Although this past Monday marks exactly one month since the Newtown tragedy, the shock and pain continues to reverberate through our national conscience. As a country, we have realized that we cannot make sense of this horrific event; we can only attempt to prevent such a terror from happening again.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. Although writing tougher gun control laws is an easier, more convenient answer, it is not the one our country needs, nor is it logical to pursue. Unfortunately, the facts show us that criminals who are determined to get guns will use whatever means necessary to acquire them. After tightening gun laws in Chicago and Washington, D.C., murder rates actually increased significantly.
In the wake of the pain and suffering the Newtown community has endured, we owe this town and future generations more than ineffective, politically-motivated, divisive measures — we need something around which we can all unite to create a safer America.
We must initiate deeper conversation in order to acknowledge and ameliorate the shortcomings of our culture in two significant areas: our entertainment industry and the stigma and challenges related to the treatment of mental illness.
Violence has become an integral part of our entertainment. Last month, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” a movie essentially glorifying violent acts, broke the record for the top-grossing, R-rated movie released on Christmas Day (and the fact that such a movie was even released on that day is somewhat disturbing in and of itself). Yet, this exemplifies the larger problem: We aren’t fazed when our friends pull the trigger on digital guns in Call of Duty for hours on end, nor do we bat an eye when we see kids re-enacting aggressive scenes from television shows to produce laughter from their friends. We may find ourselves relatively desensitized to media violence, and to someone who has blurred the distinction between reality and fantasy, this desensitization can be dangerous.
Additionally, many improvements can be made regarding our understanding of mental illness, as well as our treatment of it. Certain laws currently make it difficult to institutionalize a mentally ill individual until it is too late, and limited funding for such institutions sometimes only provides for a few days of hospitalization, when in reality, weeks are needed for medication to take effect. To many Americans, receiving help for a mental illness is viewed as weak, and those who are mentally ill are often referred to as “crazy.”
We must not despair nor sit idly by. As college students, our role in improving the future of our culture is more crucial than we may realize. We are the next generation of psychologists and psychiatrists, screenwriters and media producers, lawyers and legislators, and ultimately, the next generation of parents. Students at the College of William and Mary are creative, bright and compassionate people dedicated to bettering our world. These are the qualities necessary to start a “cultural revolution” of sorts in American society.
We have the innovation and tenacity to pursue reforms, develop treatments, create movies and video games, conduct research, and establish movements that cultivate new, healthier attitudes toward the entertainment industry and the mentally ill. As future parents, and even today as older siblings, cousins, tutors and mentors, we can have educated conversations with children about mental illness and about peaceful conflict resolution. We can instill in them empathy and respect. We can serve as positive influences, watching and engaging in more age-appropriate, educational, enriching media with them; we can let them remain innocent and unexposed to images of aggression and violence as long as possible.
This is not an overly optimistic outlook, and it is an attainable goal. A less violent, more sensitive and empathic culture is within reach, and we can be the ones to grasp it and make it a new reality.
Email Andrea Aron-Schiavone at [email protected]