On Pop Culture

A superhero teaching pop culture by explaining how to pop someone with a gun

On Pop Culture

A superhero teaching pop culture by explaining how to pop someone with a gun

Two recent frightening mass shootings in public places. Brings up the pressing question: what are we teaching our children about violence?

Is pop culture a genre of physical heroism, attacks, action, and thrillers that immunize our children to the horrors of violence? I worry.

I took my son out of the bubble of the Hasidic world, a Yiddish-speaking, clueless little baby he was when he spent his nights falling asleep to the rants of Rabbi Weiss — lectures that explicitly described the heroism of all who killed or let themselves get killed for the holy bashefer. I was going to leave a world in which fists are used to win arguments and aggression is taught as part of the cheydar curriculum by rabbis who have a blitige pasik.

Here we are, in a much better place. Amaleik forgotten, sheidim in the trash (on Saturday night we used to say), in a better place. I have not sought to embrace any particular culture, but pop culture with its unending popularity and great abundance is leaking in through all the corners of my life. I continuously try not to saturate our lives with pop culture by not procuring a television, not sleeping in superhero linen (very tempted!) and not marrying electronics, but its influences inevitably seeps in and flood our world up to our ankles. For all the sweet manners and polite children it raises, modern popular culture is worrisome in its own way. Little children in school introduce my son to “kill moves” and neighbors show him how to turn a twig into a “lethal weapon” akin to some flavor of Japanese jitsu death throw.

Boys are regularly obsessed with some sort of action character who “wins” by blowing up the “enemy” or zapping him, or shredding him, or I don’t-want-to-know-how-else-its-gruesome shows kids to obliterate the enemy.
Enemy? Why are our children learning about enemies?

The parents who grew up in this culture seem much more accustomed and comfortable with these violent elements. To me, it seems strikingly unusual. Worrisome. I am accustomed to none of it. Yes, I heard plenty about killing as a child, but I never knew anyone with a gun or saw a violent outbreak. Hasidism, for all its hypothetical ideas of martyrdom, succeeds in sheltering its children from regular violence. When people say that among Hasidim there is less violence, I think, from my experience, that this is a valid claim.

I experience violent heroism to be a very big part of modern American culture. I have never witnessed violent outbreaks, don’t get me wrong. But I have witnessed the violent values which worry me can lead to violence. When we witness violent outbreaks on the scale of the recent shootings, why do we focus so much on banning guns when we should focus more on not raising our children in a gun culture? Why don’t we express our outrage against violence-values in our culture the same way we express our outrage against racism, anti-Semitism or unhealthy eating? For those of us who are blessed to raise children in a world in which you can choose how to educate your child, don’t you think we need to demand raising our children with better values? Here, we the parents hold the power and responsibility. Something, something should be done. And I’m not thinking The Organization for Modesty.

  • SB
    Posted at 21:36h, 13 August Reply

    You’re raising some very good questions. It is well known that the MPAA rates movies up for sex/nudity/sexual themes and down for violence, and other rating bodies like the ones in Canada and Europe do the inverse – rate up for violence and down for sexuality. Americans really do want to make war, not love.
    On another note, there is an old Yiddish joke about a guy who was marooned all alone on an island for many years. He was finally rescued by a passing ship. When he returned home, he was asked, what did you do all those years, to pass the time? He replied, “The first few years I was concerned with raising food and providing myself with shelter, and during the subsequent years, I built myself two shuls”. “Two shuls?! What did you need two shuls for?” To which he vehemently replied, “In eins hub ich gedavent in gelernt, in in dee andere tret ich nisht arein!”
    It is part of human nature to admire someone/something and that should have a nemesis, something to hate. It makes use feel purposeful and self-righteous. Now, such is the burden of the peacetime US citizen with no real enemies or purpose and no real role models, and there is a tremendous clamoring for superheros and figurative antichrists and bad guys with cool gadgets who get beaten and we all pat ourselves on the back and feel redeemed.
    If you think about this, it’s a historically ongoing theme that exists in every culture, from Roman and Greek mythology to Batman and Robin.

  • Leapa
    Posted at 21:38h, 13 August Reply

    Excellent post.
    No excellent solution.

  • Fred
    Posted at 22:27h, 13 August Reply

    I am one of those parents who grew up in this culture. While I will only presume to speak for myself I do know others like me who will agree when I say that while we may be accustomed to a culture of violence it is not also true that we are “comfortable with these violent elements.” It would be more accurate to say that I and others may feel helpless, even powerless, in the face of such an overwhelming tendency in our culture to promote violence as something heroic. I do whole-heartedly agree that we can and should “focus more on not raising our children in a gun culture.” I also agree that as parents we do hold power – something we tend to utilize too timidly – and responsibility for raising our children with better values. This will happen when as parents we adopt and become more courageous in promoting “better values

