Many times we wonder about what it is we, as creators, put on the page, on the screen, on the track. Is this going to influence someone? Is this a responsible message? Do I care?
As the gun control debate continues in the country, the tried-and-true questions about whether or not video games, violent movies, hip hop etc. influence the culture – in particular the youth – in negative ways.
My knee-jerk reaction was always NO! As I’ve gotten older, I realize that’s not entirely true, not to mention the reason why I screamed no so loudly before.
I like horror films. I like extreme fiction (Clive Barker, Stephen King, old Anne Rice), I like video games like Legacy of Kain, Gears of War, Resident Evil. My defense of these works of art stemmed from my love of these works of art. I didn’t want to feel bad for liking them or have anyone try to suppress them in the future.
However, it would be intellectually dishonest for me to say that entertainment has no effect on the culture.
As creators, we often love to talk about how a novel can change the way people think, or how a movie can make us see different segments of society in a different light, or how music can inspire people. The positive effects that art has on culture are always touted by artists. The negative aspects cannot be ignored however.
We’ve all seen or heard of an HBO special called Bangin’ In Little Rock, a documentary about rural white kids in Arkansas who were members of gangs, straight emulating the world displayed on television by hip hop artists (or gangsta rap as it was called back then) and movies such as Menace II Society and Boys In The Hood.
Menace is one of my all-time favorite films. I hate to think that it leads to real life violence because someone wants to be cool like O-Dogg. Even though I never want anyone to NOT make a film as gritty as Menace, Belly, or the classic Scarface, I cannot say that seeing a bunch of kids out in a farm house throwing up gang signals was not a result of what they saw in a film or heard on in a song.
Video games, I’m not as sure about. The only people I see dressed up like Master Chief are wandering around comic book conventions with plastic laser guns in their hand. It’s rare that you hear that someone tried to decapitate someone else because they played Mortal Kombat too many times. Do I think it has an influence, of course. Is it an epidemic? No.
Of all these genres, I do believe music is probably the most influential. Movies come a close second, but the number of people who read extreme fiction or view edgy art is dwarfed 100-fold by people who listen to violent and profanity-laced music all-day, every-day. I’ll save my rant about the abuse of hip hop for another time, but think about it: if you have nothing plugged into your ears (and mind) all day except “nigga what? I’m the baddest nigga in tha world! Beat dem hoes! Slap dem bitches! I got more money from trappin’ than you get from trickin'” … you might have a very hard time appreciating human life or even respecting yourself.
The stories I write are extreme. Sex, violence, language, there are a lot of hardcore elements to my fiction for adults. Dorian Delmontez is a young adult novel so it doesn’t have any of those elements, and I guess that’s the point for me. Balance.
Is our culture overly crude? I think so. Does this type of entertainment influence weaker minds? Certainly. Should be ban or censor edgy material? Certainly not.
The solution to this is the same solution to every social ill we have: knowledge.
If you are an educated person, and a knowledgeable person, you will distinguish between what is entertainment and how you conduct yourself as a human being in reality. Emulating what you see, hear and read in pop culture is the act of a weak mind. So is cowering from it and trying to sweep it under the rug.
Art, especially extreme art, heightens the sense, makes us aware, and bring to light things we might not look at. But it is, and should never be, how a person models their life. Too many are doing that, to the detriment of themselves and our culture.
Instead of imitating art, we should enjoy and learn from it.