74 of 100 DOCUMENTS

	The Boston Herald

	February 7, 2001 Wednesday ALL EDITIONS

	OP-ED; So many to blame in this death . . .

	BYLINE: By James Fox and Jack Levin


	LENGTH: 840 words

	Last weekend's fatal stabbing of 11-year-old Nestor Herrera at a
	Springfield cinema by an acquaintance of the same age has provided
	new inspiration to the legions of media hypercritics and
	scapegoaters who seek an easy solution to the challenge of youth
	violence. Championed by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), advocacy
	groups will likely interpret this horrific incident as more
	compelling evidence for his moral campaign against the excesses
	and indiscretions of Hollywood scriptwriters.

	Yet the questions being asked about the killing focus narrowly on
	the presumed effects of the film: Was the Springfield murder a
	case of copycat behavior? Could the slasher movie "Valentine"
	showing at the Springfield theater, a film which features a crazed
	lunatic seeking revenge against terrified college coeds, have
	inspired the young assailant.

	Such questions yield easy answers, but they also detract from
	finding effective solutions to the problem of our children's
	destructive behavior. While the violence contained in
	youth-oriented slice-and-dice films like "Valentine" may be
	tasteless (in the eyes of mature audiences, that is), it is a
	stretch to blame only the producers, the purveyors and the popcorn
	sellers for this tragic event.

	While the research evidence does show that a steady diet of grisly
	senseless violence on the wide screen (as well as the TV screen)
	tends to desensitize young audiences and make them more
	aggressive, that is a far cry from suggesting that this particular
	violent act was inspired by exposure to a single movie. The causal
	connection is far more complex. It is just as plausible that
	violent kids are drawn to violent films - not the other way around
	- or that violent youngsters are just as likely to act out on the
	playground, in the classroom or at home.

	For that matter, the movie theater surely did not hand out knives
	to intensify the movie-going experience. The killer apparently
	brought his own. The most important question may be: What was an
	11-year-old boy doing carrying a weapon capable of stabbing
	someone to death.

	The real concern should be not about the movie that the assailant
	had just watched but about why a group of youngsters was
	unsupervised before, during and after the movie. Children don't
	need inspiration from Hollywood to act out. A roomful of
	unsupervised youngsters looking to impress their buddies is enough
	of an impetus. The catalyst is often a snide comment, an insult, a
	shove - not a movie character who seeks revenge on screen.

	Of course, the movie industry also cannot be entirely let off the

	How can it continue hypocritically to produce movies that are
	rated "R" (due to their graphic violence or sexual content) yet
	appeal primarily to a teen and preteen audience? How can a movie
	theater be so lax as to allow a horde of unruly underaged
	youngsters into films restricted to audiences over 17 unless
	accompanied by a parent or guardian? And, if the children were,
	as it appears, accompanied by an 18-year-old woman, how can anyone
	pretend that this is what the code of the film industry intended.

	Actually, the motion picture rating system may be more harmful to
	our children than the films themselves. We may label especially
	violent TV shows "M" for mature audiences, but what mature person
	is really interested in scenes of unrelenting barbarism? All the
	rating system and the anemic efforts at enforcing it accomplish is
	to increase the appeal of gory scenes of murder and mayhem. If
	you're not part of the mature audience, does that make you
	immature? Even small children wish to be big shots in the eyes of
	their buddies. It's the media version of forbidden fruit.

	For the victim, this was reportedly his first trip to the movies
	with peers and without parents, an experience described as an
	important rite of passage from childhood to maturity. Going to an
	adult movie would likely have enhanced the feeling of being
	important and grown up, for both Nestor Herrera as well as his
	assailant. For the offender, so would carrying a weapon.

	Regardless of blameworthiness, one tends to find that at least
	three-quarters of those seated in the audience at most any showing
	of R-rated slasher films are not old enough to have driven
	themselves to the theater.

	For most, mommy or daddy provided transportation, as well as the
	price of admission. They did not, however, provide what was needed
	most: adult supervision.

	The solution to the problem of violence committed by pre-teenagers
	is not to censor entertainment but to ensure that kids remain
	kids, at least until they are old enough to understand fully the
	profound consequences of violence. They truly need to be put and
	kept in their place - a place that is right in front of the
	watchful eyes of parents and other responsible adults.

	James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice
	and Jack Levin is the Brudnick Professor of Sociology and
	Criminology, both at Northeastern University. They recently
	co-authored "Dead Lines: Essays in Murder and Mayhem."

	LOAD-DATE: February 07, 2001


	Copyright 2001 Boston Herald Inc.