Does Our Entertainment Influence Our Behavior?
In early July 2010, a five-year-old boy named Andrew Gentile was swimming in a man-made lake near his home. Before his mother realized it, Andrew had gone out too far and was struggling to keep his head above water. His mother tried to reach him, but she panicked in the deep water, unable to help. Suddenly, a neighbor, eight-year-old Reese Ronceray, ran to the water’s edge and dove in. A few long seconds later, Reese surfaced with his arms around Andrew’s shoulders. In a move that made headlines, Reese pulled Andrew safely to shore.
Reese says he knew what to do from a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon where a similar situation took place. CBS News reported the story, featuring an interview with Andrew and his hero, Reese. Everyone was grateful that the boy was able to mimic the behavior that he learned on a TV show and Andrew’s life was saved.
Nearly two years later, on December 14, 2012, a young man named Adam walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed twenty children and six staff members. Why? What motivated him? Lanza was reportedly obsessed with the first-person shooter game Call of Duty as well as other killing “games.”
Authorities also discovered that Lanza kept journals. On March 25th, 2013, the New York Daily News reported that Lanza was planning this slaughter for years; even to the point of keeping, in essence, a “kill score” of mass killings from around the world.
Several media outlets, including CBS, speculated that one of Lanza’s goals was to kill more than the seventy-seven people that mass murderer, Anders Breivik, slaughtered in Norway in 2011. Breivik was reportedly inspired by the shooter game Call of Duty as well. In a separate March 2013 New York Daily News article, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said about Breivik, “this game was specifically cited in (his) manifesto as ‘part of my training-simulation’ for carrying out the attacks.”[i]
Now let’s see if we can make sense of these real life situations. A little boy is inspired by a SpongeBob cartoon to rescue his friend from drowning. CBS News highlights the positive influence of SpongeBob and the little boy is called a hero. The SpongeBob show is called positive inspiration. I agree. Nice story.
But, less than two years later, Adam Lanza was also under the influence of entertainment media. Only this time, it was violent TV, movies, and extremely violent video games. For more than six months, numerous politicians and news reports discounted the influence of media entertainment on Lanza’s violent behavior. Any critics of the media were then and are now mocked as extremists. I didn’t see or read ANYTHING in the news about Lanza’s obsession with violent entertainment. Did you?
Either the entertainment influences our behavior or it doesn't. Which is it? Why aren’t we hearing about the influence of violence in the media? Why are so many politicians calling for gun control, but completely discounting the influence of violence themes throughout the entertainment industry? I believe our news outlets need to be fair and balanced? Don’t you?
[i] “Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza's video-game-style slaughter score sheet inspires calls in D.C. to stiffen regulation of violent games,” updated March 19, 2013, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/crackdown-urged-violent-games-lanza-report-article-1.1292402