The Power of Story: Teaching Boys To Be Men

My regular blog readers (all three, including Mom) know that I’m a stalwart fan of video gaming. Listen to the author of this Wall Street Journal article:
New media have always met with suspicion: As The Economist editorialized a while back, a "neophobic" tendency dates from antiquity, with Plato's argument in the "Phaedrus" that the relatively newfangled medium of writing corrupted the memory-building powers of oral culture. Of course sometimes the new is bad. Yet the critics of video games are not only conjuring up a threat where none exists; they're ignoring the positive moral lessons and cognitive benefits that many of today's sophisticated games offer.

Most video games aren't violent or racy. A recent survey from the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank, found that more than 80% of the top-selling titles for the past five years came with the video-game industry's "Everyone" or "Teen" ratings, meaning that parents can assume reasonably inoffensive game content. About 15% of 2005's games received "Mature" or "Adults Only" ratings -- surprisingly few, given that 65% of gamers are 18- to 34-year-olds.
I, however, do take issue with the violence committed against women in most M and many T games – or, on the flip side, the sight of slender, agile virtual women beating up and/or shooting down their male cyber-enemies. I’m worried that boys are being conditioned to believe that most women can (and want to) take a man on, mano a mano. Meanwhile, the number of young women who are abused, battered, and murdered by boyfriends and husbands continues to grow.

Recently, a movie we rented was more powerful than countless maternal lectures about how men are supposed to treat women. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion illustrated clearly the masculine call to nourish, defend, cherish, and honor for our teen boys. (Note: preview the film if you want to fast-forward through the extensive scatological and brief sexual humor, or if you want to use clips. Read’s parental review to find out what your family or youth group might find objectionable.) In Perry's story, a pair of sisters are involved with two very different men. One of them manipulates, humiliates, and beats up his fiancée. The other, who boldly defines himself as a Christian, is a polar opposite. When his girlfriend confesses tearfully that most men in her life have tried to destroy her, he doesn’t flinch. “Some men come to restore,” he answers gently, and then goes on to prove it with his honorable, tender love.

After the movie, I raved about what a true hero the second man turned out to be, and talked a bit about the disturbing prevalence of domestic violence, which they had just seen graphically portrayed in the film. Our boys didn’t say much, but the next day, when we visited an arcade, I noticed that one of them avoided fighting the female characters -- even though it cost him the game.

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