Our society is a violent one. It always has been. Wars, lynchings, riots, terrorism—these things have existed since the beginning of time. I’ve heard people blame TV, books, and video games for today’s youth predilection for sex, foul language, and violence. My first response is, give teens a little more credit for their reasoning and decision making. Just because they read something or see something, doesn’t mean they will actually go out and do it. The teen years are when our children are most likely not to do something just because someone told them to.
Kids of the 1950s watched sweet and funny Leave It to Beaver yet they still went to school and got into fights. Teens of the 1980s read the innocent Sweet Valley High books, yet they still had sex in the backseats of cars on Friday nights. Same goes with our current era. You’ll find violence, sex, and offensive language in some TV shows, like Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf, and in some bestselling books, like Divergent, Hunger Games, and Perfect Chemistry. Do our kids still cuss and get into fights and have sex in the backseats of cars? Well, yes, of course. Does watching this kind of behavior on TV or reading about it in books cause teens to imitate it? Maybe, but it’s doubtful.
Again, give our teens a little more credit. Despite what some people think, the entertainment industry does not need these elements for success. Look at Switched at Birth on ABC or the bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. These are two excellent examples where violence, sex, and extreme language are at a minimum, and yet the show and book are both exceedingly popular.
How much is too much? Well, that’s up to you, the consumer. If you don’t want to be exposed to certain content, then look at the ratings and choose accordingly. Different TV networks show varying degrees of sex and language and violence, just as different publishers have guidelines for what they will and will not print. If you are a parent, then guide your teen or child toward smart entertainment choices. Are they going to defy you sometimes? Yes, they are kids—after all, and that is their job. Just like it is the job of the parent to set parameters and discipline when necessary.
I was in high school not too long ago. I watched TV and read magazines and very few books (I was one of those reluctant readers). But as I think back on that span of years, what I read or watched on TV did not bleed over into my everyday life. Sure, I fantasized the story lines, but my day-to-day decision making was based on my parents and home life, my friends, and my activities at school.
When I decided to write Killer Instinct, I made a conscious decision: I wanted to write exactly what and how I wanted. I didn’t write with the reader, or my agent, or my editor in mind. I wrote for me. It was the first time I ever dropped the F bomb in my writing. It was the first time I ever wrote a castration scene (which later got cut from the book). I didn’t censor the sex or language or violence. I pushed the envelope, and then I pushed some more. Everyone has a dark side, and mine truly came out in this book. Do I expect my readers to suddenly become serial killers? Absolutely not. I do expect them to create fan art and express their emotions in a healthy way just like I did.
As with my other books, I didn’t do a whole lot of research before I wrote Killer Instinct. I tend to dig for facts as I go along. I’ve now read pages upon pages of information on killers and violent crimes, combing through myriad facts. What you learn from the research is that some perpetrators had extremely violent childhoods, others come from seemingly loving homes. Some have psychological issues, while others went through some sort of trauma. But nowhere did I read that books or television caused them to commit their violent acts.
So where to from here? Embrace reality. It can’t be stopped. Embrace the art of entertainment and understand it as a means of social change. It’s supposed to make you think and ask questions. Choose what you do and don’t expose yourself to. And raise children to make smart and thoughtful entertainment choices. (Then slap them upside the head when they don’t.)