July 28, 2005

why because I said so


I came across two fascinating articles today that unwittingly cover the same territory - I urge everyone to read them in full, but just in case you're lazy, the first is Steven Johnson's brilliant takedown of Hillary Clinton over the "Grand Theft Auto" game fiasco, and the other is a New York Times article about brawling "cage fights" in South Dakota. Compare and contrast:

From Johnson's article - "Isn't it possible that kids no longer need real-world environments to get those thrills, now that the games simulate them so vividly? The national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since "Grand Theft Auto" came out. Isn't it conceivable that the would-be carjackers are now getting their thrills on the screen instead of the street?"

From the New York Times - In Sioux Falls, people are 19 and 20 and 21 years old and looking for something to do, anything besides some youth program at one of the city's 65 parks or another laser-light show... "There's really not much in Sioux Falls to do," said Anna Anderson, 21, a housekeeper wearing black clothes and matching nail polish at her first fight, on Saturday. "People should stop complaining. There's a bunch of people who want to fight, so let them come here and fight and not cause other people problems. No one seems to get seriously hurt, but if they do, shucks for them."

First off, I got the last legal copy of "Grand Theft Auto" on eBay, and the learning curve is insane. Forget having sex with prostitutes, I'm having trouble riding the bicycles. Also, it's funny that the interior of this country is getting the reputation of being a gaggle of Red State meth-heads whose hollow lives are so devoid of meaning that they need to beat the shit out of each other in an octagon. Never mind that my nephews in Iowa City, Sean Patrick and Lucas, are among the most articulate, funny folks I know; the NYT eats the "flyover Americans are koo-koo" meme right up.

But back to the topic: I've always been a "let people get their ya-yas out in a safe environment" kind of guy, and my mom used to tell us something along the lines of "I don't care what you do, as long as I know where you're doing it" (a rule later rescinded by my father). I thought people who complained about violence on television and in movies were pathetic crones who didn't get out of the house enough.

A bit of that has changed for me since Lucy showed up. Now I'm beginning to see the benefit of keeping her from seeing somebody's head from being blown off as long as possible. The violence in today's movies doesn't hold a candle to the violence we grew up with - it's a much more cruel, vindictive, merciless sort of beast with a cold core. And most Americans don't give a shit, as evidenced by the week after September 11, 2001, when the number one movie was "Don't Tell a Soul," which featured a guy getting buried alive by an avalanche of sod.

It's also hard to watch someone play Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation when - at least in GTA 3 - you could wander into the "gay" neighborhood (full of Chelsea boys wearing wife-beaters and lisping) and smash open their skulls with a tire iron. I'm pretty hard to offend, but that came awfully close.

But shelve your emotion, because the facts don't add up. All violent crimes involving kids of a game-playing age have gone SUBSTANTIALLY DOWN in the years since video games have been invented. These are the same years that saw the increase of ultra-violent movies. Perhaps Bruno Bettelheim had it right when he said that violent fairy tales - the ones that hadn't been Disney-fied for toddlers - were actually good for kids, because it gave them an outlet for their darker fears.

I swore long before I had children that I wouldn't be the whiny, overprotective nimrod keeping my brood from having any fun in a whir of bald-faced control-freakishness. Besides, the goddamn Baby Boomers already outlawed everything right after they went through it - who do you think pushed up the drinking age? Who clamped down on colleges so hard that frat parties resemble Presbyterian Ice Cream Socials? Who is behind the Abstinence Movement? That's right, your friends in the Baby Boom generation.

How can I tell Lucy not to do the things I did? Well, it won't be hard, because, to be honest, I was a good kid. I didn't touch a drop of alcohol until I was 18, didn't have sex until I was 21, and I've probably been actually high about ten times. Let me rephrase the question: how can I tell Lucy not to do the things her mother did?

Hee hee.

Sandy and Tessa, 1975

In the meantime, my sensitivities are not video games or randomly violent films - they are things like "War of the Worlds," which reminded both Tessa and me how impossible the Apocalypse would be with a baby in tow. I'm no big fan of the apocalypse anyway, as it would be totally unfair to Lucy, but anything involving our current obsession with the End Times makes me want to puke.

And lastly, pictures like these were hard before, but now when I see something like this, I need to hold Lucy to my chest and rock her until the pangs go away. Forget video games, movies and Midwestern cage brawls; that a world like that exists for some kids is truly offensive.

Posted by Ian Williams at July 28, 2005 11:03 PM
Posted by: Bud at July 29, 2005 4:50 AM

"...the facts don't add up. All violent crimes involving kids of a game-playing age have gone SUBSTANTIALLY DOWN in the years since video games have been invented. These are the same years that saw the increase of ultra-violent movies."

Your Psyc 50 prof and I are VERY disappointed in you for drawing causal inferences from correlational data. For shame.

I recommend "Freakomics" to clear away some of the cognitive cobwebs:


Posted by: Laurie from Manly Dorm at July 29, 2005 4:56 AM

I was just about to recommend "Freakonomics" (which I just finished reading yesterday), but Bud beat me to it!

