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"Five Dead in Arkansas": What Were You Expecting?

        Over the last 30 years, American society has soaked itself in movies that rely on violence, gore, and
        gruesome special effects. For at least part of that time, the rating system and the cost of movie tickets
        meant that most kids didnít regularly get drenched in sewage. Yes, I saw The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
        when I was a kid, and it horrified me. But that happened once, because my sister and her husband
        wanted to see it, and they took me along.

        A generation of children is now growing up repeatedly exposed to degrading and desensitizing trash.
        One cause is the mindless pursuit of the ultimate special effects. Movies such as The Terminator,
        Terminator 2, Casino, and Bladerunner have made bloody gunshot wounds, evisceration, and methodical
        and graphic torture a part of the common culture of America. This may not be any great danger to
        stable, well-adjusted adults, but because of video rental, and the selfishness of a lot of parents, itís not
        just well-adjusted adults who see these repulsive forms of brutality every weeklyóthe kids are seeing
        it, too. We are now seeing the horrifying results.

        My daughter came home one day from fourth grade and informed us that she was one of only three or
        four kids in her class who hadnít seen Basic Instinct. In fourth grade? Just what impressionable kids
        needóa film with sex, violence, and adultery stylishly combined. (No, I didnít see Basic Instinct; thatís
        why movie reviewers exist.) I have since found out that Rohnert Park (and I suspect the rest of
        America) is full of parents who either donít understand how destructive a steady diet of this trash can
        be to kids, or are too selfish to delay wallowing in the mudpile until the kids arenít around.

        "You raise your kids the way you want, weíll raise our kids the way we think is best." Itís an attractive
        thoughtóif we raise our kids right, it doesnít matter if other kids are raised poorly. Thereís only one
        little problem with this charming and very individualistic theoryóitís "middle school," where you either
        conform, or pay the consequences.

        Eighth grade was difficult for me 25 years ago. Even then, violence was a problem; three bullies
        attacked me all year long, finally breaking my wrist, but at least there were some rules. Boys didnít
        beat up on girls, and there were only a few bullies. Even the bullies didnít sink that low.

        We now have a generation of kids who have grown up soaking in violent movies and music that reduces
        romance to a form of violent sexual degradation. (I found Marilyn Mansonís album Smells Like Children
        over at Blockbuster; I would reproduce the song titles, but even the versions with asterisks replacing
        most of the letters are beyond what any newspaper would print.) Even then, I was not prepared for
        what happened when my daughter reached middle school.

        For much of seventh grade, she developed stomach problemsófive days a week. We thought that she
        was stressed by the academic demands of school. Much later she told us the truth. Threats, intimidation,
        and violence were at least weekly and sometimes daily events. "Bitch," "ho," and "slut" were the
        normal modes of address to girls. Boys would introduce their girlfriends with, "This is mah bitch."
        (Remember: these are middle class white kids.) We have overheard conversations between her
        classmates that, after editing for television, contained too few words to construct a sentence.

        The notion that boys donít beat up girls is goneócompletely. One boy, on the last day of the school
        year, shoved my daughter into the bushes and spat on her. The level of threats was so high that she was
        afraid to tell us what was happening. My wife and I only figured it out when the threats started arriving
        by phone. (Not surprisingly, our daughter doesnít go to public schools anymore.)

        We donít blame the school. As near as we can tell, they are trying. But itís hard to take lots of kids who
        have learned violence, vulgarity, selfishness, and misogny from an early age, and try to fix it during the
        school day.

        When I find out the movies that kids are watching, on top of all the traumas that omnipresent divorce is
        creating in America, I donít find what happened in Colorado surprising. I find it inevitable.

        Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer and historian. His fifth book, Concealed Weapon Laws of the
        Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform was published by Praeger Press in 1999.