This column is written in the aftermath of two recent fatal shootings in mid-Missouri. One was two deaths in Jefferson City and the other in Columbia.
Those incidents renewed questions I’ve had for years about how civilized citizens should respond to a growing environment that portrays lethal violence as entertainment. To understand this column, you need to understand my background.
I grew up out west where firearms are common. At a very young age, my dad got me a rifle. So, this column is not an anti-firearm tirade.
Rather, what disturbed me about the mid-Missouri firearm homicides was that they followed so much video I’ve seen glorifying violence that leads to death. Just think about the number of promotions you’ve seen promoting movies with short clips of violence, but leave out the lethal consequences.
It’s made me wonder the degree to which these video portrayals glamorizing violence impact young people and those with mental instabilities. For me, the scene of a death is not something of entertainment!
I learned that in my early years as a reporter from two separate incidents in which I watched over persons I did not know die in front of me. It was so different than the peaceful and expected deaths of my elderly parents.
Unlike my parents, the unexpected deaths of those two young victims was painful to watch, sudden and unexpected. One of the two victims I observed dying as a reporter was a very young child whose parents arrived at the death scene next to the swimming pool where the child had drowned.
While the child’s death was not a death of violence, the TV video I shot of the EMT slowly and sadly shaking his head was horrifying to a degree that I suspect viewers of videos promoting a person’s death do not fully understand.
The other incident was when I was standing over a person dying in agonizing pain from a car wreck I was assigned to cover.
Both those deaths left such lasting and emotional memories make me wonder, as my wife suspected, that my memories might be a mild symptom of PTSD so many decades later. I don’t think so, but it reflects how traumatic can be viewing unexpected death in real life.
Those deaths remain among my most lasting and horrifying memories that cause an upsetting emotional reaction whenever I am assaulted by video promotions focusing on violent acts leading to death.
While I choose to shut off those violence promotions, I worry about the impact on younger viewers without first-hand experience of seeing a fellow human actually suffering before death. I also wonder about the impact on mental patients I interviewed during my years of mental health institution investigations.
Does showing fantasized videos of a death from violence without displaying the suffering of the victim sanitize what it means when someone dies unexpectedly by violence?
What about your children when they are watching video promotions of violence without seeing the agony of those subsequently dying?
And what about those mental health patients I interviewed who were institutionalized because of acts of violence and what I learned was a lack of empathy for human life?
Maybe parents, caretakers and consumers can make a difference by shutting off videos that portray violent death and violence as a form of entertainment and avoid movies or shows that make lethal violence entertainment.
It reminds me so much of the old song written by Graham Nash that became a hit by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to “teach your children well...and feed them on your dreams.”
For most parents, I suspect the dreams they would want to portray to their children do not involve images of violent death.
(Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of Missouri Digital News and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes).
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