The Epoch Times reports that “Donald Trump has partly directed blame toward violent video games for two mass shootings [in El Paso and Dayton] that left 31 people dead over the weekend, saying that the ‘glorification of violence’ must stop.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The attribution to an object or person of a greater value than it objectively deserves, something that occurs frequently in societies that elevate marketing, advertising and public relations to the highest rank of human activity, supplanting in the US its more traditional trio of values: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
For all his prevarications, provocations and classless intimidating behavior toward friends and foes, President Trump, more often than his enemies admit, makes statements that are stirringly true and impeccably lucid. His insistence that the glorification of violence must stop reflects a fundamental truth about the state of the nation. The United States, through both its government and the structure of its economy, has been glorifying violence ever since the nation’s founding, but with increasing intensity in recent decades.
Critics are right to point out that Trump was overly precise in focusing only on video games. He tells us that the violence he deplores “includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”
Yes, video games are included. But he might also have mentioned a plethora of other activities and entertainments that celebrate violence. For example, violent sports, including professional wrestling, which in the past he himself promoted (in the most hyperreal way), even if its violence is staged, which is probably also true of Trump’s political personality.
He could have cited NFL football, whose repetitive violent clashes at the line of scrimmage and crippling tackles threaten the well-being of its players and whose half-time rituals — such as the flyovers of fighter jet squadrons and salutes to the military — promote and glorify state violence. If he is sincere, he might even begin to have qualms about the singing of an anthem that reaches a crescendo at the sound of “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” typically eliciting a climax of ecstatic cheers among the public.
And then there’s Hollywood, whose war films, subsidized by the Pentagon through diverse forms of material and editorial assistance, are graphically violent, tending to glorify hyperreal, romanticized heroism. In contrast, the indie films that dare to show a less glamorous version of war and call into question the nation’s commitment to violence cannot hope for the technical and logistical assistance the Pentagon so generously lavishes on the compliant productions. They must pay for the military props required to give them their realistic veneer.
A comparison of US entertainment — movies, television — with that of other countries across the globe reveals a strong taste for violence that didn’t have to wait for video games to appear. The rest of the world has, to some extent, begun to imitate Hollywood, but Europe and Bollywood, for example, still prefer to focus on human, social and sentimental drama.
The industrial world that emerged in the 19th century spawned a taste for mass killing. But the culture of mass killing has evolved radically over time. The US conquered its stretch of the North American continent, progressively spreading from coast to coast, through the massacre of every living thing that got in its way. That included Native Americans, bison and other animals one couldn’t sell at the Chicago stockyards.
The mentality of slaughtering, eliminating anyone and anything that restricted one’s ambition was born with the nation itself and proved to be a significant factor in the colonists’ motivation to declare independence from England. The British Crown had a foreign policy focused on commerce that imposed a certain diplomatic restraint as well as modesty of ambition regarding the conquest of undeveloped lands.
Inebriated by the prospect of casting off constraints, the newly independent Yankees had a frontier to clear and exploit, with nobody to tell them where to stop. Sometimes it was forests and brush. Sometimes it was local tribes. For them, it was theirs to tame and progressively occupy. And that required a certain amount of “democratic” violence.
Max Weber famously defined the state as the institution within a territory that claims a monopoly on violence, meaning violence in a well-constituted state cannot be democratic. When the US left the British Empire and began to exist as a chain of federated members of a loose union of “states” whose ultimate authority was “we the people,” the monopoly formerly exercised by the Crown and Parliament was effectively abolished. Decision-making, including over life and death, was transferred with incredible imprecision to “the people.”
It took the US nearly 200 years to overcome a general state permanently liable to lapse into anarchic violence as its citizens focused their attention on the pursuit of property, if not of happiness. The genocide of the inhabitants of what had become the white man’s frontier eventually produced to a certain uncomfortable stability, once the remaining natives accepted their role of submission. The violence of the Wild West gave way, in the 20th century, to a more civilized form of urban violence engaged in by the Italian, Irish, Jewish and black mafias that disputed the control of a wide range of territories and economic activity within expanding cities.
Both the conquest of the peoples of America by Europeans and the urban mafia wars represent a form of ultimately controlled and productively focused mass violence. They curiously emulated the state’s monopoly on violence, but on a local territorial basis. Both responded to a form of economic logic related to making a profit through the control of resources.
By the end of the 19th century, Europe witnessed the growth of the anarchist movement that was influenced, culturally and ideologically speaking, by the American and French Revolutions, in which a violent people overturned the authority of their former masters. The anarchists and eventually the Bolsheviks who were successful in Russia focused their attention on contesting authority and seizing the reins of power. Though capable of mass killing, their violence tended to be highly targeted. Their cultural reference was still the notion of the state’s monopoly on violence.
Things began to change in the 1960s when the trend, in the US, to hijack planes to Cuba emerged. It was a mix of protest and personal desperation. This eventually morphed into not just the suicide missions of 9/11, but also the kinds of mass killings that have now become common in the US. But instead of focusing on contesting or seizing power, the motivation most often turns out to be the desire to escape a hostile environment that the perpetrator of the terrorist act finds oppressive for his (never “her”) ego. Charles Whitman, the Texas bill tower sniper, inaugurated the trend when he fired randomly into a crowd at the University of Texas in August 1966. The trend of mass killing as a means of escaping from one’s uncomfortable identity was born. It has never stopped expanding ever since.
The availability of powerful automatic weapons has aggravated the effects of that trend. And although Americans continue to admire the contribution of industrialists Samuel Colt and Eliphalet Remington, guns alone don’t explain the motivation for mass murder. Gun culture is real and spread widely across the population. It seems highly unlikely that Americans will accept restrictions on objects they believe they must be free to buy as the means of eventually expressing their own latent violence.
In short, focusing exclusively on gun control is unlikely to solve and more likely will simply complicate a deeply cultural problem.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.