Connect the Dots

There is a major question we need to ask as a society, but the question will come after a brief listing. It is a listing of violence we Americans are both exposed to throughout culture and which we engage — engage so much companies can make lots and lots of money from us by producing violent images. (By the way, in Europe violent movies create an R rating. Is it the same in the USA?)

Violent images are encountered in the USA in the following contexts:

1. Movies and TV
2. Video games
3. Western movies, Comic books, Cartoon figures
4. Toys
5. Use of the hand as a gun
6. Sports, especially football (of the American kind) and ice hockey
7. Mixed martial arts
8. NASCAR
9. Paintball games
10. Hunting for Bambi

Next to this set of violent images, what about a language? Big shot, shot in the dark, shoot kill, hit man, open season, shooting for gold, in the cross-hairs, a double-barreled approach…

Or our belief that we are a Christian nation, a city on a hill, a chosen people? Do these create justification for violence? Is redemptive violence the way of Jesus?

The question: Is there a connection between these productions of violent images and American violence? Can we connect the dots? Are we more violent because of our images? Would minimizing the images reduce violence?

From James Atwood, America and Its Guns: “Violence is a pervasive spirit that touches and affects everything we do and everything we are. … Violence captivates, thrills and fascinates us, and it starts beguiling us early in life…” (43).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Job

    I see more problems in the fact that in the US guns are considered a common good. When people do outrageous things, the media look to video games and TV first while forgetting that many Americans have guns at home.

    Next to that, it also depends on the depiction of violence. If violence is shown as the solution, it is different than if violence is just the hard reality illustrated.

  • David Coulter

    I played Fallout: New Vegas as a pacifist character. It was an interesting experience interacting with such a violent world without the option of force.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    While I would not defend free access to guns or violence, I do think there is an inappropriate reaction that is symultaneously happening. While we are not banning guns or restricting access to violent video games we are criminalizing or restricting fairly innocent play. The story out of Grand Island yesterday about a school asking a family to change the sign of of a 3 year old deaf child’s name (he was named Hunter) because it was a violent symbol is a break with reality. Other schools are having also silly reactions to toys and pretend games.

    All the while nothing has really changed with policies and laws that affect the adults that are mostly responsbile for the actual violence in the world.

  • Pat Pope

    I think there is a connection. We’ve always had shoot ‘em ups, but I can’t help but think that with the increasing level of the images that it hasn’t somehow gotten into our psyches. Of course, not everyone that sees these images will go out and kill, but a look at some of the crimes that have taken place over the years, often we see where in some cases certain images were actually being imitated. I think of Columbine where the shooters seemed to be mimicking images from the Matrix. That’s just one. I even pause because I watch Breaking Bad, which is very violent and I can’t help but think that with the rise in the use and manufacture of meth, that someone out there might get ideas from it. As a parallel, I think we can look at some of the other images coming out of Hollywood that seem to get imitated in real-life (or is it art imitating life) like the sexual hook-up, women choosing motherhood in lieu of a mate, the in-your-face bitchiness as seen on some reality shows, etc.

  • http://www.thinkershandbook.com Thinker’s Handbook

    I’m not convinced there is a connection, but even if there was one, my question is should we, individual parents, get to decide for ourselves and our children, or should the government appoint some expert (i.e. David Grossman) to decide for us what we watch and what we allow our children to watch?

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that there’s a difference in using violent imagery and language and glorifying violence. Even the Apostle Paul resorted to using some pretty violent language to make his point. I think metaphors that harken back to violent acts are powerful simply because they’re so universal. There isn’t any society on the planet that hasn’t been affected by violence in some profound ways.

    As far as what kids are exposed to, I suppose it depends on the specific child. I’ve met some kids who seem to be fascinated by such imagery, but other kids seem to be able to watch it without it having much effect on them. In some ways, I think things like video games, paintball (which I’m sure I agree should even be on the list), hunting, etc. act as something of a release valve for people. So I wonder if getting rid of those things completely might not actually lead more people to commit actual violence against people.

  • Phil Huber

    Maybe I don’t watch it enough, but I’m not sure I see the connection with NASCAR. Perhaps the particular advertisers? Even hunting seems a bit of a stretch. Considering how few people actually hunt out of the total population, the violent imagery is missed by most people.

  • P.

    As usual, we are a nation of extremes. We have instances like the one Adam mentioned (the school is now denying it), then on the other hand, we have incredibly violent images all over the media. Sadly, in this case, the church is silent. I’m afraid many link this to regulating guns, and don’t get me started on the gun worship in the church. I think the violent images also appeal to the hyper-masculinity movement in the church.