That photo of Tessa and her mom is so cute! Sandy looks like a Jackie-O Glamour Mama.

Posted by: Bozoette Mary at July 29, 2005 5:44 AM

You hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph. After looking at that picture, I had to scroll down and gaze at the one of you and Lucy for a while.

Posted by: Josie at July 29, 2005 6:06 AM

Having kids sure changes your perspective, doesn't it?

We've discovered Finding Nemo in this house. Believe it or not, every scene is a life or death situation -- did you ever notice that? I sure didn't....until my daughter started watching it....

Taking this topic to the next level, how has Lucy changed your perspective on abortion?

For me, I still believe in pro choice, but I think my tipping point for "when does life begin?" moved up considerably after the birth of my first. Having children helped me develop a new appreciation for what was going on "in there."

I'd put my money toward any effort that made any non-termination choice mainstream, even cool.

BTW is that Mt Eiger?

Posted by: scruggs at July 29, 2005 6:42 AM

The comments and pictures in that last paragraph were timely for me since just this week I've sent in a donation to Feed the Children for as my mother's birthday present (As she's the "Woman Who has Everything," I pick a different organization each gift-giving occasion.") For the amount she usually wastes at her local Starbucks in a day, some kid is going to eat for a month.

Since we've had our son, most issues I encounter seem to boil down to the parent-child relationship. I can't imagine being a mother in any situation where my child is in dire straits and I am helpless to alleviate the situation. Mothers watching their children massacred in Darfur...starving in Niger...or I sometimes would think of one couple I read about who were on one of the Sept. 11th flights with their 3 year old. How the hell do you handle that???

Posted by: Just Andrew at July 29, 2005 6:54 AM

years ago, I remember hearing that TV in many other countries (though the conversation was specific to Japan, I think) is much more violent than in the US, but the violent crime rates were much lower and that the two might be related. Ties in nicely today it seems.

Posted by: emma at July 29, 2005 7:15 AM

My guess on Tessa's picture is that it is in Banff.

I have heard some parents tell me they won't let their kids watch Disney movies and I think this is a bit much. But then I find myself doing crazy protective things too. My kids have a lot of Disney, but when you are watching Scar sending Mufasa to his death with your four year old, I sometimes get a funny feeling in my stomach. Also, I find myself changing words when I am reading books to them, even classics like Barrie's original Peter Pan. I, almost without thinking about it, will change the word "kill" to "get". Even last night, we were looking at a picture of artwork in a book his artist grandmother gave him, showing a picture depicting the Greek tale of a boater (Charon) taking passengers across the River Styx to either side of the river, heaven or hell. I found myself saying, heaven and not heaven. Am I turning into one of those overprotective Moms who won't let their children watch Disney movies?

Posted by: Claudia at July 29, 2005 8:00 AM

I don't think not letting your children watch certain Disney movies is so bad. I think parents need to be active decisionmakers, and not simply rely on MPAA ratings. I, for one, would prefer to have my child see bare breasts or a film such as _Stand By Me_ (rated R) than a frightening depiction of the death of an anthropomorphic animal parent.

Posted by: kjf at July 29, 2005 8:46 AM

The Johnson article is spot on. Hillary apparently spent way too much time with Tipper Gore.

Posted by: Claudia at July 29, 2005 8:55 AM

Perhaps Hillary is gearing up to appeal to somewhat more conservative voters, like me. If that is the case, I think it will backfire, as I also agree with Johnson.

Posted by: Joe C. at July 29, 2005 9:16 AM

The violent red-staters fighting in an octagon, I can just picture the Bush voting Southern rednecks in a cage beating their skulls in. Just more of those red-state Christian values for you. If those red-state rednecks want to fight so bad, why don't they sign up for Bush-Cheney's oil war over in Iraq ??? They can go and be Halliburton foot soldiers and protect the oil wells while Bush and Company sit back in Texas counting their money. And then the idiots down in the South go to WalMart and buy their American flags which are Made In China, the republicunts are so stupid.

Posted by: Sean Williams at July 29, 2005 10:50 AM

I mean, dude, is it possible that Swingline or whoever is just pretending to be Joe C.? I don't actually know anyone who talks like that, and I thought about impersonating Swingline a couple of times just for laughs. Except that it's actually not that funny and boring.

Posted by: Susan at July 29, 2005 10:51 AM

In response to Josie's last comment...why not adoption? I know so many people who are waiting to adopt and it just seems a waste to me the whole abortion thing. I can't say which is harder, placing a baby for adoption or abortion, having never been in either situation. However, it seems one would sleep better at night knowing their kid was happy, healthy and alive rather than the other alternative. Having a kid does change your perspective on these issues you thought you had all worked out....

Posted by: tregen at July 29, 2005 10:54 AM

I'm actually with Joe C on this one.

Posted by: Greg (not THAT Greg, another Greg altogether) at July 29, 2005 10:54 AM

Ian - time to update the spam filter, another one snuck through...

Posted by: scruggs at July 29, 2005 11:11 AM

In reference to yesterday's topic...is the wrath upon the Boy Scouts or what???


