Saturday, March 18, 2006

Mr. Morford Forswears Violence

And good for him, you may say? What's going on? Mark Morford is a blogger/columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. I don't follow his blogs but I do read his column in the paper (how retro of me); and on March 15 he published an extremely interesting column entitled "I am Done With Violence." I recommend you read it; he says it very well.

He isn't forswearing violence personally; reading his columns, I suspect the most violence he ever inflicts on anyone is to tear into them with his (metaphorical) pen, which is not a negligible weapon. But in this screed he describes how he has come to the conclusion that there is Too Much Violence in American culture, specifically in TV and movies; and that he is suddenly, personally revolted by it and can't stand it any longer. To which I say: congratulations, Mr. Morford. Welcome to civilization. What took you so long?

Violence is a major reason I quit watching movies thirty years ago, and one of the reasons I have quit watching television (the other reasons for deserting television being a general intellectual level corresponding to an IQ of about 14, and the advertisements, which are even worse; but that's another post). In fact, I could barely endure to stay and watch all the way through A Clockwork Orange, and compared to some of the movies that have come out since, A Clockwork Orange is practically a ladies' sewing circle. I remember reading reviews, in the late seventies, of Sam Peckinpah's movies; and thinking, well, I can live without seeing those. And in the interim, it's gotten worse. The movies I watch now are carefully chosen, and very few of them are modern. Thank God for DVDs and Netflix.

Mr. Morford is quite right that one of the basics of most great religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam (yes, Islam; the Prophet once cut off his sleeve rather than disturb a cat that was sleeping on it), is that one should forgive a slight (the outmoded concept of "turning the other cheek"), and not go after the slighter with a semi-automatic. But it's stranger than just falling away from the tenets of a religion. In America, sex is forbidden, horrifying, not to be shown to small children; but violence - violence is good. We like violence, as a people; we even seem to worship it. But we're horrified by sex. You will never see a movie rated X, or even PG12, because of violence. You could take your 9 year old to see Saving Private Ryan, although I don't recommend it. But one exposed nipple, and the whole world goes bananas.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons adolescents get into so much trouble with sex (apart from the fact that adolescents + sex = trouble, and right here in River City too): their parents are so conflicted, so embarrassed, so completely unable to talk about sex that they never discuss it with the kids at all, and therefore never warn them of any of the things they would need to know to protect themselves. If parents could be relied on to talk to their children about sex, we wouldn't have to worry about sex education in the schools; but they can't. And the fondness for violence is one of the reasons rape is so common, since rape isn't a sexual act at all but a power trip.

Well, Mr. Morford has seen the light; but he's only one man. Still, he's an intelligent and literate man, and a lot of people read his column. I know, because they all write letters to the editor either complaining or praising. Maybe enough people will read his column, and act on it, to some small effect. We can hope. But I'm still going to screen movie reviews very, very carefully.


  1. Anonymous9:04 PM

    I lost interest in action movies a very long time ago, primarily because they are generally so vacuous. However, I have always thought that war movies, kill Indian movies, etc, should be required to show the horror of those enterprises simply because anything else is a lie.

    But yes, violence has become a key component of all visual entertainment, relentlessly, distressingly so. I can't decide whether tv advertising or tv/video game violence does more mental harm to children in their formative years. The advertising seems to me to cripple their intellectual development, especially as regards the acquisition of information and the development of critical thinking skills. Violence as entertainment seems to me to skew horribly their basic ways of thinking and feeling, especially if it is what shapes their mental/emotional development absent much in the way of other formative influences.

    As I understand it, a child's mind, especially a very young child's mind, decides what circuitry to develop or abandon based on that child's total environment.

    At a more adult level, it seems to me that the issue is the tenor of a society, but I think we're hamstrung on the issue of violence because America was nurtured through barbaric violence against indigenous people,both here and in any number of other places, notably the Phillipines, slaughter which has been interwined with our growth in power and wealth. People who were in the way had to die, and their killing had to be celebrated.

    The majority of Americans seem to me to like the idea of war, whether they will admit it or not. They certainly weren't revolted by the idea of starting a war against Iraq, or going back to Reagan, waging war against Nicaragua. They just don't like war coming home to them, and they don't like losing. Beyond that, war strikes the majority of Americans, especially the chicken hawks, as ok, and pretty exciting, at least at the outset. Then they lose themselves in admiration for the sacrifice of the troops, unless the troops lose.

    It seems likely to me that violence has been so integral to our national character and the very evolution of our nation that violence on tv is nothing more than a reflection of who we are.
    The sad thing is that the other things we are, those things that might both balance this addiction to violence and possibly point a way to salvation from the worst angels of our nature, are something of a joke in modern America, while our children are being immersed in this reflection of the worst angels of our nature.

