FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The American Culture of Violence

by SAUL LANDAU

As a child I played war games (cowboys killing Indians). My friends and I routinely shot each other with toy guns of course. In my south Bronx neighborhood, older gang members had real guns and sometimes shot each other. Like in the movies! The cartoons I adored as a kid were loaded with violence as were the war movies Hollywood churned out to make propaganda for the actual war against Germany and Japan.

When James Holmes mowed down 12 and wounded almost 60 people at a movie theater in Colorado, I felt fresh violence enter my body as if a masseuse had greased me with liquid hostility before beginning the massage. Aggression penetrated my pores, inundated my brain and covered the cells of my heart. While the media reported the number of rounds fired, the kinds of weapons possessed by the assassin, and the anatomy of Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment, President Obama and aspirant Romney uttered bland statements about the need for prayer, and consolation to the victims’ families. Neither mentioned control of guns or the culture of violence that defines America. Freedom seems to equal gun possession for the National Rifle Association and many of its members.

Violence, more American than apple pie and baseball, has become a major social issue and a serious public health problem. Almost daily someone shoots another dead in countless metropolitan areas. Families suffer, cops say they are investigating and newspapers and TV stations get lead stories. I, like tens of millions, see the TV blood stories and easily fall into the fascination pit of the aftermaths and consequences of violence. But the media does not analyze or look for underlying themes in Aurora or similar horrifying acts. Instead, they use them to sell news shows, newspapers, and get advertisers.

Indeed, the media soak us with the culture of violence. In Hollywood and TV films, violent death has become the only formula for adequate retribution. Movie villains suffer hideous ends – movie justice. Violence as the cultural metaphor well suits a country that for decades has lived with perpetual war, backed by the owners of the war economy.

The Aurora carnage unfolded after massacres at Columbine high school, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and the supermarket in Tucson, Arizona; and the more recent shootings in Chicago and Tuscaloosa. Since this is an election year we have not heard widespread calls for legislation to limit the sale of assault rifles, nor heard a justifiable critique of the pernicious policies of the NRA. Instead, the American public has become inundated with numbers about gun violence ranging from the fact that more than 84 people are killed daily with guns to the shocking statistic that there are more than 30,000 gun-related deaths annually in our country. Compare our use of guns to kill people with England’s. In 2010, the U.S. experienced 8,775 murders by firearms as compared to 58 in Britain. Mass-killing weapons have become the beloved treasure of millions of Americans who abandon obvious politics of self-interest in the face of any hint that a politician would move to control gun ownership. The NRA now holds Congress and the President in its institutional grip as it collects dollars from gun manufactures and peddles its sadistic pablum as Christian gospel (Jesus would have had a large arsenal in his home) for American society to eat. But violence in America transcends gun control.

Violence defines American culture. Turn on kids’ cartoons or any “drama” show and we see and hear the images and sounds of aggression against others. U.S. foreign policy advocates violence as the solution to problems. Bomb Kosovo, Libya. Invade Iraq or now Syria. Bomb Iran. Hollywood films, professional football and hockey, video games all squeeze the display of violence to attract audiences to their primary medium of entrainment. Brutal masculine domination has become the aesthetic in American “entertainment.” The media sells violence just as the language of violence shapes political discourse. In Hollywood barely a film heads for theaters without the fight and sound of a fist hitting a face, a bullet ripping through a body or a car pushing another car off the road. Our ever-growing prison system, with its industrial cousins, parallels the militarization of local police forces. The President heads the “assassination abroad committee” deciding on which people get “droned” today. Since we invade and occupy other countries routinely we have grown accustomed to permanent war, and our young people know guns and have used them against others in the Middle East. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales mowed down some 15 Afghanis, we suppose as a result of his war traumas. It’s easier to attribute war stress as a motive for mass killing than it is to figure out why every couple of months someone starts shooting down others in the street, in a mall or a movie theater.

The state’s violence gets cloaked in legitimacy. We kill people for our security via video drone games in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia as we continue to exercise our violent will abroad. In the era of perpetual war, with targeted assassinations, an assault on basic liberties and the use of drones to protect our security we also undergo national mourning every time a “loony” kills “innocent” civilians – unlike those that die abroad as collateral damage. High U.S. body counts seem to occur as a parallel statistic to the violent acts initiated abroad. American soldiers kill Afghan civilians. U.S. “Kill teams” walk the countryside and we might wonder why some of this killing culture might rub off back home. Our military budget literally ties the country to war and a war economy.

Violent crime gets blamed on minorities. We read daily of prisoners (mostly black men) receiving the death penalty. But nothing happens to the people who design automatic weapons, except they get rewarded for doing a good job. Their bosses, the ultimate cultural moguls, create violence for profit. They provide the inspiration for modern U.S. culture.

Now let us pray, but keep your side arm ready in the movie theater where you may need it the next time someone imbibes too much of our violent culture and decides to play the Joker role during a Batman screening or takes cartoon violence to the streets.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP screens August 3 at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, , 48 South 7th St., San Jose CA and on August 24 at Washington, DC’s Avalon Theater, 5612, Connecticut Ave. NW

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail