The very first scene on the very first episode on the very first season shows Deputy Rick drawing his handgun and firing a bullet into the skull of a little girl. She was carrying a teddy bear. Her brains explode.
But she’s a zombie. And it’s just TV.
So it’s OK.
“The Walking Dead” has entered its third season as one of the most popular shows on TV today (also existing as partial inspiration to this Tuesday online-only column). Describing a southern America within a post-zombie-apocalypse-backdrop, the show follows a changing group of survivors as they cling to life, meaning and one another.
But this weekend, I didn’t want to watch it.
After what happened Friday at an elementary school in Connecticut, somehow the world just seemed different. And watching violence on television seemed so ... inappropriate. So exhausting.
How many bullets are fired each night on the screens we watch? How many dead bodies?
How many rapes, kidnappings, murders, attacks, robberies, assaults, bombs, guns, knives, pools of blood do we download into our collective consciousness each night?
Turn on the television each evening and the same show exists on nearly every channel: detectives trying to solve a murder.
This means the central figure in our screen experience is a dead body.
Culturally, we must recognize the significance of this. Our entertainment is best symbolized by a dead human.
“I just think, you know, there’s violence in the world, tragedies happen, blame the playmakers. It’s a Western. Give me a break,” director Quentin Tarantino told CBS news.
Tarantino’s comment came as he was promoting his new film, “Django Unchained,” a slavery-Western that opens on Christmas Day.
“In true Tarantino form, buckets of blood explode from characters as they are shot or shredded to pieces by rabid dogs,” reads the CBS report.
Is Tarantino right? The vast majority of us will watch on-screen violence each and every day and never commit an act of physical violence. Much less a school shooting.
I would never argue that mass shootings occur because the shooter watched “Pulp Fiction” or played too many violent video games. I have too much respect for violence to make such a narrow-sighted claim.
I argue that violence is like a cloud. Like a form of pollution in a way. And the breadth and depth of violent images in our culture depletes the safety nets of goodness and connection that cultures use to thrive, flourish and protect their children.
(So mass shooters are over-poisoned in a way.)
Look at it this way. Imagine making a list of the aspects of our culture (sports, media, religion, schools, politics) and with each one, ask: Does this promote human dignity? Does this encourage and promote respect, compassion and mercy?
Or, does this devalue and deflate? Does this desensitize? Does it work to make us forget the responsibility and connection we have to one another?
Or, imagine if the goal of the mass media was to honor and promote the common good. What if the American media cared about the welfare of children and the dignity of the human life? Wouldn’t our shows, films, songs and commercials look radically different?
(Crazy, huh. But why? Why shouldn’t we expect that?)
Look, I’m not a prude. Or Puritan. I love movies, nightly television and good zombie shows as much as you may. If I don’t go see Tarantino’s new film then I’ll surely see one very much like it.
But I refuse to think all of these screen acts of violence exist without any consequence.
And it is high time we examine what they could be.
“We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence,” Jamie Foxx, who stars in Tarantino’s film, said to CBS. “It does.”
David Cook is the metro columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. A graduate of Red Bank High, Cook holds a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English literature degree from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. For the last twelve years, Cook has been a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...