    I honestly fear that when resource scarcity becomes critical, we will be, through the people we elect, high tech barbarians.

    Anonymous David

  2. Very interesting post, David. I hope you're wrong, but you reinforce the feeling I always have that I belong to an older world that didn't consider violence the first and only choice.

    There does seem to be a connection between the violent TV shows, and the violent video games, and the road rage, and the arguments that turn into stabbings and shootings... The whole country needs an anger management course, and I don't think we're going to get it. And this is how our kids are learning to be. Scary.

  3. Anonymous8:05 AM

    I would have to agree 100%. One of the many reasons we watch no TV, very few movies, and don't allow video games in the house. We also tell the girls to go play outside, read, and play board games with the family. My kids are happy and actually know how to use their imagination. It can be done.

  4. Anonymous7:25 PM

    Studies have been done, at least one over a thirty year period, on the effect of exposure to televised, cinimatic, and computerized violence on developing human beings. The results are all very similar. The more vicarious violence we observe the more violent we are in our interpersonal relationships. Plus, the effects carry on into adulthood. It appears what we learn as children we do not always leave behind when we become adolescents and eventually adults. I'm not running to my file cabinet to get you the names of the studies or the institutions sponsoring them, but I'm sure an online search will offer more than you want to know, unless you plan on writing a paper.

    The other point, I love to slide this in when I have a class doing research on television, is the recent results of a long-term study on the effect of television on children. This effect deals with the medium itself and not the programing. So the danger is as prevelent for those watching Barney and Mr. Rogers as well as for those watching violent cartoons. The study indicates children under the age of two should not, simply not, never, ever watch television. This has to do with the brain's developing the ability to focus and eventually an attention span. ADD and hyperactivity were some of the indicated results. For children between the ages of two to five, very limited television was advised. Of course, this means cutting out baby sitting by the stars. How will the hard pressed parent ever get by?

    At one point, and perhaps even now, children in Europe watched less television than children in North America. There were far less children in Europe diagnosed with ADD and hyperactivity. Some of the studies appear to suggest a direct correlation. Needless to say, may of these studies are not popular reading. Denial is an excellent hidey hole.

    Do a tad of research on good old Dr. Ott. Some of his studies on light are illuminating. (Sorry, I missed my last puns anonymous meeting.) They make watching television/movies thought provoking. His study on the gender specific effects of blue light gives you a different view on obesity.

    All this being said, television and movies can provide some great information and entertainment. It is a little like alcohol. Do you have the occasional glass of wine with dinner, or do you have a stiff one to unwind every day after work? Do you savor the flavor, or is it just another way of slaking your thirst? Is alcohol for adults only, or are there times you let the kids have a supervised, watered glass of pink? For most folks, the liquor cabinet is unsupervised and open to all.

  5. Anonymous8:13 PM

    I keep thinking of that art film from the early 1980's - KOYAANISQATSI - the Hopi Indian word meaning "life out of balance". That certainly describes American culture. We are at the top of the heap and punch drunk from the numerous wars that got us here. I always thought we'd do better than this when our time came. I guess not.

    BTW, Hedera, I quit watching TV shows about a year ago. I didn't watch that much before, but one day I realized I was no longer participating. Oh, happy day.

  6. Anonymous8:52 PM


    Thanks for reminding me of the movie. I couldn't quite remember the name, but who could forget that cinematic experience? Time to rent it and watch it again. Wonder what it's like on the small screen.


    Thanks for some very helpful info.
    And speaking of drinking, my Gators are taking on the Georgetown Hoyas Friday night. I can remember when playing Georgetown would have been cause for Gators to get drunk before the game.

    Anonymous David

  7. I've read reviews of those studies, too, boggart, particularly the one on the effect of television on attention span - what are we doing to our children?? And our future, which is what our children are?

  8. Anonymous7:34 AM

    Too often we are farming our children out. Parents are to "busy" and don’t have time to spend with their kids. And when they do have time, they want to spend it on themselves. Day cares and babysitters can't be expected to care for children better than their parents do.
    I am more grateful than I can ever say that my wife wanted to stay home with the children and was willing to live on less money than we could make if we were both working, so she could do so. Unfortunately, even in school I will hear my children say that the teacher had them watch a movie to fill time. Not even an educational movie. When one daughter was in Kindergarten, the "class field trip" was to the movie theater. Not to see the projector or learn how it works, just to see a movie. We raised a fuss and the school let my wife take my daughter out for the day and do something really fun. Reminds me of the Roman Circus. Just keep the masses busy.

  9. You're a fortunate man, Stephen. Good luck to you, your wife, and your kids. My neighbors made the same choice, at least partly because what she could make as a legal secretary wouldn't really net them much more than the child care would have cost; and the kids they've raised are bright, polite, intelligent and civilized. We need more like that.