May 06

What do ‘Saw 3,’ ‘CSI:Miami’ and working parents have in common?

I attended a presentation last night that was equal parts fascinating and disturbing. It was held at the Manhattan townhouse of a fellow Northeastern alum and featured Jack Levin, Ph.D., and co-director of NU's Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict.

May 6 - violence Dr. Levin is arguably the world's leading expert on what he calls 'murder, mayhem and the media.' He studies serial killers, mass murderers and the rise of violence in society. Not your everyday line of work, to be sure. 

Levin says our hyper-violent society is spiraling ever further out of control. He cites a number of reasons why:

– the motion picture industry's rating system which, he says, goes virtually unenforced. As a result, kids as young as 10 are routinely allowed into theatres to watch such horrific slasher flicks as 'Saw,' 'Vacancy' and 'Basketball Diaries.'

– the lack of parental supervision at home. Moms and dads are both working nowadays (except the unemployed ones, of course). As a result, latchkey kids have unlimited access to the most violent programming on TV (Levin says most violent crimes committed by kids occur during the unsupervised, after school hours of 3-7 pm)

– an increase in not only the quantity, but the 'quality' of carnage on both the small and large screens. Levin says he's visited many crime scenes and attended countless autopsies, but the real thing is now being equaled, if not surpassed, in graphic reality by TV shows like 'Bones,' 'Law and Order' and the 'CSI' series. Levin says they routinely broadcast the most heinous, hideous and graphic images.

Now, add a dash of easy access to paramilitary weapons and a glorification of villains by the media and you have the final ingredients for widespread death and destruction. On the subject of media coverage, Levin showed us how the cover of People Magazine has dramatically changed since the magazine's introduction and now routinely features murderers and serial killers alongside the likes of Brangelina and Tomcat. Last, but definitely not least, we have the insatiable appetites of ordinary Americans weighed down by the drudgery of their lives who simply can't get enough blood and guts.

It's a toxic cocktail and one that Levin says has become more lethal with each passing decade. The only solution: boycotting TV programs and movies that carry such obscenities. It works, he says, citing Don Imus as a textbook example. Imus, says Levin, is 100 percent non-racist in his content since being fired by WFAN for his Rutgers' women basketball team comments a few years back.

The other solution? Disengaged parents need to engage the 'V-chip' on their cable boxes. If they won't supervise their kids' home viewing habits, says Levin, at least they can limit access to the most violent programming.

Levin shared a sad, sobering, scenario last night. For me, the bleakest parts concerned the future: things are very bad, only getting worse and no one really seems to be angry about it. What does it say about the image (if not the morals and ethics) of an entire population that allows this sorry state of affairs to continue unfettered?