Desensitizing Ourselves

The latest fad in the world of toys is pop musician action figures. McFarlane Toys makes a miniature Alice Cooper figure with a little guillotine, a little severed head, and a little basket to catch it in. From Art Asylum comes an Eminem figure, screaming and swinging a chainsaw, his face distorted with rage and malice. That's only the beginning: The next Eminem action figure will include a dead woman in a car trunk, memorializing the lyrics and cover of the rapper's first album. The company's promotional literature says that "the traditional jack-in-the-box, once the king of every kid's toy box, is being reinvented for the twenty-first century." Its slogan is "Psycho Toyz for Crazy Kidz," and they are being sold in toy stores. You would expect widespread shock, outrage, and horror over this. But if you're expecting any of these things, you'd better revise your expectations. Nobody seems to care. Commenting on Eminem's fantasies of incest, one music critic writes that he is just "one of those charming rogues" -- "indubitably dangerous" but "exceptionally witty," "thoughtful," and "good-hearted." The critic says that if these things bother you, you need to "disable your prejudgment button." Prejudgment means judging before the facts are in, but he isn't asking us to delay judgment about whether the music is evil. He more or less admits that it is. What he means is that we should delay judgment about whether or not evil can be fun. In his powerful book What We Can't Not Know, J. Budziszewski says we shouldn't be surprised by any of this. Our society has been desensitized to evil. Desensitization is one of the ways that an organism adapts to its environment. If you touch the tiny creature called a hydra, it flinches. But if you touch it fifty times, by the fiftieth touch the flinch is much less pronounced. Eventually the hydra stops flinching. Like the hydra, we too have been desensitized. "Mainstream" movies outdo the ancient Roman amphitheater by showing every spurt of blood close up and ten feet tall. Video games allow the player to feel that every time a victim is stabbed, shot, dismembered, eviscerated, decapitated, or burned to death, he is doing the killing himself. Lust and gore beyond the dreams of cruelty fall into our waiting hands. Hardly a word of protest is heard; merely the ironic murmur, "We need more research." You see what has happened. We were touched by abomination, and we flinched. But nothing seemed to happen. We were touched again and again. And by the five-hundredth touch, we stopped flinching. But something did happen. We've become the sort of people who endure the abominable touch and have ceased to notice. In his excellent book What We Can't Not Know, J. Budziszewski explains how we got into this mess and what we need to do to get out of it. I know of no better resource for understanding the effects of sin on our contemporary culture. By the grace of God, the task before us is to be re-sensitized. Instead of "adapting" to our fallen society, we need to seek to be salt and light so that our culture might be redeemed. For further reading and information: Information on Art Asylum's products is posted on this page. Robert Christgau, "Getting Them Straight," Village Voice, 16-22 August 2000 (critic who gives Eminem a pass; warning: profanity). Susan Villani, "Impact of Media on Children and Adolescents: A 10-Year Review of the Research," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, April 2001. J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide(Spence, 2003). BreakPoint Commentary No. 030213, "Reality or Something Like It: Reality TV and Boredom."


Chuck Colson


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