August 13, 2012 On Pop Culture
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.