Fantasy also kills

Sam Smith – Last week I was working on a piece about how the relationship between elites and those upon whom they prey has dramatically changed in the last half century or so. Throughout history, the victims of a society’s establishment have tended to understand that they were being screwed. Slaves knew they were slaves, serfs knew they were serfs, and underpaid, overworked laborers had little difficulty perceiving their plight. To be sure, they could become loyal victims of false rationales, such as the pursuit of empire, or of false enemies such as led poor whites in the south to hate poor blacks, or convinced to put their best interests aside in the name, say, of a war on terror or communism.

But it wasn’t really until the advent of television and the media domination of our lives that followed in its wake that we found such large numbers of people accepting the values and principles of a system from which they get so little benefit. With elite values no longer suspect or hated but rather just more products being successfully sold on the evening news and other shows, we have experienced a collapse of traditional class conflict, replaced by an often frightening acceptance of policies and philosophies alien to the interests of the vast majority. Capitalism is now just another Viagra pill sold on TV

A uberocracy has developed. The elite no longer merely has just political and economic power but also lengthy daily access to our hearts and minds through varied media including a major shift in journalism from being culturally close to its audience to it now being a part of the same elite it is supposed to describe accurately.

Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, saw it coming: “A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

When I covered my first Washington story 55 years ago last summer, over half the reporters in the country only had a high school education. As I described it some years back:

Starting in the 1960s, the media began an stunning transformation. It became the first subculture in history to raise dramatically its socio-economic status simply by writing about itself. At the same time, journalists began pouring out of graduate schools, and perceiving themselves as part of the ruling class. The runaway media conglomeration of the 80s and 90s further removed reporters from their readers and viewers, encasing them in corporate cocoons. One small example of the result: over the history of the US there have been some 2,000 labor newspapers in the country. One had a circulation roughly equal to that of the Washington Post. Today there are hardly any. In the 1940s there were 1,000 labor reporters on daily newspapers. Again, today they have virtually disappeared.

Which is why you hear so little about socialism, cooperatives, labor unions or local businesses on the evening news. And why those in something called the Tea Party consider themselves radical reformers when in fact they accept the very principles that have left them in their condition of anger. Where can they hear anything else?

And where does a Walmart worker learn about the history of labor organizing? How can someone facing foreclosure even get their problem noticed? Where was the coverage of the pain people have felt because of the most excruciatingly greedy elite of modern history?

But then, as I was working on this article, the tragedy of Newtown CT struck. The conventional media coverage was overwhelmingly aimed at the role of guns without a hint that those so somberly reporting the disaster might be working for companies and in a profession that shared responsibility for a culture that had spawned such violence. The uberocracy not only determines how we think about money and politics but directs us towards violent ways of venting depression and anger. There’s money in those murders.

We call it entertainment but it is also an effective forms of instruction. And according to a study a few years back, children 2-11 watch an average of 24 hours of TV a week, 22 hours for teenagers 12-17.

Now let’s add video games. According to Wiki:

 A 2007 Harris Interactive online poll of 1,187 United States youths aged 8–18 gathered detailed data on youth opinions about video game play. About 81% of youths stated that they played video games at least once per month. Further, the average play time varied by age and sex, from eight hours per week (responses from teen girls) to 14 hours per week (responses by teen boys). “Tweens” (8–12-year-olds) fell in the middle, with boys averaging 13 hours per week of reported game play and girls averaging 10. Harris concluded that 8.5% “can be classified as pathological or clinically ‘addicted’ to playing video games.”

A news account earlier this year reported that:

Brain scans show that violent video games can alter brain function in healthy young men after just a week of play, depressing activity among regions associated with emotional control, researchers at Indiana University recently reported. Other studies have found an association between compulsive gaming and being overweight, introverted and prone to depression.

Author Jackson Katz has offered some other details:

By the time the average child is eighteen years old, they will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders.

Media violence is especially damaging to young children (under 8) because they cannot easily tell the difference between real life and fantasy.

Most of the top-selling video games (89%) contained violent content, almost half of which was of a serious nature.

The level of violence during Saturday morning cartoons is higher than the level of violence during prime time. There are 3-5 violent acts per hour in prime time, versus 20-25 acts per hour on Saturday morning.

Nearly 75 percent of violent scenes on television feature no immediate punishment for or condmendation of violence.

And in 2008, Dartmouth College reported:

In a paper published in the journal Pediatrics, Dartmouth researchers document the alarming numbers of young adolescents age 10-14 who are exposed to graphic violence in movies rated R for violence. They found that these extremely violent movies were seen by an average of 12.5 percent of an estimated 22 million children age 10-14.

One R-rated movie, Scary Movie, was seen by an estimated 10 million children, or about 48 percent of 10-14 year olds.

“Our data reveal a disturbingly high rate of exposure among 10-14 year olds nationally to extremely violent movies,” says Keilah Worth, the lead author on the study and a post-doctoral fellow at Dartmouth Medical School and at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “In Britain, no adolescent would be admitted to these movies unless they were 18. The R rating in this country is clearly not preventing our young people from seeing them.”

Many scientific studies have established the connection between exposure to media violence and aggression and violence in children. For example, playing video games can lead to changes in attitudes and behavior as well as desensitization to actual violence. “No expert in child development would advocate for subjecting children as young as 10 to this level of violence, yet the study shows that such exposure is commonplace in this country.”

We do not yet know what caused Adam Lanzer to do what he did. But regardless of the cause, we do know that our uberocracy has created a culture which, sadly, should not leave us too surprised that he did it.

The rest of us live in the same world, a place where you can turn on CNN and watch as Wolf Blitzer moves smoothly from the killings in Newtown to discuss the president’s drone attacks (including on innocent children) with a “highly experienced military expert.”

And not one word about peace or resolution.

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