As a child I played war games (cowboys killing Indians). My friends and I routinely shot each other – with toy guns, of course. In my south Bronx neighborhood, older gang members had real guns and sometimes shot each other. Like in the movies! The cartoons I adored as a kid were loaded with violence as were the war movies Hollywood churned out to make propaganda for the actual war against Germany and Japan.
When James Holmes mowed down twelve people and wounded almost sixty at a movie theater in Colorado, I felt fresh violence enter my body as if a masseuse had greased me with liquid hostility before beginning the massage. Aggression penetrated my pores, inundated my brain and covered the cells of my heart. While the media reported the number of rounds fired, the kinds of weapons possessed by the assassin, and the anatomy of Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment, President Obama and aspirant Romney uttered bland statements about the need for prayer, and consolation to the victims’ families. Neither mentioned control of guns or the culture of violence that defines America. Freedom seems to equal gun possession for the National Rifle Association and many of its members.
Violence, more American than apple pie and baseball, has become a major social issue and a serious public health problem. Almost daily someone shoots another dead in countless metropolitan areas. Families suffer, cops say they are investigating and newspapers and TV stations get lead stories. I, like tens of millions, see the TV blood stories and easily fall into the fascination pit of the aftermaths and consequences of violence. But the media does not analyze or look for underlying themes in Aurora or similar horrifying acts. Instead, they use them to sell news shows, newspapers, and get advertisers.
Indeed, the media soak us with the culture of violence. In Hollywood and TV films, violent death has become the only formula for adequate retribution. Movie villains suffer hideous ends – movie justice. Violence as the cultural metaphor well suits a country that for decades has lived with perpetual war, backed by the owners of the war economy.