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Thursday, December 15, 2005


Stories create our society

Some years ago I read a book by Jan Knappert called 'Myths & legends of the Congo'. The book was divided into sections devoted to each tribe. Ahead of the stories in each section was a description of the tribe. I could not help but notice the consistency with which there was a relationship between the stories and the nature of the tribe. If Knappert described a particular tribe as being peaceful by nature then invariably the stories that followed were ones that promoted or valued peace. Another tribe, perhaps living very close to the previous one, might be described as warlike. And invariably the stories would value warriors who could fight to death.

This lead me to realise the importance of the stories that our children are raised with. What sort of a society do we want for the future? Do we want a peaceful society or a warlike one? Or to put it another way, would we rather be able to walk down the street knowing we are safe or do we prefer to walk around our neighbourhood in fear of being attacked?

Take a look at the stories that are so popular in Western society today. The format of stories has evolved over the years. Once all stories were transmitted orally. In time they were written down. Over the years they have been published in books that have become more and more sophisticated. But who reads books these days? The majority in our society get their stories through electronic media: movies, television and electronic games.

There are in fact quite a range of stories for us to choose from in these media however I think it is time we acknowledged that stories that promote violence are all too common. In fact they are hard to avoid.

When my children were young I did my best to protect them from such stories. In fact I spent considerable time reading to them from carefully selected quality literature.

During this time the movie Mad Max was quite popular. When it was shown on television I tried to watch it to see what it was about. I could not watch it through to the end. I found the violence far too offensive. OK, so other adults are not as sensitive as I am, I accept their right to be entertained by such movies. However the movie was available on video. My neighbours, a family of five of similar ages to my children, borrowed it from a video shop and watched it together. I know this because my son, David, told me he had watched it at their house. David was less than eight at the time.

No, David did not grow up to become a violent monster from watching that movie. However, he and I had many discussions—every time I caught him watching television that I felt was inappropriate. I would point out that the creators of these stories had made a decision that violence was an appropriate solution to a problem and had written the story to show that the one with the biggest/most weapons always wins. I wanted him to understand that the one with the biggest/most weapons was not always right.

Now David as an adult is probably more of a pacifist than I am. And he is faced with similar problems. When Zack turned two a friend gave him the Spiderman DVD as a gift. The movie is clearly inappropriate for children under about 10 or 12 and Zack wants to watch his movie. David is forced to act like a really mean Dad because friends think this sort of movie is appropriate for a two year old.

I think the incidence of violence in our Western society is far too great. I know it is a complex issue and many aspects must be addressed to improve the situation. However I would strongly urge us as a society to seriously consider why we have such a fascination with violent stories.

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