By now I’m sure most of you have heard about the 12-year-old girl in Milwaukee who was stabbed by her two friends. The two planned the attempted murder in the hopes of impressing a fictional character named Slender Man. The victim survived, helped by a passing stranger and according to reports is up and walking around the hospital (Daily Mail). Which of course means the talking heads can begin leveling charges at who is responsible for this brutal crime. Not surprising they’re blaming the web content rather than the would-be killers.
This morning I had Fox News on and saw a segment about the cultural influence involved in this case. A columnist named John Kass was on discussing a piece he wrote blaming a culture that has “fallen in love with magic and fantasy (Chicago Tribune).” And with magic and fantasy we have also welcomed in evil and dark magic in lieu of religion. Without knowing too much about the accused girls, it’s difficult to say if religion would have made a difference in this crime. Clearly there is something wrong with the pair that they thought murder was a good idea. Would they have found something else to appeal to their interest in the macabre and gore? How about an old Stephen King novel? How about “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare? There’s stabbing in that. No one ever complains that learning history forces out religion and replaces it with evil. Children in school now will (hopefully) learn about the history of our country and the rest of the world. They’ll see that there is real evil that exists. The evil of World War II and the Holocaust, the killers like Charles Manson who so cavalierly took the lives of others, the evil that many of us saw first hand on September 11th. For me 9/11 was the first time I was truly aware of evil in this world, but it didn’t detract from my faith in God. Why is it fiction bears the brunt of blame when two pre-teen girls try to kill and not the parents who weren’t paying attention? Slender Man is apparently popular with man people, why is it they haven’t killed?
Fellow twenty-somethings who grew up while Harry Potter was first coming to popularity can remember how groups came out trying to ban the books from our libraries and classrooms. I can recall a family gathering I had brought a copy of “Prisoner of Azkaban” along to read and a relative asked, “How can you read that, Sara? It’s so dark.” To which I, a plucky 13 year old, replied “Have you read it?” No. Instead of reading the book, it was simply condemned as being full of evil and dark magic. There was a friend at my Lutheran grade school who wasn’t allowed to read the books which made her all the more eager to get her hands on them. To the point we would find dust jackets the same size as the Harry Potter books so she could smuggle them in and out of her house. To my knowledge she has never attempted to perform the Crucio spell or converse with He Who Must Not Be Named. There in lies the problem, people would rather condemn and assign fault to books they’ve never read or websites they’ve never seen instead of putting the blame where it belongs with the girls who perpetrated the crime and parents who gave them too much free rein.
Is it the fault of what exists content wise on the Internet and in books? Or is the fault of the parents who let their children have unfettered access to sites that warn only people 13 and older should be there? We’ve reached a point in our society where it’s bad manners to point out a lack of parental involvement. The desire to be a child’s best friend instead of the strict parent has over taken common sense. It’s easier to park a child in front of an iPad instead of playing a game with them. Blocking channels, restricting Internet access, watching or reading something before giving it to your child has fallen by the wayside in an effort to be “the cool parent.”
I have genuinely cool parents. Growing up I was allowed to read most books and watch things in the home with parental approval and if I had questions I was encouraged to come and ask them. Instead of marking things as taboo, restricted, and ultimately tempting to sneak, everything was on the table for discussion. There was no confusion over what was real and what was fictional. Would things have turned out differently with these girls if their parents knew what websites they were visiting? If they sat down with them and had a discussion about the fact that the Slender Man isn’t real?
John Kass begins his column asking “What kind of culture produced those two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls charged with stabbing a classmate 19 times?” I would rather ask: what kind of parents produced those two 12-year-old? Does the fault lie with the Internet or the parents who let their children run wild on the Internet?