Lisa Levey sees violence in everyday life, violence in entertainment, and violence in her family and wants to know: “why”?
The other day I was walking through the middle of Times Square in New York City on my way to a conference. A guy walking behind me was on his cell phone and I heard his part of the conversation. It went something like this:
“You’ve got to let the kid fight. You’ve got to let the kid play sports. He’s going to become an f’n faggot and you’re going to find him asking for your breasts one of these days. When he’s wrestling on the floor, he just wants to roll around. He’s got to learn how to f’n punch. He’s got to learn how to f’n fight.”
The guy was only a few feet behind me and I purposefully didn’t look back. I wondered what kind of man would have that conversation. I didn’t want to make assumptions. When finally I had to turn down another street, I glanced backward to take a look. What do you think I saw?
It was a pretty run of the mill white guy, medium height, brown hair, dressed in business clothes—khaki’s, a button down shirt, dress shoes and some kind of briefcase. Probably in his early 30’s. Was I surprised? No and yes. No because I really hadn’t formed a picture of whom this guy might be. Yes because he was so darn ordinary—some Joe Smo on his way to his work on a Monday morning.
Truth be told, the conversation stopped me in my mental tracks when I first tuned in. I’m the mother of two sons (ages 12 and 16) and I struggle on a regular basis with the violence in our culture. My hope is to teach my boys about kindness and finding healthy ways to channel their aggression. They are hardly violent kids—really quite sweet—but they certainly have their moments as brothers when they get under each other’s skin and irritation devolves into someone whacking someone else. They’re drawn by the powerful forces of video games, sports, cop shows and action movies as is my husband (who in my jaded opinion might be the sweetest man on the planet.) All of these entertainment forms hold little interest for me and I struggle to understand their appeal.
I was at a friend’s house recently and the violence on TV was so visceral that I had to walk out of the room. There was a killing sequence in Breaking Bad that shocked me, one horrific violent killing after another in a rapid fire montage ending with a man being thrown in a room, doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death. Next up was a detective-type show where the death of a young teen age transgender kid, buried alive, was found to be at the hands of his older brother. I literally had to go in the other room because the images felt so disturbing. The next night, coming home late from my business trip and not being able to fall asleep, I tuned into David Letterman to see a scene from Wolverine with him speeding atop a bullet train trying to throw the other guy off. Hugh Jackman shared his excitement in watching the final product one early morning with his 12 or 13 year old son.
Watching my sons, like most little boys, gravitate toward warriors, ninjas, the good guys and the bad guys, swords of foam and wood, giant soaker water guns—benign typical stuff—I’ve worked hard to understand the attraction and not demonize what interests them. But I have to admit I struggle mightily with this whole thing, rampant violence wrapped up with an entertainment bow.
I’ve seen a lot of anger, and some violence, in my own family. My older brother, the only boy in a family of six kids, got the short end of the stick. In my divorced family, there was no room for his energy, his boy-like, exuberant ways. He got hit as a solution to keep him in line. It never worked. He in turn punched holes in the walls of our house as a way to deal with his sadness, his hurt, his frustration. He was a very good athlete, a hockey player, but that outlet was insufficient to dissipate the pain. He continues to struggle mightily in his adult life at 50 something. Underneath all that aggression, underneath his seething anger which gets directed far and wide, at people he loves and at some random jerk who cuts him off in traffic, is just a little boy in a man’s body who didn’t get to feel safe when he needed it most.
A have not spoken to this brother in over five years. The last time I saw him, on a Christmas several years ago, he made some cutting remark about gay men. I inquired, “Why do you care who someone sleeps with? Who someone loves? With all the pain and judgment you felt as a child, why would you want to put more of that energy into the world?”
I guess he felt I was judging him, not understanding his point of view, and maybe I was. Despite my attempts to call him multiple times since then, he has never returned my call. It breaks my heart. I just don’t get it.
So I solider ahead, trying to find my way. I want to understand the male energy, to understand the male point of view. I don’t want to stand in judgment, but based on the pain I’ve felt, the pain I’ve seen among people I love dearly, I just don’t get the violence thing. I fear I never will.