When there are no words in any dictionary to describe what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut Friday, when things happen that surely not even the cruelest imagination could comprehend, it is certainly time to go back to some kind of cultural Square One and reconsider everything to which we have somehow become inured.
Random mass murders have become so frequent that we were already struggling to find words to describe these “events,” but now this one day in December, until a few days ago our happiest month, has been circled in black on the calendar of every teacher, every parent, everyone who has ever loved a child.
It is time to start again with what we can change and never look back.
And it is not too late.
It can never be too late, for example, to look at the amount of unthinkable violence our children are exposed to every evening if they watch network television.
Maybe now, finally, our entertainment media creators will take a deep breath and reconsider just how influential they are in shaping our concept of reality — that a nightly diet of abnormality, cruelty, shootings, explosions, psychotic behaviour on TV, in video games and in movies may be close to pushing us all over the crumbling edge of our civilized society into the kind of dystopia where one of the highest grossing films in 2012, The Hunger Games is about children killing each other for entertainment.
One piece of credible research found that 40 television shows averaged 132 dead bodies in a single week.
It can’t be too late to reconsider that the most susceptible and the least stable in our society are becoming numbed to the acceptance of ever-more-brutal violence and vicious behaviour as some kind of cultural norm.
The Grand Theft Auto video game series knows no boundaries when it comes to portraying unfettered violence from massive gangland-style beat downs to barbecuing prostitutes with flamethrowers. Nothing, apparently, is too vile or unrealistic to be part of the “game.”
Songs with violent lyrics increase aggression-related thoughts, and emotions are directly related to the violence in the lyrics, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association. The findings, appearing in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, contradict popular notions of positive catharsis or venting effects of listening to angry, violent music on violent thoughts and feelings.
Researcher said that “repeated exposure to violent lyrics may contribute to the development of an aggressive personality and could indirectly create a more hostile social environment.”
Certain characters in the G-rated animated films many of our children watch frequently feature fistfights, swordplay, falls from great heights, insults leading to injury and “squishings” that apparently leave nobody harmed.
One study reported in Time magazine revealed that “the study of sleep habits among 565 preschool-age children found that those who tuned in to age-appropriate educational programs were less likely to have sleep problems than those who watched sparring superheroes or slapstick and outright violent scenes meant for older kids.”
Too much has been written about the effects of violence on developing imaginations, and it was all just commentary until now, until these cruelly soulless killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Surely, that has changed everything forever. We can hope that these pitiless executions of the most innocent among us demand that the words we use now don’t mitigate or diminish these unspeakably pitiless murders.
Let’s not even look for reasons. Nothing justifies this.
Let’s not call the perpetrator “the shooter.” Let’s refer to him as “the cowardly murderer and child-killer.”
Was he “deranged,” “mentally ill?” It doesn’t matter any more because those words don’t come close. The word “psychopath” isn’t even sufficient. We use words to try to comprehend what is incomprehensible and we don’t have words for this.
But most of all, let us never allow our children to accept this as some kind of new norm for the better world we hope they are growing into.
Let’s lower the flags outside every school in Canada to express our outrage, even if it means restructuring flagpoles.
For that matter, let’s lower every flag everywhere to demonstrate, visually at least, that we understand what the poet John Donne was talking about when he wrote: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
The terrible bell that rang so loudly and clearly from Sandy Hook Elementary School is meant for all of us: educators, parents, media creators and those who write the laws.
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
© Copyright 2013