Just when you think you've heard it all...
Damon Perry and Christopher Paquin decided to hole up and binge watch a season of the Zombie TV hit "Walking Dead" together and throw back some beers. All was well until, according to he Papery, his friend started turning into a zombie and attacking him. Then he did what any sensible zombie fighter would do; he allegedly beat Paquin to death with a guitar and a microwave.
Cue the blame game.
Yes, "Walking Dead" is gory and violent. And yes, it celebrates the myth of redemptive violence, which is the idea that violence fixes ANYTHING. So of course the latest subject of our condemnation likely will be the zombie apocalypse show for twisting him up into a state of delusion. This is not unlike the blame we place on video games for creating bloody mass murderers who gun down innocent people in movie theater, church or school.
Back when I was a kid, it was Black Sabbath that was the Great Evil in our midst for placing subliminal messages, luring people into massive suicide cults within their albums. Now, think about this for a minute. Aside from it being a little bit ridiculous to make such a stretch, and to actually believe that a backward, gambled message that someone could make themselves believe something nefarious would elicit such a violent reaction is a stretch. But it's also really bad business on the part of the band.
"Hey, I know," says Ozzie, while munching on a bat wing and finishing up his latest urination stunt on the steps of the nation's capitol (or whatever versions you heard back then), "let's get all the fans who we depend on for our living to kill themselves! Brilliant."
At least when George Michael and Madonna were blamed for making virgin teenagers run around humping everything with a pulse, that left open the possibility of expanding their fan base in the long run. And going back even farther, the Beatles were blamed for hiding destructive backward messages in their music. Yes, Paul McCartney and John Lennon were more interested in destroying young, impressionable minds than creating great art, making money or being adored by millions of fans. Makes sense to me.
The point is that when we focus on the media itself after one of these tragedies, it's like the world is pointing at the direction of a larger problem but, like a dog, we're too focused on the tip of the finger to realize where it's trying to point.
Why don't we ban all microwaves while we're at it, and sue Fender into oblivion for creating Stratocasters that have unreasonably sharp contours?
There are three real issues here, as I see it.
First, I'll grant that we do have a fascination with violence in our culture. But again, the media itself is meeting an existing demand. Same with video games, dark, morbid music and even gory literature that dates as far back as the printing press itself. In some ways, violence in media, whether it's cave paintings or a TV series, helps us work through what scares us in our own midst. It's not unlike having bad dreams that help your work through your problems. But there is a point of saturation when it begins to inform a twisted sort of "new normal for us" which leads me to the second issue...
We celebrate excess in our culture to pornographic extremes. I mean, how the hell else do you explain the "sport" of competitive eating? We live in a world where a guy who can shove a hundred hot dogs down his throat in ten minutes becomes a folk hero. Sorry, but that's fucked up, and we've created that monster. I hear people brag about how much they can drink, how little they sleep, or how insanely they overwork themselves as if these are to be admired. But it's not; it's a problem.
I love Star Wars as much as anyone. I'm showing the only "real" Star Wars trilogy to my kids now so they'll be ready for Episode VII when it comes out in two months. I even bought my advance tickets the day they came out, two months before the release date. And I got them in IMAX and 3D.
But then I read about theaters that are playing all six of the existing Star Wars movies in a row over a twenty-hour stretch. Any time we consider it fun or normal to sit in the dark and feast on popcorn and soda for nearly a full day to stare silently at a screen, we should have our cultural heads examined.
Finally, we are a culture of lonely, isolated people. Yes, we have social media to keep us connected, but many of us go from the "house box" we live in to the "garage box" and get in our "car box" to drive to our "office box" where we stand all day. Then we turn around and reverse the process until we start all over again the next day. And then we look around and wonder what's missing in our lives.
Of course we feel lonely, so the quick fix is to jump on social media for some quick affirmation: hearts on Periscope or Instagram, likes on Facebook or retweets on Twitter. We crave something to remind us that we exist, that we matter. But as an author once said in a radio interview (sadly I missed her name), if we don't learn how to be alone, we'll never be anything but lonely. What's more, if we don't know who we are as individuals, we can't expect to have healthy, functional relationships with others. It's a vicious cycle of isolation and loneliness that feeds on itself.
Meanwhile we look around ourselves for something or someone to blame so we don't have to - God forbid - actually have to change or hold ourselves accountable.