The Rapist in Our Living-Room
The Rapist in
Our Living-Room

Carlos Amantea

        When the stranger first came to our house, we thought that he was merely stupid, with his song-and-dance, vapid words, the silly things he did to make us laugh. But we noticed that the longer he stayed, the more angry he became. First there was the yelling and the fist-fights, but soon enough there were shootings, knifings --- even murder. He had a strange fascination with seeing people get hurt.

        We would happily have run him out of the house but be had brought something else with him. It was a kind of void. By the time we realized what he had done, he was so deeply entrenched in our world it was too late to be rid of him. We just couldn't seem to free ourselves from the rage he brought with him.

--- From Our First Television Set


y friend Jesús came over the Mexican border not long ago. He doesn't have the necessary documents, so we had to sneak him over. He says the passage wasn't dangerous. He and his coyote lay all night in a drainage ditch until the INS agents went off to breakfast. Then the two of them ran a mile to a gas station in the mountains where a friend of mine went over and picked him up.

This was his first time in the United States. His friends on the other side ask me how he's doing in "Gringolandia." "He's dyed his hair blonde, he speaks perfect English, and he's found a rich American woman to marry," I tell them.

The truth is his hair is still black, his English faulty --- but he has become quickly enculturated. His favorite occupation is going to Wal-Mart or Costco and spending his hard-earned money on Jeans, T-shirts, and Adidas. He also brow-beat me into buying a $99 Goldstar TV for him to take home to his Mum when he leaves next month.

The other night we were watching television. It was a low-budget action film made in Hollywood, dubbed into Spanish, with noisy electronic music noodling about in the background. Three men rob a bank, shoot eight tellers, run away, stop a high-school bus, murder the driver, grab several hostages and race off into the woods where they threaten everyone and man-handle the girls. The police come and, after some yelling into bullhorns, pick the robbers off one by one. I thought of it as a Bellow movie, and not Saul. Almost everyone bellows: the police bellow, the chief bellows, the robbers bellow. Only the girls scream.

I scarcely ever watch this stuff, but I realized what I was missing: a concentrated lesson in crime and, to a lesser extent, punishment. It romanticised guns: they get waved around endlessly, became a powerful tool for creating respect from strangers, hostages, the girls, and the police.

It taught us how to rob banks most effectively (kill all the witnesses), how not to escape (they used a VW Van), how to grab hostages (find a gaggle of high-school kids) and how not to deal with the police (don't waste your time dickering --- shoot to kill). It was a 90-minute audio-visual presentation of the Do's and Don'ts for would-be felons.

The only thing missing was the follow-through, for if any of the robbers had survived the final gory massacre, they would have been shipped off to Graybar State U. There, they would have a chance to hone their knowledge with expert teachers: techniques of use of guns and shivs, how to score dope, how to indulge in rape and other acts of violence against their peers without fear of punishment.

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was watching Jesús watching the movie --- wondering what would have happened if he had come across to the U.S. on his own. He would have spent a great deal of time here looking for a job. He would have stood about on street-corners with thousands of other unemployed Mexicans, willing to work for very little money, being hungry.

He would live in a very crowded apartment where his only diversion would be watching TV. Unless there were some miracle, he might have drifted into what the sociologists and social workers like to call "anti-social behavior." The educational programs on television would have shown him how to buy or steal guns for protection, respect, and survival. He would have learned pure Adam Smith capitalism through street drug-trade --- where supply always meets demand, the price goes up and down according to availability, and it's a marketplace free of taxation, paperwork, and the heavy hand of regulation. (The only Smithian "Invisible Hand" would be government undercover agents and our tax-supported informers.)

He would thus have learned, and learned well, the pitiless hunger created by television. In its commercials, he would have constant lessons of what is required to get instant relief in America: credit cards, stereo systems, and fast, sporty cars. The what-you-need ads would blend perfectly with the how-to-do-it programs --- joining together to create an irresistible psychological double-bind: masterful representations of consumer hunger, and masterful lessons on how to put an end to these hungers. The rest of us get to live with the dividends.

The Congress of the United States evidently believes that our fall-apart world has come about because we've forgotten the Ten Commandmants. All the while the beast squats there in the living-room, grinding out his artful lessons of hunger and violence. He's so omnipresent that no one sees him.

One recent study said that every four minutes, there is yet another act of blood-letting on television. We must pity battered America, brood on our willingness to give free rein to this TV Godzilla who, willynilly, bloodies the souls of our innocents everyday. All we can hope is that, someday, in a more ideal world --- those who create, fund, and purvey these programs will be tried for their crimes against humanity.

The producers, the heads of the advertising agencies, the owners of the TV networks and the cable systems will, some sweet day, be subject to a "one strike" law, a law that will place them in TV prison for a month or so. There they will be permitted nothing more than a cot, a chair, and a giant screen at the far end of the room (no on/off switch), where the movies and commercials that they've broadcast so freely will run, larger than life, at full volume, day and night. There they may learn, first-hand, the venomous messages they are sending out to our hapless country.

This article first appeared in 1993
in the annual newsletter of
The R. A. Fessenden Fund
with the title, "Don't Blame Me,
I Voted for Herbert Hoover."

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