The other morning, I sat back on the sofa to relax and watch an innocent game show. Will the contestant pick the prize behind the curtain, or will she choose the small box on the table? How fun and suspenseful! Then, of course, they went to a commercial.
In the next second, I was being shown a courtroom. The defendant revealed a gun, and in a flash took a shot at the bench. The judge dove for cover as screams came from the jury box. Confusion was rampant as the bailiff dashed toward the gunman to restrain him. This exciting new show is available to watch tonight on CBS, or online using the CBS On Demand service!
I wondered, what just happened here? In approximately 10 seconds, I just watched a courtroom shooting portrayed. My young children were in the room, and if they didn’t see it, they surely heard the gunfire and screams.
It didn’t just play in my home. It played on the screens in hundreds of thousands of homes; on the TVs at the car repair place and at the deli; in hospitals and doctors office’s waiting rooms; in break rooms at businesses; and on tablets and phones everywhere.
Right then, in that instant, horrific violence was gruesomely recreated before a million or more people.
There was no warning beforehand that what you are about to see may not be suitable for children, or the mentally ill, or depressed individuals.
But there was a voice over announcer at the end who encouraged me to watch and see even more like it portrayed tonight.
Did anyone blink besides me? Did anyone realize that they had just witnessed an actor portrayal of attempted murder? Did anyone purposefully ponder the lasting pain this terror caused the witnesses in the courtroom? When those 10 seconds were over, did parents stop what they were doing and gather their children and teach them that what they had just seen was morally wrong and horrifically evil?
I’m ashamed to admit, I did not. I muted the volume so that I would not have to hear the rest of the commercial. But by then, the scene could not be unseen.
We know that advertising works. Business spend millions of dollars to expertly craft these images in front of our eyes, and these sounds in our ears. If they could, I’m certain they would push smells into our spaces too. We know that what we see and hear portrayed is seared into our subconscious memory. We know it doesn’t just go away.
That portrayal of pain, forced unwillingly in front of me when I was not expecting it, instead helped to desensitize me to seeing it again next time. What may be worse is that their take-away message was to actively encourage me to willingly come back and further desensitize myself from the effects of the portrayal of violence.
Many do choose to come back and watch this television show, or pay to view a full-length motion picture or play a high-fedelity video game which contains the same or even more violence portrayed.
Out of those millions who saw just this ad, it helped to plant an idea into the mind of a man who, if not today, will one day be down on his luck and desperate for help. He will also face a court appearance. And from his subconscious, that memory (combined with hundreds of thousands of other suggestions from television, movies, and news stories) will come to him, without the aid of proper moral judgement or guidance. He will remember it all, and will devise his own plan of action based on this teaching he has received.
The great colonizer and religious leader of the American West, Brigham Young, once said this:
“Upon the stage of a theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it.
“Tragedy is favored by the outside world; I am not in favor of it. I do not wish murder and all its horrors and the villainy leading to it portrayed before our women and children; I do not want the child to carry home with it the fear of … the sword, the pistol, or the dagger, and suffer in the night from frightful dreams. I want such plays performed as will make the spectators feel well; and I wish those who perform to select a class of plays that will improve the public mind, and exalt the literary taste of the community” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pages 243–44).
As you and I personally, individually, accept violence in entertainment in all forms, we desensitize ourselves and those around us to it. Our society suffers because of each individual’s personal choice to consume this product and not be honest about it consequences.
Oh, and I honestly don’t remember if she chose the curtain or the box.