Movie naughtiness in the pre-MPAA era.

“Jazz musicians,” code for black entertainers who smoked pot.

Elvis Presley’s hips.

Comic book salaciousness.

The Beatles’ mop tops.

Jim Morrison saying “get much higher” on Ed Sullivan.

Hippies’ poor grooming habits.

Elmer Fudd shotgunning Daffy Duck’s bill off his head.

Movie violence.

Television violence.

Video game violence.

Heavy metal lyrics.

At one time or another in the 20th century, each of these cultural phenomena has had the finger of blame pointed at it as the proximate cause of cultural degradation, moral turpitude, and increases in societal violence.

Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center, in the mid 1980s, took up the oft-wielded pitchforks, bullied the music industry into labeling records, and made free speech heroes of musicians Frank Zappa and Dee Snider.

Fast-forward 34 years. The tropes keep getting repeated. Heavy metal has been mostly forgotten, even as the lyrics and imagery have gotten more fantastically and gleefully obscene, gory, heretical, and what-have-you (fair warning: this link is not for the faint of heart). Not because the scolds have given up, but because hip hop’s far greater cultural ubiquity and influence has shoved it out of the way. But, even the criticisms of hip hop pale in comparison to the frequency with which video game violence is condemned every time someone does something evil.

It’s absurd.

If television, movie, and video game violence were truly an inducement to bad acts in real life, we’d all have slaughtered each other a decade ago. The advent of cable and streaming has exploded the quantity and availability of hard-R rated violence on television. Movies are ever more creative in their shoot-em-up fantasies. The body count of the three John Wick movies tallies 299, with more to come. John Rambo has 503 kills. Arnold Schwarzenegger has 842. Milla Jovovich has 1299. Samuel L. Jackson has 1734. Quentin Tarantino’s efforts, at 132 in the movies he’s directed, don’t often run to such quantities, but he makes up for his lack of quantity with style.

And, then there are the video games. The Call of Duty series, alone, has sold over 300 million copies. The Grand Theft Auto series, 200 million. Those are the giants in the “violent” genre, but there are literally dozens more first-person shooter games out there.

The domestic video game market, at $91B, is almost an order of magnitude greater than the domestic movie market, and while the latter probably bleeds through to television and streaming more than the former, it’s obvious that video games are wildly popular in the US.

Meanwhile, both violent and property crime in the US have dropped by more than half in the past quarter century. A shocking number of people are unaware of this simple fact.

This is why Donald Trump can point the finger of blame at violent video games in the wake of the twin mass shootings this past weekend. His supporters nod and his detractors scoff, but most do so out of tribalistic loyalties, and not because they are aware of the realities.

It bears repeating: If entertainment violence were of significant influence on actual behavior, we’d be murdering each other in unprecedented numbers today.

This isn’t to say that we’ve nothing to point at in our efforts to understand what drives young men to such horrific acts. I just considered one possibility on this blog. That possibility – the notoriety that we convey upon these murderers – neither satisfies those who want an easy fix nor serves to drive preferred agendas, so we end up with useless ‘remedies,’ like Trump’s Twitter potshots at video game violence.

Tipper Gore and the PMRC get wide (and deserved) derision nowadays for their puritanical caterwauling, but at the time they were powerful and as serious as a heart attack. Before we get suckered into the same sort of “blame entertainment” rabbit hole by the Untethered Orange Id, we should take a moment to ponder history and data, and realize that there’s always an easy bogeyman, and it’s never the actual problem.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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