by Randolph T. Holhut
In the panic
over the "epidemic" of youth
violence in the U.S., we've seen all sorts of over-reactions to a
Much of this over-reaction is media driven, since journalism today consists of simple-minded explanations of complex problems at best, and alarmist hysteria at worst. But it has helped create the climate for things such as these:
Many schools apparently agree with Dr. Laura and the moms in the Redbook survey. Some are doing away with lockers and requiring mesh or see-through bookbags so kids can't hide things. More armed police are patrolling the halls. Zero tolerance is the new enforcement standard. If a student dresses or acts differently from the norm, or happens to say or write something others might not agree with, that student will usually be suspended and/or forced into "counseling."
Today, the Bill of Rights apparently does not apply to any one of school age. Schools are happy to turned themselves into prisons, if only to avoid lawsuits in the extremely unlikely event that a violent act takes place.
And such a violent act happening is extremely unlikely. Despite the media hype about a violent pop culture turning kids into crazed killers, the violent crime rate in the U.S. has been dropping sharply over the past seven years. In 1998, it dropped 7 percent -- the largest annual decline since the 1950s, according to the FBI. Statistically, kids are safer in schools than they are in their neighborhoods or their homes.
So why is there such an overreaction? Because the world is changing in ways that journalists, politicians, clergy, corporations, professional moralists and educators haven't yet accepted. We are now living in a world where information can't be constrained, where censorship is futile, where a generation is growing up seeing how nonsensical are V-chips, filtering software and other heavy-handed attempts to control what kids see, hear or read.
Maybe the best example of this was the season finale of the TV drama "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Due to air shortly after the Columbine shooting took place, the WB network shelved the episode. They were afraid the fantasy violence sequence at Sunnyvale High's graduation -- where the town's evil mayor morphs into a giant, heavily-armed serpent as the diplomas are being handed out and has to be slain by Buffy and her cohorts -- was inappropriate.
So what happened? The episode was aired as scheduled in Canada, and fans of the show there taped it and immediately posted digital copies of the episode on the Net. Many thousands of people have seen it, and are discussing it online. The WB was left looking stupid as a result.
It was another example of how nothing can be kept secret as long as people have computers, modems and Internet access. While polls show that 80 percent of adult Americans blame the Internet and the entertainment industry -- not easy access to guns, poor parenting, a repressive education system or mental illness -- for the Columbine massacre, young people are using the Net to make the politicians, journalists and professional moralists look like idiots.
In the words of author and columnist Jon Katz, one of the top chroniclers of the new realities of the wired world, the Net "has a habit of creeping up on smug, snooty, greedy and self-satisfied institutions and blowing up like a bomb. ... They all have a vested interest in controlling information and behavior. The hackers and the geeks tormenting them, the consumers challenging them, are their worst nightmare. The more they resist and equivocate, the quicker they'll lose and be displaced."
That's the main irony of the Internet culture that the media would have us fear. While we are told that our youth are self-absorbed and lacking in morals, there are a growing number of them online working to build a society that's freer, more rational and more civil.
It's a world where information sharing is the norm, where everyone has an equal opportunity to speak, where no one tries to force moral or religious values on others or pretends they have the sole answer to complex problems. It's a world where the empowerment of technology is creating a genuine democracy where learning and economic opportunity comes through acting on the main credo of the Enlightenment: "Dare to know."
The wired world is not utopia and never will be. But the things that happen there give me hope. No matter how stupidly the powerful institutions in our society act, or how much they demonize our young people, there is a growing cadre of people on the Net that are actively challenging repression. And best of all, they seem to be winning.
July 5, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.