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 Continue to Live in “Interesting Times”

As this year inches toward its inevitable calendar end, it has certainly been one for the history books. This is nothing new to boomers; the old sentiment of May you live in interesting times appears tailor-made for our generation. Boomers have been eyewitness to history since the first boomers appeared in 1946. Our current historical happenings continue the trajectory.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about what happened 50 years ago. It blows Mister B’s mind to contemplate that the year 1970 was 50 years ago! Here are a few interesting tidbits of history from 1970 –– and especially from November of 1970 — 50 years ago this month. See if you remember:

• The population of the country, according to the 1970 U.S. Census, was 204,765,770.

• The median price of a home was between $22,000 and $25,700.

• Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company) was chartered by Congress.

Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for Best Picture.

• The final episode of I Dream of Jeannie aired, after a five-year run on TV.

• The first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in the U.S. was unveiled at a bank in Buffalo, New York.

... and in November of 1970 …

• Tom Dempsey set an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in a game against the Detroit Lions (November 8). Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and had a special shoe created, which enabled his record-breaking kicking career.

Layla by Derek & the Dominoes (featuring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman) was released (November 9). Written by Eric Clapton, it was featured on the double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

• Charles de Gaulle died (November 9). He was a general who led the French forces against the Nazis during WWII, and became part of the provisional government of France after the war. Mister B’s only connection was that his family was on vacation, visiting Expo 67 in Montreal when Charles de Gaulle appeared there and said, “Vive le Quebec libre!” (“Long live free Quebec!”) to the assembled crowd outside Montreal City Hall. It caused a great deal of consternation because there was a separatist movement in French-speaking Quebec at the time.

• The Soviet Union successfully launched, landed and deployed a robotic rover on the moon, Lunokhod 1 (Moonwalker 1; November 17). Just one year after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, it was the first such device employed on the moon. Nicknamed “the bathtub” for its shape and size, its mission lasted ten months. Powered by solar energy, the rover took the nights off, using a thermal energy heater to keep from freezing. The rover was controlled by operators in the Soviet Union, paving the way for future non-manned missions by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the moon and beyond.

• The court martial of Lieutenant William Calley began (November 17). He was the U.S. Army commander during the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam in March of 1968, when Calley and soldiers under his command were accused of killing 300 unarmed civilian men, women and children in the village of My Lai. Calley had asserted his orders to destroy the village came from his superior company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, who was nearby. Calley was the only person put on trial for murder. In all, thirteen officers and enlisted men were tried for war crimes, and another twelve officers were charged in the coverup that followed. After being convicted in 1971 and sentenced to life in prison, his sentence was reduced to twenty years, then again to ten years, following appeals. Calley was released in 1974.

What events stick in your mind from 50 years ago, boomers?