Szyperski: Hypocritical oathWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was watching an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” this week when I witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of people dying en masse, their bodies haphazardly flung about like pieces of confetti.
My half hour of high-IQ hijinks was suddenly hijacked by overwhelming amounts of death and destruction. The abrupt shift from funny to apocalyptic human devastation came without warning in the form of a short trailer for a movie called “World War Z.”
I researched and found that the “Z” in “World War Z” stands for “zombie,” so I am now presuming that the people I saw being obliterated were possibly unaffected by the violent events. I don’t know much about zombies, but it’s my understanding that their undead state makes it difficult for them to make the move to actually dead. Nonetheless, until I looked up the movie’s premise the next day, I thought I had seen hordes of the world’s alive-and-well population being wiped out.
Yes, I do realize it’s “just” a movie either way. Yet, recent studies indicate our brains process fiction in books and movies as real enough to trigger nonlanguage-processing regions. In a New York Times piece titled “Your Brain on Fiction,” Annie Murphy Paul summed up the research by stating: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”
A Huffington Post blog entry written by Keith Oatley, a fiction effect researcher, is titled “Is Fiction Good for You?” Oatley contends that the resultant social understanding and empathy that comes from fiction is, indeed, good for you.
If fiction in popular culture can be good for you, doesn’t it stand to reason that, like most everything, it can also be bad for you? If we read books and view movies packed with death, dismemberment, destruction and devastation, wouldn’t that have a negative impact on our lives and our psyches in the same way opening our minds up to different relationships and cultures through fiction has a positive effect?
I saw a few other interesting movie clips this week. In light of the Sandy Hook massacre, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a video featuring dozens of celebrities listing off recent major acts of gun violence in the U.S. They then declare that enough is enough and demand that we demand a plan of action against gun violence.
I thankfully have no use for guns in my everyday life, the Second Amendment isn’t my favorite and I am as horrified as most Americans by our senseless, embarrassing ongoing illicit affair with gun violence. I am a perfect candidate to be moved to sign the “Demand a Plan” petition being advertised by the celebrity pleas.
The original “Demand a Plan” video was not the first version I happened upon, though. The first version I saw also featured the original clips of solemn-faced celebrities denouncing gun violence; however, those clips were interspersed with clips, often graphic, of many of the celebrities performing acts of gun violence themselves during movie and TV appearances. I see.
Anyone with children, or who has had even a brief encounter with any human being, knows that “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t stand a chance against “monkey see, monkey do.” I am reminded of the 1987 anti-drug PSA that reveals the influence a father’s own drug use has on his son’s drug use.
We can argue that celebrities, movies, books, music, video games and the like don’t have the influence on kids that parents do, but what if the parents are the ones being influenced? What are we saying to our children when we praise a book about kids hunting one another, yet cry over Sandy Hook; when we still cry over almost 3,000 lives being lost on Sept. 11, yet get excited to see a movie about the world’s population being brought to the brink of extinction? The signals have to be mixed at best.
Not every person who absorbs fictional violence commits real acts of violence, of course. In fact, I would venture to guess the rate of copycatting is quite low. Still, do we want to be consumers of death and destruction, albeit fictional, for pleasure? Are we really OK with passing such a pastime along to our children? If fiction can teach our brains a little something about life, is violence the thing we want to be learning about?
Who taught them to enjoy this stuff, to give violence a starring role on the American stage, to find entertainment value in our darkest human acts?
You, all right?
They learn it by watching you. O
Shannon and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania. Email her at letters@