Posted by: Chris M at July 29, 2005 11:41 AM

Joe C serves a mean consomme -- a reduction of the far left broth down to its unsavory essence.

Mmmmm...French cooking analogies.

Posted by: Chris M at July 29, 2005 11:57 AM

I haven't had time to read the linked articles but I very much agree with Ian. Being more of a libertarian than strict conservative sort, I think you have to let people make their own mistakes and enjoy their successes. If it isn't directly hurting others, go for it. Most people came to this country to get away from know it alls telling them what to do and what no to do. That being said, when I have a kid I'm going to take responsibility to make sure s/he doesn't get exposed to things s/he should not see (really stupid things like unending Paris Hilton exposure and cable TV news missing young girl of the week stories) because they are simply too young and should be having pleasantly stimulating experiences, not nasty, scary, and stupid ones.

But when they're old enough, they get to enjoy 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' just like their Dad did!

Posted by: Emily at July 29, 2005 12:18 PM


I come from a very conservative Catholic family, and knew that I would have an abortion if it was ever an issue. Of course adoption is a better option, but if I had come home at 17 (or even now at 20) pregnant, I would have been kicked out of the house. Many of my friends in high school would have had the same thing happen. How would a student making minimum wage have stayed in school, found a place to live, and had the proper pre-natal care to deliver a healthy baby? I could never figure out an answer, so I know that abortion would be the road I choose if I'm ever in the situation.

Posted by: Claudia at July 29, 2005 12:46 PM

Emily, I certainly understand your position, but it saddens me to think that one would have to make a difficult decision like that based on economics. Many potential adoptive families offer to pay the birth mother's medical expenses, and there are many organizations that help provide housing and medical care for pregnant women (see http://www.goodcounselhomes.org/ or http://www.adoption.com/). Your post has inspired me to explore making a contribution.

Posted by: Susan at July 29, 2005 12:57 PM

Claudia beat me to it but that is what the adoption agencies do...provide care for the young woman (counseling, pre-natal care, living expenses, etc...) for the duration of the pregnancy. Often these expenses are covered by the adoptive family if one is chosen early enough. www.bethany.org is one such organization.

Posted by: lee at July 29, 2005 1:59 PM

Adoption is absolutely great- if that's your choice. We do need to remember that people come from all different situations and have different reasons for needing/not needing to have an abortion or give a child up. What might help one person sleep better at night, might keep another up forever.

Posted by: Emily at July 29, 2005 2:48 PM

I was going to respond, but Lee just did it better than I could have.

And I forgot to write this last time, but my high school guidance counselor said this to me: "You're the person who has to live with this decision. Don't feel like you have to explain it to anyone else as long as you know it's right for you." That's become my mantra about a lot of things, but especially in this debate.

Posted by: Ian at July 29, 2005 2:48 PM

Tessa thinks that picture was taken in Megeve:
...where she and her mom lived after the divorce for a few months.

As for adoption agencies paying for pre-natal care, um... what if you don't want to deliver a baby? To me, it's really that simple, and no woman should have to answer any questions after that.

Posted by: Chris M at July 29, 2005 4:04 PM

Everyone knows that some women don't want to give birth *no matter what.* Nobody has forgotten this because one cannot discuss abortion without being reminded of the obvious in a tone suggesting you stop talking about anything besides the obvious.

These women who do not want to give birth are not the only women who are having abortions. Some women are open to *choosing* to have their baby but face practical constraints. What on earth is wrong with helping these women with *their choice* and openly talking about it so we can encourage others to help women who want help?

Have you ever seen a television news story talking about the support available for a woman who would *choose* to give birth but is overwhelmed by financial constraints or her family's rejection or both? A story about a woman who wanted to have the baby and did so because she was helped? Who is happy and grateful like any other mother?

Apparently such stories are not permissible. We are permitted only the same tired fight: hardcore pro-life versus hardcore pro-choice.

Posted by: Emily at July 29, 2005 4:41 PM

Chris M,

I didn't make it clear before, but I would NOT want this hypothetical baby. Not at 17, not at 20, probably never. Even if my parents approved, I found a good family to adopt Baby, and I continued school full time, I don't want a child just as much as I don't want to spend 9 months caring for one before it's born.

As for what Ian said, I am even *less* interested in the act of childbirth. Ouch!

Posted by: Josie at July 29, 2005 6:43 PM

Sorry to have dropped the "a-bomb" here today. But since it's already out there....

At 17 or 20, I certainly would have held the exact same position as Emily. I don't know if I would have had the courage/interest in carrying a baby, let alone someone else's. And I would have thought you insane for suggesting I choose anything other than abortion.

But, now having gone through pregnancy twice and seeing the joy in my childrens' faces every day...well, it adds another complicated dimension to my concept of the fetus...and possibly the embryo.

Parenthood doesn't change my PRO-CHOICE position, it just makes me wish I could capture the feeling in a bottle and share it with anyone facing such a decision. If I knew then what I know now....

Posted by: Johnathan Homerding at March 22, 2013 3:51 PM

this scene is supposed to be based on tony spilotro and his brother

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