  • der Galuch
    Posted at 22:55h, 13 August Reply

    Of the roughly two and a half cultures I am familiar with, I know of no culture in the world devoid of stories about violent heroes standing up for what’s right. Although violent (depraved) episodes may not exist to the same degree in ‘peace-loving’ societies (levi aron, anders breivik, anyone?), the hero using violent means to stand up for his society’s values certainly does. Pinchas, shimon & levi, vikings, George Washington, et al.
    As always, good on you for bringing up the question. I personally don’t think it’s the storytelling nor the merchandising (read: modern-day storytelling) that is the problem. Is it possible that maybe part of the problem is that our kids see too LITTLE of the adults around them standing up for something (even violently, by which I mean passionately)? In this environment, it may be difficult to learn how to channel violent urges (which all societies teach) productively (which in some cases may be outright violence).
    Obviously, we’re not talking about mentally-ill folk or those that were traumatized by seeing their old morahs in wonder woman costumes.

  • Marrano Chassid
    Posted at 23:43h, 13 August Reply

    Just wondering if growing up in the hasidic culture gets us some intolerance for boys being boys. After all, violence is part of life, and being the better at it gets you higher on the Darwinian ladder. Allowing children to grow up with no real terminology for “enemy” can be terrifyingly naive.

  • Chana Gittel Meyerowitzerbaum
    Posted at 08:24h, 14 August Reply

    My son loves Rabbi Weiss’s tapes.. Some of the things make me cringe.. The violence is basicallly components of some mystical stories. While those bother me. I think some of these yiddish plays would be rated R or at least PG 13 for voilence and little kids are watching it/hearing stories etc.
    What bothers me most about the tapes, is the little brainwashing seeds that are planted there re: women.
    Purim tape:
    Vashti hut nisht gevult gein tzee achishvorish. Achishvorish hut gegangen bashtroofen vashti, veil a froi miz fulgen a man.. a froi vus fulgt nisht eer man darf bashtrooft veren. (probably was thinking of his wife, because he repeats it at least twice)

  • SB
    Posted at 10:30h, 14 August Reply

    As always, good on you for bringing up the question. I personally don

  • Moshys
    Posted at 13:42h, 14 August Reply

    I feel your pain…….Thank you hashem we dont have these problems………….

  • Kevin
    Posted at 17:06h, 14 August Reply

    Yup the culture todays kids are exposed to stinks!
    It gets worse as they grow up and you loose control.
    I must admit hassidim with all the problems definitly are doing something right. Bottem line no society is perfect so you gotta chose what works for you.

  • Realist
    Posted at 09:46h, 15 August Reply

    It takes guts to do what you do, as a former Chossida. It seems that most, while they may personally not think all is rosy in the secular world, are unwilling to really hash that out in public, because such criticism then becomes ammunition/ confirmation for those who stayed and are invested in the status quo.

  • Gabriella
    Posted at 19:29h, 16 August Reply

    Tell me about it! It is so very hard to raise boys in this world. I have completely banned Cartoon Network at our house and only allow Sprouts and some other chosen cartoons. When my first born was 3 years old, he had only watched Sesame Street and one other completely harmless Sprouts cartoon, and one day he just picked up sticks from the backyard and started “fighting” his own shadow. I have no idea where this came from.
    Now he is older and going to public school and he is already demanding Ninjago and other not so harmless cartoons. He and his brothers already have epic battles without watching those cartoons, I really don’t feel I need to reinforce their already hyper active imagination.
    That is just one small sample of Pop culture inundating us regardless of what we do. Massive consumption of worthless crap and unhealthy eating habits are other biggies. It is just an insane amount of work to try to maintain any values as a family in our busy secular world.

  • Loren N Kaplan
    Posted at 22:18h, 27 August Reply

    Well said. It seems to me that Pop Culture has trivialized violence, death and killing. From Rap/Hip Hop to television and films to video games, the concept of violence has become an “everyday” thing with little emphasis placed on how serious it is. It’s not psychologically healthy for children, and for that matter, adults, to be blowing things up and killing people in a game and to be watching it happen in t.v. and films like it’s nothing and deriving pleasure from it…sometimes even laughing! All of this stems from the concept of the “Dumbing Down of Society.” The majority of the people in this country don’t read books, they don’t read the daily newspaper and keep up with events, don’t look into situations deeply enough to truly make informed decisions and do little to stimulate their minds. I am very thankful that I was spared, and not raised in this very superficial lifestyle. I do own a t.v., but haven’t turned it on for close to a year…there’s simply nothing that interests me on television in the evenings. N.P.R.’s about it for me on the radio and I haven’t been to a movie in years. I wish people would actually think about what they’re exposed to via Pop Culture. There’s nothing exciting, fun or funny about killing and violence…absolutely nothing. Having worked in Law Enforcement for a very short time (before I became too disgusted will dealing with the worst of situations) I can tell you that violence presented in Pop Culture is definitely contributing to crime…it’s very alarming to see obvious examples in person at 2:30 in the morning. What can we do about this…not much, it’s been ignored for far too long.

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