Our Epitaph at 50?
On this day in 1969 the newspaper headlines spoke about a massive infantry invasion near Saigon in North Vietnam. 47 enemy combatants were killed with no American casualties. On the same day, the newspaper reported that in the days before Senator Ted Kennedy was pulled from his submerged car and Mary Jo Kopechne, age 29 drowned at Chappaquiddick Island while she was a passenger in a car being driven by the senator. The scandal would haunt him for the rest of his life.
In Bienville Parish, the school board signed off on a desegregation plan for integrating black and white schools. Along the Red River, Shreveport’s famous “shantytown” of homeless and indigent occupants was demolished. In other news, plans to implement an anti ballistic missile treaty with the Soviet Union were stalled in the midst of the height of the cold war. The world was awash with war and possible nuclear annihilation and political scandal and the churning war against the “establishment” by the hew “hippie, free love” movement. America was in turmoil! Soon, oil prices would escalate thanks to the newly formed OPEC and the economy would tank in the aftermath. One of the casualties would be the Apollo space program.
But on this day, America had landed a man on the moon. America had succeeded in putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade. We made it by 5 1/2 months!
I was 14 years old and managed to keep my eyes open long enough to watch Neil Armstrong step off the Lunar Excursion Module onto the surface of the moon at around 2 A.M central time. The dark, shadowy image on my television was difficult to discern, but the enormity of that moment was not. I have shared before how my father and I shared a love for the space program. And, the prospect of one day going into space and walking on the moon was always my greatest dream. But here, in a moment of incredible historical significance, all of the bad news of the world around me was vanquished by the deep appreciation of our combined, unified accomplishment as Americans. For a brief moment, millions of Americans put aside their differences and rejoiced in man’s ability to reach out for the unknown.Read the rest of this entry
A Slow Fade . . . .
If you remember anything about 1960’s television, you remember the original Batman series. Bright, psychedelic colors. Comic book type speech balloons exploding during the scenes. And, of course, Robin with his turn of that famous phrase, “Holy (insert a danger), Batman”.
At the age of 10, I was a DC Comic fanatic. I loved Superman, Batman and Robin, Aquaman, the Flash, and Justice League of America. What I remember well about these comics was the simple stories and the triumph of good over evil and the lack of violent deaths. If death occurred, it was implied and took place off the page.
When I was 12, bored out of my skull in my parents’ home town of Saline on a long summer weekend, I entered the local drug store. They didn’t have drugs, but they had comics. I had read all of the DC Comics available but I had never read a Marvel comic. I talked about this experience in this post, but to summarize: in desperation, I bought a copy of Fantastic Four #66 . As I read the comic, I realized it was very, very different from DC Comics. There was the Thing, a deformed being who was in love with an ordinary woman. Rather than be repulsed by his appearance, this blind woman loved the Thing unconditionally! You mean someone could love even me, this little awkward fat, gestating nerd? I was also shocked when people died in the story. Not off the page, but right there in plain sight. Not particularly graphic, but they were dead and the writers were not afraid to show it. In fact, those brief and infrequent scenes of death were all the more shocking and moving because of their scarcity.
I was hooked! Here was meat where I had been sampling milk and cookies. Here was real angst I could relate to as an adolescent. I went back to the drug store and bought every Marvel comic they had and my fate was sealed. I never read another DC Comic again.
About ten years later, a friend asked me to come over and play Dungeons and Dragons. What is that, I asked? He outlined an interactive role playing game (printed out as a manual, not computerized!) featuring demons and wizards and witches and trolls and goblins. My alarms went off. Did I want to get involved with the occult? At this point in our culture, any such games smacked of Satanism and involvement with ideas that could allow the occult to enter into my life. I kindly refused.
