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Colorado's carnage is inevitable in our culture of violence

We have surrounded ourselves with violence. It is everywhere we turn. It is in our music. It is on our televisions. It is in our movies. It is on our video games. It is prominently featured in print media and on popular Web sites. If it bleeds it leads, and it leads because it sells.

Tuesday's massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., was not an aberration. It was and is a fact of modern American life. Yesterday, the Associated Press published a list of school shootings from the 1997-98 academic year. Add Littleton to this reading of the roll:

In October 1997, a 16-year-old boy in Pearl, Miss., killed his mother, then went to his high school and shot nine students.

In November of that same year, three students were murdered and five more were wounded at Heath High School in Paducah, Ky. The shooter was a 14-year-old boy.

In March 1998, four girls and a teacher were killed and 10 others wounded during a false fire alarm at a middle school in Jonesboro, Ark. Two boys, ages 11 and 13, lurking in the nearby woods, opened fire as students and teachers emerged into the kill zone.

In May, two teenagers were killed and more than 20 people were injured when a 15-year-old boy opened fire at a high school in Springfield, Ore. This shooting spree overshadowed the murder of an 18-year-old high school student, two days earlier, in Fayetville, Tenn. A classmate killed him in the school's parking lot, just like that.

What happened in Littleton this week and across the country last year will happen again, somewhere in America, and soon. How can it not? Ours is a culture that glorifies violence, profits from it, sells it with the most advanced technology known to mankind. Violence bounces off satellites in outer space and beams into every American home, every hour of every day, every month of every year.

A group called TV-Free America recently published a set of statistics that describe what is really happening in our homes. The data, even if one assumes exaggeration, do not lie. Consider:

Every week, the average American kid between the ages of 2 and 11 watches 1,197 minutes of TV and spends 39 minutes talking with his or her parents. Fifty-two percent of kids between 5 and 17 years old have a TV in their bedroom. Every year, the average teenager spends 900 hours in school and 1,500 hours watching television.

In any given period during prime time viewing hours, there are at least 50 people killed, shot, maimed, or raped across the spectrum of broadcast and cable television channels. Eighty percent of television producers believe there's a link between television violence and real-life violence. Fifty-four percent of local television newscasts are devoted to stories about crimes, disasters, and wars.

And that's just television. These data do not include the time kids spend listening to ''gangsta'' rap and heavy metal, playing Death and Dungeons, watching violent movies (on video and in theaters), and perusing the Internet to visit Jolly Rodger. If they go to Jolly Rodger, they can learn how to build a bomb.

American society is sitting on that bomb, waiting for it to explode, making money on it in the interim. The television networks, the major movie studios, record companies, video game software producers, print and other media are spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to adapt children to this diet of violence and carnage. Once addicted, they'll want more of it, which can and will be provided at a slightly higher price.

The success of this effort can be seen in the stock pages. Time Warner, CBS, GE, Fox, Sony, Disney, Interscope, and many, many other great and not-so-great corporations have all seen their shares skyrocket in value. Investors who have profited from this bonanza may include residents of Littleton, Colo.

In the 1980s, evangelical groups tried to lead boycotts against entertainment and media companies that produced and broadcast gratuitously violent fare. Their efforts met with some success at the grass roots and nothing but scorn from media elites.

In 1996, Robert Dole sought to make cultural and media violence a major theme of his presidential campaign. He was called a ''faggot'' and ''anti-Semitic'' for his efforts. Hollywood's contempt for public concern about the ceaseless stream of violent media was perfectly captured in a quote from Ted Field, the Marshall Field-department-store-heir and co-founder of Interscope. ''You can tell the people who want to stop us from releasing controversial rap music one thing,'' said Field, ''Kiss my ass.''

Either we change it or we don't. If we don't, then don't be surprised when the next Littleton happens. And the one after that. And the one after that. Littleton is just a piece. The larger whole is a society collapsing under the weight of its own recklessness and irresponsibility.

John Ellis is a Globe columnist.

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 04/22/99.

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