December 6, 2005

VIOLENT ENTERTAINMENT: The Real Elephant in the Room

"ENOUGH guns!" screamed the headline which dominated the entire front page of The Toronto Star, November 20th. Hand wringing has stepped up everywhere in Canada's largest city following the shooting of its 69th homicide victim for 2005. This particular one occurred just outside the Toronto West Seventh-day Adventist church following a funeral service for 17 year old Jamal Hemmings, killed days earlier. Predictions are that the victim, 18 year old Amon Beckles, who was his friend, may have been targeted because he was a witness to the shooting.

For yet another time, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair has joined cries of outrage from community leaders, church elders and politicians. Mayor David Miller has expressed disgust at the killing. Bishop Colin Johnson, head of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, was quoted saying it is akin to that of a war torn country. Scarborough based Pastor, Orim M. Meilke , has called the shooting a wake-up call and Rev. Al Bowen in the city's north west corner, is calling for an imposition of the War Measures Act or its equivalent.

So far, the only measures promised by City officials involve the usual: more police on the streets, tougher sentencing in the Courts and better co-operation with police from community members with information leading to arrests. Meanwhile, Toronto School Board employee Marina Brown, comments on a steady deterioration in police-community relations.

Responding to the call for better after hours school based programs and job training centers, on November 21st, Belinda Stronach, federal Human Resources Minister, and Toronto Mayor David Miller announced $1 million in funding for a new youth job counseling center. It is not, however, expected to be up and running until next spring. Predictably, their responses to questions remain firmly focused on individual responsibility and the futility of expecting much help from governments at any level. While John Tory, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party for Ontario has called for "new ways" for people to relay information to community leaders if they fear phoning in anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers, he fails to elaborate.

So far, an overlooked source of clues on how to address the escalating violence is the New York based hip-hop music trial on how life imitates art. In Globe and Mail coverage the same day, it was reported that defense lawyer for hip-hop producer Irving (Gotti) Lorenzo describes his client as "just looking for some street cred" when he was charged with money laundering. "Street cred" is a necessary ingredient in an industry that chronicles and glorifies the gun-ridden, drug infested world of urban America. Credited with developing a number of rappers, Lorenzo went on to start his own record company, hyping the gangsta image by naming his label, Murder Inc. He was on trial on charges of laundering $1 million U.S. in drug money. Prosecutors introduced evidence that Lorenzo's partner in crime, Kenneth McGriff, for whom the money laundering favor was done, planned to repay the service by hitting competitor, Curtis Jackson - better known as 50 cent - who was almost killed in 2000. Jackson's film, "Get Rich or Die Tryin" is currently playing in theaters throughout North America amid protests from anti-violence activists. Some related shootings and killings have occurred in the process. For details, log onto

On November 22, it was announced in the Globe and Mail, that Scott Colbourne kicked off a weekly column examining new media. "From video games to the Internet to things you don't even know about yet". His first little vignettes include the following: Financial analysts predict that, with the player base for video games widening, video games will lead all entertainment sectors in growth over the next four years. Matching the economic optimism is skepticism among veteran players who fear too much "Hollywood-style glitz" at the expense of innovation and concern among anti-violence activists, who question the growing fascination with virtual killing.

Colbourne told us, "Already, for every artistic gem like Shadow in the Colossus or groundbreaking virtual world like World of Warcraft, there are five titles like the newly released 50 Cent: Bulletproof, a game in which the half-dollar rapper battles assorted gangs of New York with pals Dr. Dre and Eminem. In short, whether you play or just follow the news, it is going to be a thoroughly engrossing 360-odd days of video-game land". I'll add to his thought...And political angst, outrage and bewilderment at rising levels of youth gang violence in our schools and on our city streets.

Hypocritically, the Globe's editorial for the day, takes the well trodden path of blaming communities for the wall of silence blocking police access to leads. Their own lucrative revenues from advertisements for these forms of entertainment, is for yet another time, conveniently overlooked. Margaret Wente chimed in with her message for the day that RACE is the elephant in the room. While it is no secret that most of the perpetrators and victims of these shootings are young blacks, and she is to be commended for at least stating the obvious, her main point is hardly groundbreaking. Promoting black teachers , motivating kids, and turning around failing schools, are without a doubt, necessary, but so is the need to address the increasingly pervasive, socializing influences of popular culture that compete with teachers of all colours and races. These include television, movies, music, video and computer games, all of which contribute to the inculcation of value systems and life styles for the young. Indeed, the extent to which children, from a very early age, are now targeted by those who market these commodities is tantamount to ideological child abuse, all well funded and encouraged by the same hand wringing politicians and pondering journalists casting about for solutions to escalating youth violence and alienation.

Not only have we had enough gun violence, but enough myopic naval gazing by people who are shirking their responsibilities and abusing the public trust. Their short memories on the harmful effects of violent entertainment, well covered in the mainstream media in recent decades, can easily be refreshed with a simple stroke of a key button on the Internet. They can start with the website for Canadians Concerned About Violence In Entertainment and follow up through links with dozens of similar websites, many of them professional and university based organizations. For these leaders to continue to look the other way, simply because the entertainment industries bring in so much economic revenue to our largest cities, is merely a stalling tactic and only ensures that the shooting and killing will continue regardless of whether or not, we have had enough.

Bibliography

Colbourne, Scott. Approach of new consoles has game makers drooling. The Globe and Mail. P. R1, Toronto, November 22, 2005.

Goddard, John. Funeral attack sparks outrage. The Toronto Star November 19, 2005.

McCarthy, Shawn. Life imitates art in N.Y. hip-hop trail. The Globe and Mail. P. A11. November 21, 2005.

Valpy, Michael. Pastor calls for 'war measures' to combat shootings. Ibid. P.A1, November 21, 2005.

The Globe and Mail. The wall of silence in Toronto's killings. P. A22. November 22, 2005.

Wente, Margaret. Race is the elephant in the room. The Globe and Mail. P. A23, November 22, 2005.

Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chair: C-CAVE and the Media Working Group - Science for Peace (University of Toronto)
Editor- The Learning Edge
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication