Don't try this at home

By Dawn MacKeen

Published February 6, 2001 9:19PM (EST)

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I cannot imagine what type of programming would be safe to show to a child that would knowingly allow himself to be lit on fire. Showing someone driving a car might make him think he can just get in a car and drive. Certainly no news beyond an occasional human interest story could be shown on television, no crime drama, no Shakespeare. I think we would be limited to "My Dinner with Andre" with the sound turned off.

It is hard to believe the children discussed in this article had not shown other signs of bad judgment before these incidents. Perhaps more attentive parenting could have prevented these tragedies, though I certainly don't mean to make a blanket statement that it is the parents' fault. I know nothing about either family or what obstacles they face.

-- Esther Clark

Instead of having an article that takes an in-depth look into the home lives of children who have committed violent criminal acts, you have an article which instead focuses on how television played the major role in this.

And if that isn't bad enough, the article has no mention of how the news media will openly report, and support, violent acts committed by the United States military in other parts of the world, which probably do more to distort a child's distinction between fantasy and reality, right and wrong, than the WWF ever could.

There are millions of children who know the difference between fantasy and reality who watch the same shows as the very scant minority of children who have committed violent crimes. So did it ever cross your mind that maybe television isn't the only factor in play?

-- Adam Dupont

Television is not at fault when a 12-year-old picks up a 6-year-old and murders her. It had to be fairly obvious that something was wrong if he beat her long and hard enough to kill her. And any parent that blames MTV because their 14-year-old (!) sets his legs on fire is either trying to make excuses for their complete lack of parenting skills or the fact that their child is an idiot.

If the parents truly believe MTV was at fault, it's not much of a suprise that their kid didn't realize he would get hurt IF HE SET HIMSELF ON FIRE -- genes can be a real motherfucker.

Luckily, his Righteousness Sen. Joe Lieberman is done begging Hollywood for money for his campaign, so once again we can hear his sound bites espousing censorship. Good work, Joe, and make sure you concentrate on the people beating each other up on TV instead of actual problems like drugs (I hear the crack in New Haven, Conn., is wonderful this time of year), poverty or the missile defense shield.

-- Dan Gagliardi

I agree that children often don't make the connection between fantasy and reality. But millions of children watch wrestling and other violent programming and do not respond by acting out that violence in a way that causes real injury. When Lionel Tate was killing Tiffany Eunick, was she acting, too? No; unless she was unconscious after the first blow, she was probably screaming and crying. Lionel was not only repeating violent behavior, he was oblivious to the suffering of his playmate. There is more at fault here than the WWF. Not only must Lionel bear some responsibility for his callousness, his parents have failed to instill in him a capacity for compassion.

-- Melissa Dowd

Dr. Spivak's comment comparing media violence to a harmful toy or product requiring recall is hardly an accurate one. Products are generally recalled when directly implicated in accidents or injuries -- for example children's fingers being injured when a joint snaps shut, or parts breaking into splinters that cut or pierce.

Dr. Spivak's comparison would hold only if he would urge a product recall in a case where a group of children play at walking in high-heeled shoes in imitation of Barbie fashions, and one of them sprains an ankle. Unless he would hold Mattel responsible for the child's injury and demand a recall of all fashion dolls with high-heeled shoes, he can hardly use this argument to hold the media directly responsible for children's imitations of violence.

-- Catherine da Graca

Be serious. Any 12-year-old child understands that if you kill someone, they're not coming back. To think that you can blame a TV show for a child's murder is ridiculous. As for the small percentage who you believe can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality, they are the same people who can't understand the consequences of their actions as adults.

Isn't that the point of prison -- to keep the streets free of people who have demonstrated that they can't tell the difference between right and wrong?

-- Eric McIntosh

The fact that television shows are being blamed for kids' actions bothers me for a number of reasons. For one thing, "Jackass" and "WWF" are not shows kids should be watching in the first place. I have a 9-year-old son, and despite his many pleas that "all my friends watch it," I would never let him watch "WWF" or anything remotely like it.

There are always going to be stupid people in the world. The fact that some start earlier than others makes no difference. While the news was on one morning, they showed the "human barbeque" clip from "Jackass." My son was there and we both saw it, both laughing hysterically. But then I asked him, "You wouldn't ever do that, would you?" He said, "What are you, crazy? Why would I set myself on fire?" He's 9 and he knows better. When it comes to the media, sometimes common sense must prevail. I watch many things I don't want my kid seeing. Just because I don't want my kid seeing it doesn't mean I want to be censored.

-- Jamie Sitton

A 12-year-old boy, who doesn't know his own strength, is playing at WWF wrestling with a 6-year-old girl who ends up dying from injuries. He is tried for first-degree murder, found guilty and now faces life in prison for his role in an accidental death.

A young man is skiing recklessly at high speed and runs into another skier who dies of his injuries. This guy is tried and found guilty of manslaughter and is given three months in prison and community service for his role in an accidental death.

>Do you see something wrong with this picture? Am I missing something? As the mother of an 11-year-old boy, I can't believe that kid purposely set out to kill the little girl anymore than the guy set out to run into the other skier. How can he be accused of murder in the first place, let alone convicted? These are tragic accidents, both. Our criminal justice system is skewed way off balance. The tough-on-crime stance turns a tragedy into a travesty of justice.

-- Janis Birkel

While the death of any person, especially a child, is tragic, I find it equally disturbing to see a rise in the "blame the media" game that comes out of cases like these. I think these "experts" have completely forgotten their own childhoods.

During my childhood, I was obsessed with Japanese monster movies like Godzilla and Rodan. As much in love with these characters as I was, I never once believed that Mothra was going to fly in to save me from the bully at school. I knew death was permanent the first time I stepped on a bug and it stopped moving.

This movement to shift culpability from individuals to the media stinks of scapegoating. In my view, the media has the responsibility to say "Don't try this at home, stupid!" They don't have the responsibility to ensure that parents are doing their job to educate their children and keep them from watching shows like "Jackass," which airs at 9 p.m. on a school night. If you're smart enough to hook the cable up to the TV, you're smart enough to say "Do your homework, don't light yourself on fire and don't act like those idiot wrestlers on the WWF."

Chris Rock said it best in his HBO special: "Talk to your kids! Maybe if you said more than 'Mommy be back' to your kid, he wouldn't be so stupid."

-- Tully Moxness

By Salon Staff

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