What it would take for America to move away from violence is a cultural change that opposes both violence and its unnecessary depiction. Just as we have made great strides in moving away from a society where most people smoked tobacco to one where very few smoke – we can move to a non-violent society the same way. The same successful strategy worked on smoking as on driving while intoxicated. First a mass education campaign was developed, followed by a push to make the behavior far less acceptable. When I was a child in the 1970’s almost every adult I knew smoked tobacco, but gradually smoking became no longer viewed as “cool”, then it became no longer “socially acceptable”. In the not-too-distant past, Americans smoked in their homes, inside their cars, and in public places like bars and restaurants – even in grocery stores. Today public places ban smoking indoors and even those who still smoke generally won’t ever smoke in an enclosed place such as a house or a car. It is just no longer acceptable. Who would have thought that one day smoking would be so unacceptable that even smokers would not smoke within the confines of their own home? They go outside and smoke! At one time people thought nothing of smoking in a car with children. The same is true of drinking and driving. As a child in the 1970’s I can recall when people laughed about driving drunk, and joking about driving under the influence was socially acceptable. Today no one would admit to driving drunk or even crack a joke about it. U.S. culture has shifted so dramatically in the course of one generation that to admit to driving while drunk would draw frowns of disproval rather than laughter.
We can do the same thing with violence and with depictions of violence. We must make violence, even on film or in video games, unacceptable. To be fair there is a time and place for violence in movies, and a time and place for minors to view it (for example, educational documentaries or movies on the holocaust or WWII that are age appropriate). We cannot and must not hide the real world from minors. It is neither fair nor appropriate to lie to children about the real nature of the world by hiding reality – but such things as the existence of evil in the world can be introduced without a constant barrage of violence in movies and in video games – especially when the overwhelming preponderance of research is clear that it is dangerous to expose young developing minds to horrific violence repeatedly.
The widespread use of intense violence for entertainment is a symptom of a much larger problem – Americans thirst for, and acceptance of violence. When we make violence and violent entertainment as socially unacceptable as smoking and driving while drunk, then we will have made real progress toward reducing acceptance of violence.