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In a culture that shouts, choosing to turn down the volume is a prophetic act

By Muriel Duncan

It's called Manhunt, it's a video game that has been fairly accessible to kids, and there is every reason why you should know about it.

In Ontario, a "restricted" rating has been put on this game in which the player takes on the role of a former death-row inmate now out of prison, systematically killing his enemies. As a player, you start by putting a plastic bag over your enemy's head, then move on to more violent murder weapons. The more bloody the death, the more points you earn.

That "restricted" order means the video game will no longer be sold to those under 18 in Ontario, denying them the fun of pretending to kill someone with a baseball bat.

Why didn't we notice this was going on? Why didn't we react earlier and set higher standards? This culture acts as though excess were a virtue. Commerce has pushed the message that bigger, louder, faster are better and we've bought and paid for it.

Not long ago I watched a young woman belting out her song, trying desperately to win television's American Idol competition. She was giving it her all, just as she'd seen great performers do. But when she finished, the judge told her: you weren't singing, you were shouting.

That is something most of us need to hear from time to time. It is easy to slip from singing to shouting without any idea that we've gone that far over the top. And all this shouting is doing us in. We jostle for position, shout in word and deed and don't even notice until we've raised the stakes way too high. Violent videos like Manhunt come out of a shouting society.

Too much televised mayhem, too many blood-soaked movies, have skewed our concept of normal. Our tolerance of violence is so high it takes more and more to set off our alarms.

For example, as well-intentioned as director Mel Gibson may be, his movie, The Passion of the Christ, can be categorized as a movie that shouts (review, page 42). By focusing on the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, he ups the level of violence that can be justified. Then he goes several steps further. Judging by some of his past films, Gibson too may be shouting without knowing it. What seems horrific to some of us may feel like a faithful depiction of reality to him.

But possibilities of misunderstanding and blaming mount along with the unnecessary violence in this movie. It is the wrong way to learn about Jesus and his message of love.

In the wider world, shouting, with its "show of force" tactic, drives out careful thinking; quick solutions are preferred. Nightly bloodshed in the streets of Port-au-Prince, capital of Haiti, advancing rebel forces, and American and French pressure led to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation and the arrival of U.S. Marines. But there is no fast fix for Haiti. It will take the slow work of development going on over years and years. If we want to help, we have to take the longer, quieter route.

Violence doesn't have to be our only cue to act. We can ask ourselves earlier if we're on a path into danger. Most of all, we can make a commitment to turning down the sound level. That will be counter to this culture and take patience, but gradually, in the silence, we will hear again.


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