Recently I engaged in an accidental experiment. I got hooked on "The Walking Dead," a ghastly TV show about a zombie apocalypse. It's choked with stomach-twisting mutilations. I bought the compilation of comic books on which it's based; five inches of death pornography. I became a reading zombie, gorging on dark depictions of depravity.
I can't explain why I was attracted to this gloomy entertainment. I do know that the gory consumption binge affected me emotionally. Like the fictional characters I followed on pages and screens, I became fearful and distrustful. I worried that the rustling of the wind indicated something unpleasant was in the attic. Half way into the zombie compilation I felt like I was changing my brain chemistry, with a heightened sense of paranoia like what might happen after too many hits of the wrong kind of marijuana. Even as I recognized what the zombies were doing to me I kept at it until, my mind bloated, I finished the last comic book.
We attach warnings to shows and movies that have violent or sexual scenes. Attempts have been made to regulate rap music and video games, lest they incite youth to aggressive acts. Until now I have dismissed such efforts as liberty-stifling government over-reach. But my immersion into the zombie milieu has prompted me to reconsider.
Occasionally viewing or reading a brutal or sexual scene seems harmless, at least for grown-ups. But saturating ourselves with images probably molds our minds along particular channels. Media that features ubiquitous skinny, large-breasted or chested models, fatty foods and unrelenting acts of gun-related violence seems likely to create a society obsessed with thin, well-appointed bodies, fattening fodder and weapons. Did I just describe us?
What surrounds us, visually and otherwise, shapes who we are. Even our geography has its impacts. In the 1970s, Rodriguez, the newly rediscovered rock star, was recorded as saying Detroit's problems stem, in part, from the fact that it's the only city in America that doesn't have any views. While we can't always choose where we live, we can determine what we look at, and how we see it.