A Glimpse of Violence, Copycat Crimes & Moral Values

One night, in the not too distant past, I was watching "Rivera Live" on CNBC. The final two guests on Geraldo's show were concurrently a woman whose teenage daughter was murdered two years ago at Columbine High School and a former FBI agent who is an expert on copycat crimes.

The first guest talked about instilling a sense of moral and spiritual values in our children as a way of preventing their using guns to release frustration, a belief made more poignant by her own personal loss. The second addressed the subsequent incidences and threats in high schools in the wake of the tragedy at Santana High. He noted the increase in similar occurrences which generally follow the commission of violent crimes, crimes which are reported by the media. As an example, he cited his previous work for the FBI investigating bank robberies in New York City. One hold-up would quickly be followed by five more just like it. The show ended with Geraldo blowing his trademark two-finger kiss to the television audience, the look on his face an empathetic mix of sadness and compassion for his first guest, reflecting a glimmer of insight into the complexity of human nature garnered from his second.

Cut to a commercial. Now I am watching a small boy, somewhere in the age range of seven to ten, wooden baseball bat in hand. He bends down, selects a baseball from the collection at his feet, tosses it into the air and smacks it with the bat. The ball flies through the air, then hits and bounces off the side of a house. The boy repeats his actions, time and time again, until the ball finds its target. It sails through a large window, shattering glass. An adult, the woman who portrays the home owner, looks in apparent dismay at the ball on the floor inside the house and walks over to the broken window. She spots the boy through the shards of glass and, get this, thanks him. The Pella banner comes on, and a voiceover announces something along the lines of, "Time for a new window."

I turned off the television with a growing sense of unease. The underlying messages bothered me. Not only was this child being encouraged to purposely destroy personal property, a criminal offense in itself, but it doesn't take an intelligent adult long to draw the inference here. I mean, why would someone need to have a window broken before deciding to replace it if not to file a fraudulent insurance claim?

I won't even address the advertising agency who created the commercial, or the Pella executives who approved it. I assume it was CNBC's decision to run it, and I question the tact of that decision which seems to me poorly timed and in bad taste following the topics of discussion on Geraldo's show: violence, copycat crimes and moral values. Aren't respect for property and honesty two values we would want our children to have? What was CNBC thinking?

The tragedy at Santana High School, the near incomprehensible act of a teenager accessing a gun and using it as a weapon of intentional death and injury, may no longer be front page news. But one of the questions it raised is whether all adults are the role models that they should be. Teaching our children may begin with educating many of these adults. If we are so susceptible to information disseminated by the media which in some cases may encourage copycat crimes, as the FBI expert tells us, it would seem a network such as CNBC would bear some of that responsibility when deciding not only the content of their programming, but also in the commercial messages that are sent along with them.

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Peggy Duffy is a freelance writer in Centreville, Virginia. Her short stories, articles and essays have appeared and are forthcoming in Able Muse, So To Speak, The Washington Post, Washington Flyer, The Chronicle for Higher Education, Friction Magazine, The Woolly Mammoth and Parenting Today's Teen. Her work was recently recognized by the Virginia Commission for the Arts as a finalist in the individual Artist Fellowship program for literary artists.

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