My son was around 11 or so and he approached me about a card game called “Magic”. Together, we sat down and discussed what this card game involves. I saw a natural progression from D&D to Magic, an immersive game that substituted the manual for game cards; collectible cards. But, I realized that the ideas and concepts were very advanced and very mature — mainly for teenagers and adults. So, I told my son, “No” and together we found an alternative, role playing card games from Star Wars and Star Trek and Babylon 5. Sean was a bit disappointed in not playing Magic, but he excelled at the other games. In fact, we visited the 30th Annual Star Trek Convention in Pasadena in 1996 and Sean played a new version of the Star Trek game in a test phase. The developers told me he picked up about a dozen problems with the game playing and they were able to improve the game play before the complete release of the game.
Now, we move on to DOOM. I was not hesitant to introduce my kids to computers. Sean could play on my computer, a Commodore 128, by the time he was 2. He had his own computer by the time he was 5. I started buying him game consoles very early. I wanted him to be an early adopter of digital technology because I knew this was the world in which he would grow up. When he was 13 or 14 he wanted to buy DOOM for his computer. Once again, we sat down and reviewed the game and looked at some of the test screens. My answer was “No”. The graphics were so intensive; the first person shooter was so ruthless I didn’t think it was appropriate for his age. I promised him that by the time he was 16, I would let him play anything that was rated for his age. Instead, he and I played a Mac based game, Marathon. This game had a first person shooter perspective and I was reluctant to play because you could kill human beings and they would explode in gore. But, the game also had puzzles and mind games. I played it to the very end. Sean went on to play all three versions of the game.
I bring all of this up because I have seen a progression in our world. I’ve watched our sensitivity to the value of human life plummet as a society. It is reflected in our art. It started in comic books and movies and television shows as our culture deteriorated into postmodernism. I think the turning point was the Vietnam War. Prior to that period, our views of war and senseless death were sanitized. We did not have television coverage during the Korean War or World War II. But, the Vietnam War afforded the media an opportunity to show real war and death and carnage in its immediate, colorful, raw form.
The media saw an opportunity for personal advancement; for sales; for money; for fame; for awards; and for advancement of anti-government agendas. Now, every day at dinner time, instead of family sitting around the dinner table discussing the ordinary events of the day they were bombarded with gory, bloody stories of this endless, pointless war. Death seeped into our culture, unfettered, unedited, immersive. The world shifted and changed in 1968 with the death of Martin Luther Kind, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the uprise of the war protests.
It has been downhill since then. Funny that the generation that embraced the sanctity of every individual human being led to the civil rights movement and the women’s equality movement also has turned that whole paradigm upside down. Now, there is very little regard for human life unless it is our own. We have become such a self centered, selfish society screaming for our needs to be met. We are so de-sensitized to death and destruction that there are those among us who actually praise the development of a video game such as “Playing Columbine” where you can assume the role of one of the killers in that horrific event and kill high school students with abandon. It’s just a game! It’s just art! It has no relationship to my behavior once I walk away from that game! Get over it!
No, it is not the after effect of such a game I worry about. It is the mindset that allowed it to be developed to begin with and the lack of discernment when one sits down to play it with the thought that there is nothing wrong here. I’m sorry, but after 57 years on this earth I am convinced that ideas have consequences. I am convinced that what we put into our minds and hearts will have an effect on our behavior. What is next? A Holocaust simulator? A game where we can imprison and torture Jewish civilians and become Dr. Mengele and experiment on them before we gas them and throw them into the ovens? Is that where we are headed?
Ravi Zacharias once said “The only thing worse than nostalgia is amnesia.” Are we forgetting what it means to be human?
No matter what spiritual values you may or may not have, there is great wisdom in what Jesus of Nazareth said about what we put into our minds and hearts:
Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
What do we treasure? What are we putting into our minds and hearts? I don’t care what studies do or do not show, common sense tells us that what we put into our minds and hearts becomes a part of what we are and how we act. It has always been that way and shall always be that way!
Tomorrow, I want to share some thoughts from my son on these issues.
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