Boomers Entered the “Violence in Entertainment” Debate

The holiday season is upon us once again, as thoughts turn to what gifts to get grandchildren, nieces and nephews. These days, those reflections are bound to include video games. After a recent conversation with a co-worker, Mister Boomer realized what a dilemma this is producing for many boomers, especially when it comes to the level of violent content in these games.

In our boomer youth, parents did not have to worry about violence in our games. Most of our games were either sports-related or board games. Possibly as violent as they got was, Operation, or maybe Clue (the butler in the pantry with the candlestick). Today, there is realistic violence portrayed in gaming that encompasses shoot-em-ups of people and aliens, bloody dispatch and dismemberment with assorted weaponry, and flesh-eating zombies who in turn get sliced and diced to the Netherworld. It’s a far cry from our day … or is it?

The truth of the matter is, the debate about exposing children to scenes of violence — how much and when, especially — has been a hot topic since the dawn of entertainment. Before World War II, movies were filled with violence (and, horror of horrors, sex!). Historians point to the Roaring 20s as a time of a sense of unbridled freedom for individuals, which was echoed in their entertainment. More than a few eyebrows were raised at what was thought to be the abandonment of morals, and talk of government intervention was already being debated.

After the War, the Boomer Generation produced more children than the country had seen in decades. The perfect storm of more children and the popularization of television were bound to throw a few logs on the debate fire. While proponents of the First Amendment argued the rights of TV writers and producers were unlimited by law, others wondered aloud whether it was time to take a look at those laws.

In 1952, the National Association of Broadcasters adopted a code of ethics as a way of self-regulating, to avoid further involvement of legislators looking to protect children from the evils of the world on this new medium with a proposed Advisory Board. Though there were no clear-cut paths to enforcement or punishment, the code was far-reaching. Included were:
• prohibition of profanity
• prohibition of nudity
• no portrayal of irreverence toward God and religion
• no portrayal of drunkenness and addiction
• no portrayals of cruelty or crime details

.. and perhaps more controversial:
• no negative portrayal of family life (i.e., “family values”)
• no negative portrayal of law enforcement
• “decency” guidelines that stated how performers were to dress

Is it any wonder, then, that boomers watched shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver? The TV westerns of the 1950s showed a great deal of violence, but it was sanitized for viewers. When the bad guy was shot, he’d inevitably grab his chest and fall over, whether that was off his horse, off a roof or balcony, or merely to the ground. Turning his head and closing his eyes were the indication for boomers that this character had met his Creator. There were no wounds present, and boomers never saw a drop of blood. That was the case, whether the show was about westerns, the War or cops and robbers.

In 1976, the broadcaster code was ruled to violate the First Amendment by a Los Angeles federal court. Nonetheless, some semblance of the code remains today.

The path that movies took was similar, but also different. The studios adopted their own set of standards as well, but abandoned it by the middle of the boomer years. Some say French Cinéma Vérité in the 1960s influenced American moviemakers to want to portray more realism in telling their story. Others point to the Vietnam War as influence — called the first televised war because violent scenes of action and trauma and a nightly death toll were displayed on our TVs. Others still look at the the Boomer Generation itself, and a decade of civil unrest and protest, as a contributor to a backlash against regulation of violent content. Compare the war violence of a movie like The Guns of Navarone (1961) to that of The Deer Hunter (1978) and the difference between the ’60s and ’70s is apparent. Despite the added arguments against these depictions, movies of the 1970s are now looked at as a new Golden Age of American Film, exactly for their raw portrayal of life.

As boomers aged, video games appeared and were popularized. The first to appear were video versions of two-player games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Table Tennis; that evolved into Pong around 1972, the one that most boomers will recall as their first serious foray into the genre. There wasn’t much room for violence when the monotone screen had nothing more than dots and lines on it.

The questions surrounding the depiction of violence are still debated. The question of whether the viewing of such violence has an effect on the child viewer, and if so, to what degree, is still unanswered. However, many point to the sophistication of today’s youth in understanding that what they are watching is not real. Something that comes to mind for Mister Boomer is remembering how comic books were thought of in the same way for our generation. Not only that, but rock ‘n roll was going to be a big disruptor of the American way of life.

Meanwhile the holiday gift list awaits. Naturally, the parents have to be consulted in any decision, but maybe this is the year to reintroduce the children to Monopoly and Uno?

What hard decisions have you had to make, boomers, regarding the violent content of video games for your children and grandchildren?

Boomers Remember Voting Machines

As of this writing, 90 million people have already voted in this year’s presidential election, Mister Boomer being one of them. His state has early voting, so he was able to take advantage of that to avoid too long a line. Despite our pandemic circumstances and long waits across the country, what struck Mister Boomer in the process was how he waxed nostalgic for the old manual voting machines.

