Saturday, August 21, 2004

"Al tikrar biallem il hmar"*

My soul shudders when I see clips on CNN of the midrasas in the far reaches of Pakistan where young children absorb a combination of Islam with a virulent strain of anti-US hatred. The other day I was reflecting on this disturbing aspect of "that culture," when the images from the film with Robin Williams called Toys came to mind. Remember the Christmas-time flick from a few years back which portrayed an intentional military-toy industrial complex conspiracy to train Americans children to kill with video games and other toys? We recoil in horror at the training given to a portion of a generation of Arab-Muslim children, but how much pause do we give the training our young ones receive while playing video games? And to what extent does our media machine inculcate a strain of potentially virulent anti-Arab messages?

I started thinking about an article I once shared with my government classes. U.S. army officer and expert in the psychology of killing, David Grossman, made a case for banning certain video games from mainstream society because they were training kids to kill. The story ran as the Christianity Today cover, August 10, 1998, "Trained to Kill."

I mentioned this to a psychologist friend of mine who immediately poo-pooed this concern, but I hold to it. Just because, thankfully, he and his family don’t train their children to direct the killing skills of these video games to a certain ethnic or religious groups doesn’t mean that these games are not training American kids to be killers. I might add that for all of his family’s loving ways—there are millions who do articulate hatred for a variety of folks—especially those who appear to be among our country’s enemies.

Combine this concern with the one I heard raised last week in a recording of a book signing by Jack G. Shaheen, author of Reel Bad Arabs; How Hollywood Vilifies a People. In a study of 900 films, he tells of “the persistent and prolonged vilification of Arab peoples in mainstream Western movies.” (Okay, so I watch C-Span book reviews...) Shaheen expresses in a most articulate and passionate way his concern over the way slanderous stereotypes Americans have affected honest discourse and public policy." In his opening pages he quotes an *old Arab proverb, Al tikrar biallem il hmar-By repetition even the donkey learns. He decries a century of Hollywood "tutoring movie audiences by repeating over and over, in film after film, insidious images of Arab people."

I wonder--between Disney's Alladin and the evening news-- what images are being repeatedly given to our children of Arabs without any counterbalance? Could this be an unintentional parallel to the midrasas?

What prompted me to write was this weekend's New York Times Magazine story on "The Making of an X Box Warrior". Read it and speak. Is the American media machine from video games to the cinema not training our kids to kill and hate but in our own special way?

Consider this quote:

"Some military experts argue that while it is possible for the games to provide useful training for terrorists, the benefit of some of these games to the Army far outweighs any potential security hazard its theft might pose. ''This is going to give us a bigger edge than it gives to somebody else,'' said William Davis, who heads the lab that created the virtual weapons for the recruitment game America's Army. "


B. S. Denton said...

This begs the question (at least for me) of how linked our violence is to our society, or our very humanity. Anybody else read Fredrick Jackson Turner's book on the idea of the frontier and how violence is channeled by the frontier concept? I wonder how much of the violence in our media accurately reflects the violence within ourselves . . . and how much our media feeds the violence within us. Could this culture of violence exist as a representation of our basest fears, or could it act as a purging force, or what? We're all violent creatures, yes? And yet I for one have been able to successfully channel and control the violence I feel, even after playing video games. It's a quandry.

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

I am not making an argument that the video game thing is inherently bad, but I think we need to recognize its training aspect. I realize that hatred is not always part of playing violent games. However, it never hurts to try to take a big step back at our culture and see what we are doing. I think sometimes we look down on other cultures and maybe we are doing the same thing.

Anne-Geri' said...

It is amazing how many big obvious things (t.v., games, movies, etc.) shape our culture, not to mention the way we view others. But, I'm sure you agree, what about those not-so-obvious things? Things like an offhand comment, a condescending look, an eye roll, a whisper ("they're, er, hispanic"), or telling our kids how glad we are to live in a our "part of town" (in other words, "I just love rich, white people"). These things are behaviours which come from the values we have been taught. I don't want my children's opinion on Arabs come from any other source than from a loving, peaceful God. So that leaves a huge responsibility for me to make sure my looks, comments, etc. come from a clean heart.

Quiara said...

This also makes me wonder about the value we've learned to put on lives. I couldn't help but think of "war games" and the number of people who die by "friendly fire." The fact that they're designated "games" is reprehensible.

Reminds me of a quote, too, though from M*A*S*H (hey, I've got 5 seasons on video, what'd you expect?):

Hawkeye is talking to a general who, through repeated attempts to take a target has a high rate of fatalities for his unit. Hawkeye questions him about it.
General: We got 300 of them.
Hawkeye: How many did we lose?
General: Our losses were insignificant.
Hawkeye: How many kids in an 'insignificant'?

Not entirely related, but something I think about. Particularly at times like the present.

Mark said...

great work; your comments are always insightful, and always feeding my ever-growing addiction to blogs. thanks