Monday, December 17, 2012

A Letter to Senator Lieberman Regarding Sandy Hook

Dear Senator Lieberman,

I was on the treadmill this morning and saw that you were doing an interview with Fox News regarding the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Knowing your track record, I fully expected you to blame the unfortunate events on violent entertainment, and you did not disappoint. Every time an unfortunate occurrence like this involves children, it's automatically video games, heavy metal music, etc. who become the scapegoats.

With Columbine, the game Doom and bands like Rammstein and Marilyn Manson were to blame when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold decided to murder 13 people. With the D.C. sniper, it was said that John Allen Muhammad was using Halo to teach Lee Boyd Malvo how to shoot. Professional wrestling, Beavis and Butt-Head, Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, these are all violent forms of entertainment that received incredible amounts of scrutiny over the years. There exist entire books based on the effects of video game violence, and all the ones I've read disprove your theory.

The real problem is supervision, or rather, a lack thereof. Allow me to give you a brief back story of myself. I'm 27-years old, and I grew up loving all of the things that you condemn for corrupting the youth of the United States. My older brother and I received Mortal Kombat as a Christmas gift from our parents when we were 7 and 10 years old, respectively. The following year, we received the sequel as a Christmas gift. While I admit that watching the "Fatality" moves you can perform on your opponents made an impression on me, and I remember verbally exclaiming "Awesome!" when I saw the character Kano rip out a man's heart, I never once thought "I wish I could do that." I watched Beavis and Butt-Head, and I still enjoy watching it today, but I never thought they were the type of characters to be emulated.

Professional wrestling is in a completely different world for me. In addition to watching our beloved Cincinnati Reds together, my father, brother, and I would also crowd around the television to watch the former WWF's "Saturday Night's Main Event." Granted, the product was much tamer compared to what it would become in the mid-to-late 1990s, but I had supervision, my parents were always mindful of the type of media I consumed. I loved professional wrestling so much that I actually became one in 2004, and I've had a fairly successful career without doing any sort of overly violent matches.

If I happened to be watching a scary or violent film with my parents, they were always sure to remind me that nobody was really getting hurt, and that what was going on in those films wasn't real.

I started listening to heavy metal when I was 8-years-old because I wanted to be just like my older, cooler brother and his friends, and that's what they listened to. I grew up listening to bands like Pantera, Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, Korn, and yes, at one point in time I was a rather big fan of Marilyn Manson. The photo of a child holding a syringe on the back of Marilyn Manson's "Portrait of an American Family" album never enticed me to try drugs, because I knew that drugs were harmful, the same with alcohol or cigarettes, and to this day I've never struggled with any of those vices. Why? Because I had positive influences in my life.

I grew up playing video games, I've already mentioned my history with the Mortal Kombat series, but I've also played games like Doom, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Gears of War, Manhunt, and pretty much every other video game that has ever received any negative connotation with it's name. While video games are an interactive medium, and I'm the one using the controller to make Tommy Vercetti run down a bunch of pedestrians and shoot cops, I've never had an urge to react violently towards anyone in my life. I've never shot a gun, or for that matter, even held a gun, and I'm sure if I ever did I would dispose of it at the first opportunity.

I give lots of credit to the original Borderlands as a main contributing factor that my wife and I are so close and even got married to begin with, because we bonded over the game, and we bond even more as we sit on our couch playing the sequel together, and they're both incredibly violent games. Laughably so, in fact. My wife and I are also assistant youth pastors at our church. We play violent video games, we both love professional wrestling, we listen to a lot of heavy metal (however, all of our favorite bands are openly Christian metal bands), and I know with certainty that my wife and I are amazing role models for the teens in our youth group. I'm not going to say that all of these tragic events could have been prevented if the children had God in their lives, and I'm not here to debate religion with anyone, but I am saying that having good, attentive role models in my life have made me a productive member of society, and being a good role model for those kids allows me to produce future productive members of society.

Supervision, Senator Lieberman, that's what I'm talking about. That's what I push for, and what I think you're overlooking. Blaming violent media is very shortsighted and narrow-minded. Let us not forget that the Home Alone films are two of the most violent films I've ever seen in my life, and they're considered family friendly entertainment despite the fact that almost everything that happens in the finales of those films has the potential to cause serious bodily injury, brain damage, or death.

I work in a video game store, and I couldn't count how many times I've had a parent walk into a store with their child, the child requests a copy of the latest Mature-rated game, and the parent just doesn't care. I've never had a parent ask me "Why is it rated Mature?" or "Do you think this would be a bad game for him or her to play?" The only thing that ever happens is that I ask the parent if it's okay to sell a Mature-rated game to their child and they respond with "I don't care." That's the problem, Senator. The problem is not that the games exist, or that the music exists, or that the wrestling exists. What we need is a reform in the supervision of today's youth.

I have four nieces and one nephew, all of which are under 7 years of age. When I heard what happened in Connecticut, I wished more than anything that I could have been with them so I could hug them. I don't write this as a way to attack anyone, or to undermine the tragedy of these recent happenings, I just hate when fingers get pointed in the wrong directions.

Thank you for your time, Senator.

Dustin Thomas