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Baby Boomer Dreaming/BabyBoomerDreaming.com
Did we have violence when we were younger?
By Ray Hanania
The news is constantly filled with reports about violence. In fact, we measure violence now with words and phrases.
Those words are, in the order of magnitude, crime, violence, massacre, serial killing, assassination, and terrorism to name just a few.
When we Baby Boomers were younger, it seems like those kinds of things just didn’t exist in our world. But I think that’s wrong.
My family lived on Chicago’s East Side and in 1966, I remember newspaper headlines about the killing of eight student nurses by a Southern Illinois drifter who was hoping to find work at a Chicago shipyard, Richard Speck, near midnight on July 13, 1966. The murders took place in an apartment building that was being used as a dormitory by student nurses near where Speck had applied for his Seaman’s certification.
Our home was blocks away. When the story broke, we didn’t shut our doors or grab our kids or keep them off the street. The killing was horrendous but the frenzy that we often associate with violence today didn’t exist back then.
We had the Vietnam War on TV every night. Hundreds of soldiers were killed every week, and when one was from a family in the neighborhood, we’d see a red trimmed, silver flag with yellow frills and a Gold Star placed in the home’s window.
That didn’t scare us either. They didn’t put up metal detectors in airports and non-passengers could walk their relatives not only to the airport gate, but inside the plane, hug them and kiss them goodbye and then walk off.
I think the world back then had the same violence that we have today. What’s the real difference?
The mainstream media.
As the economy suffers, the news media suffers. And as the news media suffers, they tend to reduce the number of overall stories, and replace them with fewer stories that are more and more sensational.
Violence was reported differently in the 1960s than it was today.
Americans ignored violence in the 1950s and early 1960s. That apathy was shaken awake first in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was murdered by the Florida and Dallas Mafia, and later as the Vietnam War heightened under JFK’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The idea that an American president could be killed was so shocking, we easily believed the lie that it was done by one suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, and never bothered to ask about Jack “Ruby” Rubenstein’s mob ties when the Dallas bookie walked up to Oswald in the midst of a crowded jail basement filled with armed police and killed Oswald. Rubenstein’s killing of Oswald was broadcast on live television in the middle of the night.
Still, it was so unusual we didn’t panic. We didn’t freak. We didn’t start looking at other people and blame them, although we always blamed Black people for everything else.
We saw the first inklings of that in the coverage of the Vietnam War. When the war was not on television every night for years, it was just a war that meant nothing to most Americans, unless they had a son serving overseas on the front.
It was when television entered the picture in the late 1960s, mainly as a result of the rise of the anti-War movement, that the shocking violence was graphically brought into our front rooms through our TV screens. Many of those TV screens were still Black & White.
The war ended not because we were winning or losing, but because Americans couldn’t stomach seeing their sons being killed every day right in front of their eyes.
Television helped bring the war to an end.
Today, television has exponentially grown from five television stations to literally hundreds and thousands. And today’s news is filled with violence. The majority of the news we watch is news about violence. Today’s media has frightened the American people and at the same time encouraged and enabled terrorism.
Killers then and today often commit violence in order to make a public statement or to make themselves dark “celebrities.” They want the notoriety. That kind of violence easily morphed into “terrorism” because terrorism is about using violence to frighten people or “terrorize” them and to influence policies, practices or societal norms.
The only way to “terrorize” the masses was to reach the masses, which was difficult to do effectively back in the 1950s and the 1960s as easily as it can be done today.
Just today, some criminal planted bombs near the Finish Line of the annual Boston Marathon, killing several and wounding many. The story is on every major cable TV news program, on news reports, on Internet broadcasts, blogs, emails and Twitter.
Suddenly the act one a crazed fanatic has become the source of public fear. Our imaginations have been trained to expect the worst. We see violence today and we suddenly believe it will get worse. Television and Internet news feeds our fears.
We have become a society today of people who expect to see tragedy. We have become a society that thrives on fear. We have become a society that now reacts not to the violence but to the fear of more violence.
And we lock our doors. We talk less to people. Strangers remain strangers. We monitor our children and loved ones more closely, not because we love them as much as we fear for them. Of course we love them, but we can love them while not monitoring their every move.
But that’s what we have become. Fear has been instilled in us. And I blame the news media. The mainstream major news media. They need to sell newspapers. Their advertising revenues are dropping and have been dropping over the years. Tragedy sells more newspapers. Good news fails as a business. Bad news drives the economy.
It’s even in the way we live and breath.
We drive to work and when there is an accident, we don’t slow down as a caution. We slow down to gape. We want to look tragedy in the face because we do believe lightening doesn’t strike in the same spot and if we can see and identify maybe that tragedy will not befall us.
Our lives have changed, but not because there is more violence today than there was when I was a child. There is more violence but the fear of violence has forced us into living like prisoners of fear.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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