I took my two sons to the park awhile back so they could run around and get some fresh air. Being inside all day can become stuffy for the boys and I like them to do more than play video games and watch movies, or even color pictures and play with Legos. Boys just need to run around and scream once in a while. While we were out at the park, there was another little boy playing with them who was three years old. He was a cute kid with a diamond stud in his left ear and a small belly. He loved to chase my boys around although occasionally he needed to be told to play a little nicer. His older sister kept watch over him and she appeared to be around ten or eleven. I never saw a parent around but his sister seemed to be responsible enough to care for him as they played. I was sitting watching all the children and the young boy came up and began talking to me. The first thing he said was, “Do you remember when Chucky dies?” I asked him who Chucky was and my fears were proven when he talked about the “scary doll” on television. All sorts of ideas about the boy’s family raced through my head and I didn’t do well in refraining from making assumptions. I thought to myself, family is supposed to be responsible for the material their children are exposed to and already this three year old has been exposed to violent, brutal killing.
In all likelihood, the young boy’s parents were not present when he watched this movie, but let’s assume they were. I realize I cannot go into the boy’s home and demand that his parents put some quality television on for him to watch. In fact no one can tell his parents to stop exposing that child to violent images, so if the parents never decide to pull these programs away from their kid then that is what he will grow up watching. If this assumption proves true, then the family upbringing in this case, or cases like this, will have failed. Let me step back for a minute here. I am not saying that this boy’s parents do not love him and do not attempt to provide a solid upbringing for their children. Every parent knows that mistakes will be made in the rearing of their children, and that no one is born a perfect parent. But there are cases when the mistakes made by parents are not the processes of learning, but abusive and neglectful actions in the home that lead children to look for guidance and comfort in other places. Unfortunately, they do not always seek out the most nurturing mentors and they end up exposed to the ever changing and confusing images offered by the public media with no guidance in how to discern their meaning. It is in these cases, where children are not provided with a sufficient and solid upbringing, where society as a whole must help in the nurturing of our youth. When it comes to regulating content in the media, the family is an important player in the development of children, but society as a whole has an equal share in the responsibility of fostering our youth in a stable and nurturing environment.
First, we must agree on some common ethical principles so that we are not left debating whose belief structure is more relevant. Why do we care about these principles? We cannot have a discussion on the responsibility of bringing up children without having a goal for our children to reach. Without some sort of common thread of morality, a society will have a hard time staying productive. The most highly elevated virtue in our culture today is the equal and loving treatment of others within our society. We are always most concerned with the caring of others and the respect for their physical well-being. We see this to be true since the argument over who takes responsibility for media regulation in the culture usually comes up only when a school shooting takes place in America. Violence is our main concern and justly so since it so visibly causes disruption in our lives. Another concern is the spread of addiction and its destructive capabilities in society. Addiction can include drugs, alcohol, gambling, and even food. Most people have seen the effects of at least one type of addiction in their lives and can agree that we should strive to eradicate addiction from our culture as impossible as this may be. The last desirable quality we tend to agree on as a whole is the need for healthy sexual relationships. Of course there is debate about what or who is involved in these relationships, but there are aspects we can all agree on. We know that there can be no objectifying of our partners and that communication is necessary for productive relationships. These are two things that seem to be missing in the lives of people who are overly promiscuous or casual in their relationships. Obviously, the line is drawn at different places for different groups, but most people agree there is in fact a line.
Concerning the issue of whose responsibility it is to regulate the content which children absorb, it is idealistic to believe that all children are in homes that do this effectively. We know that some homes are non-functional and fail children through neglect or abuse. So what happens to these children? We argue that the responsibility of raising children lies within the family and this is true, but what happens when the family fails? Is there anything that our culture can rely on to back-up the family or are these children left to figure out how to distinguish between a healthy lifestyle and a destructive one on their own? Unfortunately it is the latter approach we seem to take. This is significant to all families. As I said before, no parent is perfect, and there will be personality traits that children develop which were not introduced by the parent. Some people just struggle with destructive characteristics in their personality no matter how effective their upbringing may have been. If these people are constantly presented with images that support these personality traits then it makes their struggle that much harder. We ignore this issue based on the argument of freedom of expression or even capitalist principles.