Every boomer will remember the mechanical voting machine: a behemoth of metal wrapped in a curtain. Walking into this “voting booth,” the voter grabbed a large handle on a lever in the lower middle of the metal wall that housed the paper ballot, and muscled it to the right. This action closed the curtain for privacy and allowed the voter to peruse the list of candidates and other amendments and propositions that would be present for the particular election. The voter grasped small, individual levers located by each candidate and items, and clicked them down to choose. However, clicking the lever did not cast a vote. One of the beauties of this mechanical device was that if the voter made a mistake or decided to change the selection, a mere flip back up of the lever cancelled the selection. When the voter finished going through the ballot and was satisfied with the choices, grabbing the big lever that closed the curtain on entering and pulling it back to the left both opened the curtain and simultaneously recorded the votes, resetting the machine for the next voter. It was an entirely manual lever and gear process, with no electricity or other power source needed.

To boomers, it may seem like this mechanical method was the way people had always voted. However, the history of voting methods in our country is a fascinating one that had significant ramifications for the Boomer Generation. The voting machine that more than likely was the method used by boomers to cast their first votes was not ubiquitous until the 1930s.

It was known as the Myers Automatic Voting Booth, named after its inventor, Jacob H. Myers, of Rochester, New York. Mr. Myers patented his invention in 1889, and slowly built up a following from state to state between 1910 and 1930, when use of the machine dominated voting procedures. It is estimated that more than half of the votes cast in the 1960 Presidential Election between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon were done so on a Myers machine.

It’s hard to believe that the original voting method in the early days of our country was by an oral decree. A paper ballot system was developed in Australia and first employed there in 1856. It was hailed as way to allow a secret ballot by each voter. In 1888, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to adopt the Australian paper ballot system. New York State followed a year later, and the concept spread to the other states. This was the preferred method employed across the country until Jacob Myers introduced his engineering marvel.

As the Boomer Generation was winding down in 1962, the first optical scanner appeared. Some cities in Oregon, California and North Carolina used this two-part method of taking hand-marked ballots and scanning them with an optical reader to record and create a database. A punch card system first appeared in some cities in Georgia in 1964, challenging the decades of dominance by the Myers Automatic Voting Booth.

The Boomer Generation began in 1946. During the early boomer years, the national age requirement for voting was 21, so the first boomer votes were cast in 1967. That means the first Presidential election that boomers voted in was 1968, that tumultuous contest between former Vice President Richard M. Nixon and incumbent Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. The voting methods most states used then was the Myers Automatic Voting Booth, followed by paper ballots. A great many boomers will recall after each election, the folded up Myers machines being stored in the back of school gymnasiums, libraries and city halls.

The first Direct Recording Electronic Voting Machine appeared in 1974. This method allowed the voter to make a choice on a video screen via a terminal. The first recorded use of the device was in Illinois in 1975. The method is not currently in wide use.

The Myers system began being phased out in earnest during the 1980s. Few, if any, jurisdictions will still use the machine in this year’s election. As we can clearly see, voting method was a state-controlled procedure, and now, like then, states don’t necessarily agree with each other. Consequently, there may be more methods for voting this year than ever before. Variations on paper ballots, punch systems and optical scanners rule the day.

Boomers may recall that, after ratification by the states, President Nixon signed and certified the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1970, setting the voting age on a national level at age 18. That gave many mid-generation boomers the opportunity to vote earlier than the previous age of 21. Mister Boomer recalls his early voting days behind the curtain of the Myers Automatic Voting Booth. Since casting a vote was a physical process, Mr. B associates it with his voting experience. His last use of the machine was in the 1990s.

By contrast, his state uses an optical method now where, once the ballot is filled out, is fed into a scanner device to record. As far as Mister B is concerned, the experience sends him back to the days of taking the SATs for college. That was the first time he was given a sheet and asked to fill in the ovals for his answers, making sure he stayed within the lines, yet filled in the oval completely. The stand-up desk with the “privacy sides” attached, used to fill out the ballot, didn’t help dispel that impression.

Certainly every voting method used since the origins of voting have been criticized as flawed, subject to abuse and misuse, and prone to human error. Mister Boomer is not concerned with those trajectories in his little world of nostalgia. Rather, he wonders whether an updated Myers machine might be just the ticket to restore civic pride so voters can proudly procure the “I voted” sticker on the way out, feeling they have, indeed, had a voting experience.

How about you, boomers? When was your first encounter with a Myers Automatic Voting Booth?