Just as I was beginning to think that 2018 is going to be a kinder and gentler year I turned on the television. Definitely a mistake.
Exploding on the screen was an advertisement for a new movie titled Proud Mary. Mary is a killer for hire and the commercial showed me an awesome display of booming handguns and rifles, plus fireballs and violent car crashes. The air was thick with lead as hundreds of rounds were fired in brief clips from the film.
Mercifully it was only a commercial and not the full film, which I will avoid.
I tuned then to the World Junior Hockey Championships and had the misfortune of catching a commercial break in the on-ice action. The commercial was a new Nike creation that shows a nice-guy Canadian hockey player taking his pre-game training run.
In 90 seconds the guy knocks over a row of garbage cans, passes a kid destroying a garage door with hockey stick and puck, terrorizes a motorist, knocks over some mannequins, smashes through a glass plate at the arena and elbows numerous players on ice.
As he skates down the ice he smiles widely, revealing the words Play Less Nice tattooed on his teeth.
The message to Canadian athletes, kids in particular, is that Canadians generally are gentle folks, who when they take to the field or the ice should not play nice.
Am I overreacting by finding the ad offensive and just plain stupid? Maybe I am, because I have heard no complaints or outcries about the ad. And violence has become so common that large parts of society have become immune to it.
Ask people on the street if they feel there is too much violence on television, in video games and other forms of electronic media and a large majority will say yes. Yet violence in media continues to increase.
There are stacks of studies showing that violence in media has become more graphic, more sadistic and more sexual in recent years. There also are hundreds of studies showing that there is a connection between media violence and aggressive behaviour among people, particularly children.
The American Psychiatric Association has reported that by age 18 the average U.S. youth will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence.
Research has shown that people who consume a lot of violent media tend to see the world as a war-like place where aggressive behaviour is normal. Also, the more violence we consume, the less sensitive we become to real-life violence, and less empathetic to the suffering of others.
Perhaps just as important, some people who consume a lot of violence through media begin to see the world as a much more hostile place than it actually is.
A quote in Psychiatric Times some years back keeps coming to mind.
“You turn on the television, and violence is there,” Emanuel Tanay, a forensic psychiatrist for more than 50 years was quoted in the medical trade magazine. “You go to a movie, and violence is there. Reality is distorted. If you live in a fictional world, then the fictional world becomes your reality.”
It is easy to begin identifying with the characters we see on screens. We see the characters solving their problems through violence, and find ourselves imitating them to solve our own.
So according to Nike if you are not achieving what you want to achieve by being a nice Canadian, then play less nice.
Americans play less nice and we see the results. The U.S. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner.
Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries.
Analysis of FBI data shows that 11,000 people in the U.S. were murdered with guns in 2016 compared with 9,600 in 2015, an increase of roughly 15 per cent.
The Nike commercial was created by Wieden and Kennedy, a large American advertising agency. It’s an American message that belongs among Americans, not Canadians.
Unfortunately that’s not likely because most of what Canadians view on television, video games, movies, and video sites like YouTube comes from America.