Growing up, my friends and me played “cowboys and Indians” running around outside with imaginary six shooters blazing in defense of an onslaught of equally imaginary war whooping, headdress wearing redskins.  (And, no, I don’t mean our hapless local NFL football team.)  While I can’t recall with crystal clarity, it was sixty years ago after all, but I’m thinking that by the time we were seven or eight we were all fully imbued with the notion that Indians were the bad guys, ruthlessly scalping every white man, woman and child they happened across out in the Old West.  

Where did this view come from since I can’t recall a single conversation I ever had with my parents, don’t remember reading any childhood stories about the scalping redskins, and it certainly wasn’t until Seventh Grade American History that any formal “education” about Native American-White Man relations entered my world.  What I do remember (quite clearly) are the comic books I read where along with “Superman,” “Archie and Friends,” and “Casper, The Friendly Ghost,” were lurid tales of Indian atrocities and the many cowboy television shows like “Gunsmoke,”  “Rawhide” and “Have Gun Will Travel”  when Westerns were the most popular genre of television programming of the time.  In every single case Indians were depicted as murderous, lawless, and devoid of even the slimmest shred of humanity. 
Even though we had no “formal” education on life in the Old West, although none of our parents sat us down one day and told us how bad Indians were, and while none us had ever met a Native American in our young lives, we all just “knew” that Indians were the bad guys.  My point in all of this is that the “culture” that enveloped us like an invisible fog was thoroughly informed by the popular culture we absorbed through comic books and television.   The undeniable influence, inadvertent and unintentional as it might have been, had by the age of seven or eight brainwashed us all into accepting this insidious belief.

Fast forward fifty years and today it’s not only television and comic books that hold sway over young minds and beliefs, it is the entire panoply of electronics available to youngsters today, from video games to interactive web gaming sites (to say nothing of those old standbys comic books and television).   And from my limited experience, they are filled with violence.  Now, I’m aware that there have been studies (in the past because we don’t do such studies any longer) attempting to prove the influence of popular media over attitudes and behaviors of youngsters but they have come up with nothing.  Of course, if folks my age were so profoundly influenced by the primitive popular culture media drivers fifty years ago, for the life of me I can’t figure out why today this no longer holds.

But of course it does.  We all recognize that no matter how many studies cannot find a direct link, we know that video games do influence views that we have of cultures and groups.   When youngsters are exposed to “games” that depict bomb throwing warriors killing their “enemies,” when graphically accurate F-16’s drop hundreds of bombs on an enemy city killing thousands, when rocket spewing tanks mow down battlefield soldiers, when sword wielding Knights behead their old timey foes in legions, it defies reason that these electronic, vicarious experiences have no influence over their developing minds.  Couple these pervasive leisure time activities among young folks with the “personal responsibility and Individual initiative”  - every American needs to arm himself to the teeth because it is a God-given, Constitutionally protected right of freedom; gun carry laws that allow firearms in bars, shopping malls and restaurants; that every public place should be protected by armed, gun toting citizens;  - in other words, our new conservative cultural influences, what is the message or more accurately, what are the cultural norms youngster are absorbing today in precisely the same fashion that we and my suburban neighbors absorbed the message that Redskins were evil non-humans whose favorite leisure time activity was scalping Old West Frontier pioneers?   Are today’s youngsters immune from the inadvertent cultural influences that we were unable to avoid? 


So when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris slaughter 12 of their classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School, when Adam Lanza blasts 20 first, second and third grade children to bits taking out 6 adults as well as some sort of bonus round, or when Chris Harper Mercer guns down nine community college students and a professor in Roseburg, Oregon, is there any reason to be surprised, shocked or dismayed by these events?  It isn’t that Klebold, Harris, Lanza and Mercer just “snapped” one day.  On the contrary, they were acting upon (call it acting out) the lessons they had learned - just as we had about Indians - that it’s okay to take matters into your own hands (individual initiative, personal responsibility), or take the law into your own hands (Cliven Bundy and Kim Davis) or to settle grievances and disputes with guns (the NRA, gun carry laws, elimination of assault rifle ban), a cultural ethic they have been absorbing since the first time they opened a “Fantastic Four” comic book or plugged in their hotly anticipated “Grand Theft Auto” cartridge into their PlayStations or played their first round of “Mortal Kombat” online.

There is no question in my mind that we now live in a culture that condones violence as a means of exercising one’s individual initiative, personal responsibility and settling of parking spot disputes.  Used to be, when I was growing up at least, violence was frowned upon and the overweening cultural ethic supported this view.  But not so today.  And I guess this is why after each slaughter of multiple human beings by some young guy, we say “how tragic” “how awful for the families” “nothing we can do about it” for a day or two and then life returns to normal because we accept the inevitability of such horrible violence. I wish I could be more hopeful.  

We have a problem folks and it’s not just about young kids “snapping” one day.  Just like me and my suburban friends absorbed and accepted the “fact” that Indians were evil and sub-human, the silent acceptance over the latest mass killing (to say nothing of the prior 421 human beings since 2010 who have been killed in mass shootings), is not only deafening, it is deadly. 

Slaughtering imaginary Indians was our “Old Normal."  Adam Lanza taking out young school kids is our “New Normal.”  Apparently we just have to get used to it.  


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