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Valley Perspective

Changing a Culture of Violence

It's not just the media, the parents or the gun manufacturers. It's all of us, and to remedy the problem we all must change.

May 16, 1999|SUSAN ROGERS | Van Nuys resident Susan Rogers is a spokesperson for the nonprofit Center for Media Literacy, which publishes the community education curriculum program "Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media."

Who is responsible for vulgarity and violence on television? According to Steve Allen and the Parents Television Council (Valley Perspective, April 25), it's the media.

Certainly the entertainment, news and professional sports industries play a role in reinforcing the idea that violence is not only an acceptable way to solve problems but is actually something to be enjoyed. But the council's tactic--"attacking everybody who's guilty"--works against establishing the dialogue that is needed to solve this very real and serious problem.

The reasons for school violence are many and complex. Everyone wants to find someone to blame, because if blame can be assigned, then a solution is more easily found. But changing our culture of violence will be a long, slow process, not just because it's so firmly rooted in the American ethic of the Wild West but because we are all co-conspirators in perpetuating it.

It's not just the media. It's not just parents. And it's not just the gun manufacturers. It's every one of us who fails to stand up against the onslaught of glamorized violence as entertainment, especially in children's lives.

The Parents Television Council is outraged at what's on TV. But shouldn't it also be outraged at parents who allow their kids to watch unsupervised in their bedrooms day and night? Or adults who purchase or allow the purchase of violent games and action videos for repeated use by youngsters? If you see a group of unaccompanied 10-year-olds at an R-rated movie, do you speak to the manager? If it takes a village to raise a child, isn't our silence a tacit form of approval?

But violent media is not just a parental issue. As adults, how do each of us contribute economically to the culture of violence? Have we reached a threshold where we do not feel satisfied unless our entertainment comes with an increasing level of shock? Do we reflect seriously on the cumulative impact of gruesome images on our own emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being?

Littleton may be the watershed event that galvanizes this country into acknowledging its culture of violence. But amid the finger-pointing, one key element has been almost overlooked in identifying possible long-term solutions. That is media education, usually referred to in this country as media literacy.

A simple definition of media literacy is becoming conscious of our own interaction with media and its impact on us. It is learning to apply critical viewing and thinking skills to the thousands of images, words and sounds that bombard us daily. Media literacy education is well-established in other countries (the not-too-happy recipients of U.S. media exports), but it's barely on the radar screen in America.

In classrooms and living rooms, in Scout troops and religious groups, children and their parents and all adults can learn to become media literate. Here are five ways that effective media literacy education can contribute to lessening the impact of violence in children's lives:

* Reduce children's exposure to media violence by educating parents and caregivers. It's clear that some parents do need help developing and enforcing age-appropriate viewing limits.

* Change the impact of violent images that are seen. When children understand the techniques used to make violent entertainment--and the economic motives of those who make it--they begin to think differently about what they see.

* Explore alternatives to stories that show violence as the solution to conflict. Schools, day-care centers, libraries and families need books and videos that provide positive role models to counterbalance the actions and attitudes of typical "superheroes."

* Uncover and challenge the cultural, economic and political supports for media violence, as well as the personal ways we may each be contributing to it. In the war against the culture of violence, we have met the enemy and it is us.

* Promote informed and rational public debate in schools, community and civic gatherings, religious groups and in the media. Blaming and shaming do little to help.

Media literacy does not excuse society's storytellers from their share of responsibility for our cultural environment. But in talking about how our violent culture must change, we must admit that the culture is simply us, millions of individuals who each must change personally if we are to change collectively. It is time to become conscious, not passive, consumers of media.

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