The recent shooting in Newtown, CT, caused many to think about gun control laws. Of course, the NRA held a press conference blaming violence in the media – including movies and video games – and arguing, as always, that the solution is actually more guns, this time in the form of armed school guards (overlooking the fact that armed guards do not always prevent school shootings). Earlier this week, Senator Lamar Alexander reiterated the claim that media violence, particularly video game violence, is worse for us than the presence of guns in our homes, stating “I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games and the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns.”
While it is nice that he recognizes first amendment rights as well as second amendment rights, his statement fits into the larger narrative that we should look everywhere but at gun laws in order to prevent gun violence. The fact that video games are playing a role in this narrative is also interesting because it demonstrates the extent to which they are still seen as a fringe activity. As the previously linked Ars Technica article points out:
“[I]f Alexander had said, “I think TV is a bigger problem than guns, because TV affects people,” he’d have been laughed out of the room. That’s because TV has been an established part of the cultural landscape for the entire memory of almost every person alive today. Thus, TV’s effects, both good and bad, are a well-known quantity to practically everyone. Video games, on the other hand, are still seen as a new and hard-to-understand media bogeyman by many of the elderly voters who vote in disproportionate numbers and, consequently, by many of the politicians they help put in office.
When discussing the media in class, I like to use the following quote by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from 1811:
“Where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind: it is such an utter loss to the reader, that it is not so much to be called pass-time as kill-time. It conveys no trustworthy information as to facts; it produces no improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler faculties of the understanding.”
I first present this to students without the bolded words and ask them to guess what it is about. They provide a wide variety of responses, but nobody has ever guessed that it is about reading novels because today reading novels is seen as a valuable use of one’s time, not the “kill-time” that Coleridge saw it as. The Ars Technica article also links to an article that I wasn’t aware of discussing the broader moral panic surrounding novels. Maybe the NRA will bring us full-circle and blame murder mysteries for the next school shooting.