    I’ve heard people say that violence is part of American history. So what? This isn’t the Wild West anymore!

  • http://davidbrush.com David Brush

    We don’t watch violent programs with our children, in-fact we don’t watch much ‘television’ at all. We do watch the occasional movie, documentary, etc… We also don’t play ‘guns’, our son has a rubber-band gun but we set strict guidelines on what he can shoot at and he does pretty good with that.

    I don’t have a problem with guns for law enforcement, and for hunting, sports, etc; however America’s relationship with the gun isn’t one of a worker with a tool, but instead the gun has come to embody American individualism and that serves as an idol that detracts us from God. That is the problem, a gun isn’t just a gun, its a god.

  • MWK

    Is NASCAR violent? I have never actually seen it other than on commercials or something.

  • Dave

    If the list is supposed to represent things we as North Americans are exposed to that are making us more violent (assuming the assertion that we are indeed more violent, which is debatable), then I would say there is little to no connection.

    The reason for my assertion is that all of the things on the list are present in other western nations that are typically held up against the US as being “less” violent. Replace American football with rugby and NASCAR with Formula 1, and there is no difference b/t the US, and most European nations.

    I will grant that some of our video games may be more violent, I don’t really know. But take, for example, film. Just watch some of the foreign language independent films on Netflix sometimes. Many are depraved enough to make one’s skin crawl, both in violence and sexual deviance.

  • MatthewS

    I can’t watch MMA, it turns my stomach.

    But NASCAR, Paintball games, Hunting for Bambi?

    If paintball, then laser tag, too, I presume, but that feels like over-reaching to me. Bumper cars, go-karts, and BMX bike riding, but really there is no such thing as a completely peaceful competition. Baseball involves the cold-blooded attack of chin music and we all know that Cubs fans do violence to their souls… (I started kidding somewhere in there)

    “Hunting for Bambi” confuses me. Disney’s movie anthropomorphized animals and demonized hunters. Is the concern being raised against the movie or against hunting? (that’s my serious question, btw – I truly don’t get it)

  • MatthewS

    Regarding computer games – I played games as a kid and I thought the adults were laughable when they complained about violence. It was bips and bleeps and dots on a screen to me.

    Fast-forward to my son playing Modern Warfare or some such, where I was surprised to see that the goal was not only to shoot realistic-looking people but walk over to them as they tried to crawl away and shoot them again… those games are barred from our house. I personally see Halo and similar games in a different light – your targets are not representative of image-bearing humans. But when the goal is to rack up a human body count, sometimes with realistic-looking violence, it strikes me as a simulation for committing violence, not so different from what the police and military were using not too long ago to train their agents.

  • Scott

    Why isn’t The Passion of the Christ on your list? Or the Old Testament? Or parts of Acts? Or the Revelation?

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    This list begins to devolve into self-satire. As someone who has transitioned from a violence-consuming teen into a violence-shunning adult, I can attest to the person influence of violent-entertainment. The same people who would deny it would also deny the influence of advertising on their lives.

    What the list IS good at, is painting a picture of the breadth violence in our society. One major difference between our society and others is the frivolity of violence. Tribes in South America and Africa hunt and slaughter animals too, but it is entirely different than what we in America call ‘hunting’.

  • Evelyn

    It’s circular. We could look at non-violent images, but something about the ‘violence’ appeals to a significant number of people – enough that the media know it makes money. Do the images make us violent or do the images reflect our choices which come from inside? Chickens and eggs spring to mind. I’m not sure we can meaningfully answer the question / connect the dots. Violence is a human universal, and anecdotally I know that for example Japanese cartoons can be really violent – yet japan has pretty low rates of violent crime, no? In my view there’s a lot more going on than is implied here.

  • tom

    Can I just reject the premise that we are more violent that previous generations of human beings? Do I wish there was less? Yes I do. But I’m not sure I agree with the premise that seems to be implied that since we have violent video games, movies, etc. that we are MORE violent that previous generations who didn’t have these influences. I believe even with all of that we (the current generation of Americans) are less violent.

  • Evelyn

    Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature” makes the argument that overall all kinds of violence have gone down globally very convincingly. His argument is subtle, based on careful evaluation of a wide range of statistics and interlocks with evolutionary psychology and I cannot do it justice in a blog comment. But basically, yes, we are LESS violent than previous generations. There’s a TED talk in which he summarizes his argument.


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