Last week, a video was circulated on YouTube, showing two teenage girls in a fist fight with each other. The video, which lasted almost nine minutes, depicted an ugly, violent fight between the two students at Lynn English High School in Lynn, Massachusetts. Blood is drawn as punch after punch is landed between the two students. As violent as the video was, though, it wasn’t just the image of these two girls fighting that caught the attention of thousands of viewers across the country. What stunned most everyone who saw it, was what also appeared in it: Over 30 other students, circled around the two girls, egging the two on and shouting encouragement during the entire video – even when one of the girls’ heads was smashed against a stone wall. Not one of the students – not one – stepped in to stop the fight, to call for help, or to do anything.
This event says a great deal about our culture in this country. The problem isn’t limited to Lynn; nor is it limited to Massachusetts. Rampant violence among teens and people of all ages, whether seen on a high school campus or in road rage on the highways: Increasing incivility, indifference, cruelty and apathy. It is a national problem, fueled in no small measure by the violence in the media that both young people and adults are toxically exposed to on a daily basis. Making matters far worse than in years past, the violence marketed to youth isn’t limited to movies any more: It’s sold in violent video games, containing the most barbaric, most twisted, most inhuman savagery ever witnessed. These are the type of violent video games that the U.S. Supreme Court recently prevented the State of California from regulating in any way concerning minors. Readers of this blog know that I’ve blogged previously on the subject of the sale and rental of violent video games to minors. In general, the increasing level of violence in this country is fueled by violence and depravity in the media. Rationally, there is little if any question about this. And those who deny it doubtless have financial interests in the media and the video game industries. Those who defend the manufacturers of violent video games are scarred by dishonesty and sophistry. Even more loathsome are their defenses advanced under the highbrow aegis of the First Amendment and “commercial free speech.”
The students in this incident at Lynn English High School weren’t charged criminally. But if they had been, the charges could have included assault and battery or assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, among charges. Instead of proceeding along criminal lines, officials at Lynn English High took a far more effective tact: Aside from the suspending 29 students who watched and encouraged this incident, which is nothing more than a “slap on the wrist”, they ordered each of the students to write an essay on the lessons learned from the 1964 murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese. This murder was one of hundreds committed across the country that year. So why was it so historical? Because over 38 people watched out their apartment windows, each without so much as lifting a finger to help, while Kitty Genovese was slowly stabbed to death on the street below. No one did anything. You can do more than click on the one link I’ve provided here about that historical event. Just Google her name.
A low point in the history of this country; a compelling sociological study. But perhaps it wasn’t unique to New York City; Perhaps it wasn’t unique to this country. Perhaps it is an anthropological issue; one indicting the nature of humanity. Whatever the reason, perhaps this sickening event can, almost 50 years later, teach these youths what it means to reach for the better angels of our nature.
Let us hope so.