Sunday, December 6, 2009

Andrew Conley: Some Troubling Questions

First it was school shootings, the most notable of which was Columbine. Now its thrill killings. There was a case in Missouri of Alyssa Bustamente, who at age 15 allegedly murdered a 9 year old neighbour and friend of her little sister.

Right on the heels of the Bustamente case comes the case of Andrew Conley, who allegedly killed his 10 year old brother when his parents were at work. AOL news reports on Conley's explanation for murdering his little brother as follows.

"The teen told investigators he had had fantasies about killing someone since he was in eighth grade, including cutting somebody's throat, and felt "just like" the serial killer Dexter on the Showtime television series of the same name.
"Like I had to ... like when people have something like they are hungry and there is a hamburger sitting there and they knew they had to have it and I was sitting there and it just happened," Conley said in the affidavit."

There was no reported conflict or enmity between the two brothers that would explain Conley's action. Cutting behaviors and other bizarre behaviors are reported to have preceded the killing.

It seems that "thrill killings" and school shootings have become more frequent. We live in a time when "inappropriate" and "unacceptable" have become the terms most prevalent in censuring wayward behavior. What happened to "wrong" and "immoral"? The greatest fear today is of being judgmental. In the absence of any moral absolutes, we are left with the shifting sands of fashion.

Forty years ago, it was far more frequent for parents to use corporal punishment. In the world we have created, children no longer fear being hit by parents or teachers. The fear children have today is of each other.

It seems to be far more difficult to grow up today than it did a generation ago. With all of the new freedoms and alternative life styles open to young people today, they seem less happier than ever.

There can be no search for extenuating circumstances for Bustamente and for Conley. The thought of a bleak life behind bars must serve as a deterrent to those who are psychologically on the edge to seek help while they are still on the right side of the law.

When a town has a spike in cancer deaths or heart attacks, it checks the water, the air and the food supply to look for causes. As the Conley and Bustamente cases work their way through the courts, we must ask ourselves why there has been a spike in such occurrences, and what could prevent them. Conley gave one clue to the questions we should be asking ourselves when he cited a character on TV named Dexter who was a serial killer with whom he identified.

Although Conley was clearly troubled without any coaching from "Dexter", his statement to police raises a troubling question. We accept that advertising can influence consumption and behavior. Corporations will even pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a well placed 30 second commercial. How can we deny that a show can influence behavior when we admit that the commercials that pay for it will?

Millions of people smoke and never get cancer. But a large number do get cancer and other illnesses. For their sake, we crack down in various ways on tobacco. When will the same logic be applied to social carcinogens? This raises troubling civil liberties questions. How can we educate and redirect rather than compel? It is clear that our entertainment is shaping our social behavior. What are we going to do about it?

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