What is it we so urgently need to express anyway? Several years ago a video-games was produced called Manhunt 2. At some point in the game you are able to drive a chain saw through the groin of one of your victims. The creators of the game actually said that it was their freedom of artistic expression to have this content in their games. How do you argue against that? What I want to know is, why would someone want to partake in these activities? Gamers will argue that there is a strategic element to these games that make them interesting to play. I enjoy playing video games of all kinds and have played some rather violent ones. I know that there are other options if you want to put your brain to the test in a games—games without the depiction of brutal murders. Opponents to violent video games like to bring up first person shooter games like Doom and Halo, but I don’t think these games are as much an issue. The reason is, traveling through space and using sci-fi type weapons to kill zombies and aliens is far removed from reality. On Earth, pulling innocent people out of cars and beating them for some extra money happens quite frequently. This is exactly the way to gain points in the game Grand Theft Auto. When games tread this line of realism, they are allowing the minority of people who are perpetrators of these crimes to receive glory and honor for horrendous acts.
Forget violence for a minute. Why would people want to watch a group of men lined up in front of one woman and have the woman choose which man she wants based solely on how they look or how they boost her ego like they do on so many reality dating shows? Men act like children in their attempt to win a prize. Why do we want to watch music videos where a group of women, wearing a little less than bikinis, dance around a couple of guys wearing expensive jewelry and brandishing guns, all the while advocating drug use? What is our freedom trying to express? Sexuality has been a topic of taboo until recent generations and was often shied away from by parents. It is true that sex and healthy sexuality needs to be discussed with children, ideally with their parents. Does this mean that sexual imagery should become the most effective means to sell a product or boost the ratings for a program? The women, and men, who are depicted this way in the media, are there for making money on a product. They become instruments of a warped capitalism that uses the weakness of our youth to provide the producers of these programs with a posh lifestyle. Talk to your children all you want about healthy sexuality, the messages that are shoved in their faces are clear. Sexuality is a device that can be used to give you power and prestige among the masses, and no consideration need be shown to how it objectifies men and women.
These games and programs promote violence, objectification of women and men, and addiction to useless things. They are all marketed to people between the ages of 15-25 and they are only a drop in the ocean of useless and damaging material circulating the public media. There is the use of a rating system for all these different forms of media. The problem is, for some reason, these ratings are hard to enforce. Small minorities of retail venues enforce the ratings system and networks have no control over a child sitting in front of a television with a remote. Parents must constantly stay on guard over what their children are watching. This is okay, since that is the job of a parent. The problem is that children do not sit at home all day; no parent can monitor everything a child does all day. Plus, this media content is attractive to children—they will see it if they want to. Scantily clad women, hanging all over physically dominating men is something that a young boy will aspire to attain. The attention of these men, at the cost of self-respect is what young women will observe in their favorite celebrities. Why are we so concerned with keeping tobacco and alcohol away from minors, but ideas and lifestyles that may be equally destructive to them are used as advertisements, television programs, and video games?
We cannot censor this material. It is our right as free American citizens to put out this material even if it does nothing to promote a healthy culture. So what is the answer? Stricter penalties on those who sell these things to our children at the stores may be a start. The only problem is, I can see the similarities between this and imprisoning a common drug dealer while the drug lords are still smuggling boatloads of narcotics into the country—nothing is solved. What is the answer? Children will get this material if they want to and adults watch this stuff as well. Media producers are getting filthy rich off the weaknesses of popular culture. Parents cannot do this alone. At some point, we will have to be responsible for what we feed our children. That doesn’t mean just our own children. It also includes the neighbor’s kid. There may be a child from the next town who did not have a nurturing family like we did, and society as a whole should come to the aid of that child. We can see this on a small level. At what point do corporations, like MTV and Rockstar (producer of Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto), become exempt from this responsibility as a member of our social family? Do we want these media giants to raise our lost children, or fill in the cracks where good parents may have slipped?