There’s been a surge of articles in parenting magazines, blogs, and news coverage about bullying lately. Children are being tormented in America’s schools and online—sometimes to the point of committing suicide. It’s hard to believe that something I had been so totally unaware of is such a huge problem, yet the media has declared bullying to be a national epidemic.
There’s some contention about just how severe this has become; some experts insist that bullying is no more prevalent now than it was back when little boys yanked little girls’ pigtails and that the media’s portrayal is unrealistic and excessive, making behaviors that might simply be cruel into something more criminal. Maybe physical bullying has taken a backseat to psychological or emotional bullying, but even if the media has blown this out of proportion, there’s no denying that bullying is a credible and increasing problem.
As a parent, I’m thankful for all of the efforts to shed some light on this problem and I fully support both punishing bullies and helping kids learn to better cope with pressure-filled situations. But maybe we should put forth as much effort looking at some of the root causes. I believe a big contributing factor is how acclimated we’ve become to violence.
Horrific, explicit, oppressive violence is now an accepted part of our everyday lives.
Remember the movie Robocop about a terminally-wounded Detroit cop who returns to the police force as a powerful cyborg? What you may not recall is that the 1987 movie was initially given an X rating by the MPAA due to its graphic violence. Right, the movie was rated “X” not because of explicit sexual content, but for its shockingly-violent imagery. To appease the requirements of the ratings board, writer/director Paul Verhoeven pulled back on the significant blood & gore in 3 scenes so the movie could be released with an “R” rating instead.
Yet compared to what we routinely see on TV, movies, and video games now, the uncut version of that movie is tame by today’s standards. Within a 20 year span, what was shocking and socially repulsive has become acceptable, commonplace entertainment. Movies have become gleefully gruesome and morbidity is now mainstream. Consider the “Saw” series that let us watch as people are brutally murdered in twisted, torturous manners. Compare the likes of a Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris martial arts movie to that of the endless barrage of bloody carnage shown in contemporary movies like “Kill Bill.”
Likewise, TV shows even feature a stunning degree of graphic violence. Procedural cop shows like C.S.I. are far more realistically gruesome than that X-rated version of Robocop. Even when the violence isn’t necessarily visually graphic, there’s still some extremely negative behaviors at play. Consider that toddlers now watch wrestling on TV, which was strictly the guilty pleasure of Dads when we were kids—much to the disapproval of most Moms.
And where playing video games in our teen years meant shooting squiggly blips to make pixelated aliens disappear, now video gamers are immersed in battles where they fire super-realistic weapons at convincingly-real, three-dimensional opponents who yowl in agony when hit, spurt blood, limp, and finally collapse in a nauseating mass on the ground when they’ve sustained too much damage. (Until recently, this is the sort of thing that only soldiers would have to endure—and sometimes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.) Other video games reward players for beating up women, stealing cars, pistol-whipping passers-by, and inflicting varying degrees of terrible carnage on, well, anything that moves. According to some estimates, by the time typical American children reach the age of 18, they’ve already seen 200,000 acts of violence and 40,000 murders on some sort of screen.
We’ve allowed our society as a whole to become fully engulfed, acclimated, and accustomed to horrendous, gratuitous violence as a normal component of daily life. Perversely, our society actually savors and glorifies extreme cruelty and destructiveness! And as we’ve become numb and indifferent to negativity and violence, bullying has escalated to epidemic proportions. Surely, that’s no coincidence.