, and lists of other organizations in North America working with the authors to address the problem of media violence. All in all, it is a good resource for anyone committed to building a culture of peace.