San Bernardino County Sun

Guest Columnist: Renford Reese

August 30, 2007

Vick's Actions Reflect a Valueless Society

On August 24, Atlanta Falcon's quarterback Michael Vick filed his plea agreement in federal court admitting to conspiracy in dogfighting and helping kill pit bulls in his enterprise known as "Bad Newz Kennels."  In his public apology Vick asked for forgiveness and pledged to be a better person.  As expected, the response to Vick's actions can be deconstructed in black and white.  Blacks in Atlanta overwhelmingly think that Vick is being unfairly treated and that he deserves another chance.  Gerald Rose, head of the civil rights group New Order stated that he shed a tear after Vick's guilty plea.  Rose was the person that led the almost 100% black pro-Vick demonstrations before his plea.  Predictably, black fans at Playmakers Barber Shop in Midtown Atlanta say they still support Vick, because they feel he is a victim of a racist judicial system. Whites, predictably, are outraged and unforgiving of Vick's actions.  I imagine many Whites would like Vick to suffer in prison with the hundreds of thousands of black men who are already there. We seem to experience this racially dichotomized script all too often in the U.S.

Invariably my students will ask me when fall quarter begins at Cal Poly Pomona what I think about the Vick situation.  I will not give them a racialized response.  Instead, I will say, Vick's thuggish participation in dog fighting was callous and reprehensible but he is the product of an increasingly value-less and contradictory society.

Every sphere of American society has become increasingly morally deficient in the past decade.  From the twisted values of unilateralism and pre-emptive wars to the dysfunction promoted in popular culture, the U.S. has increasingly become a value-less society. Youth are growing up without behavioral boundaries.  Popular culture has blurred right and wrong.  Television shows such as Jerry Springer, the Simpsons, South Park, Jackass, and various reality shows have made it acceptable to disrespect all societal rules. Video games such as Grand Theft Auto, which glorify gangs, violence, and dangerous misogynistic behavior have become an accepted part of mainstream youth culture. The hyper-rebelliousness that has been promoted in music and in film has led to a more dysfunctional U.S. society.  A few years ago U.S. Senator Robert Byrd critiqued the consequences of popular culture on U.S. society, "The crudeness, cursing, profanity, vice, and violence we tolerate on our TV screens will be the crudeness, cursing, profanity, vice, and violence that we will be forced to endure for our real lives in the years ahead."

Not only is our society dysfunctional we are also contradictory.  For example, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, last year 12.5 million people hunted in the U.S. spending $23 billion on the legal sanctioning of killing animals.  Celebrities and ordinary people alike revel in a boxer's capacity to maim his opponent.  People continue to see prize fighting as entertainment. Many kickboxing fans go to fights to see blood spewed.  There is state sanctioned violence in Iraq where thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis have been killed for concocted reasons.  Of course, none of these examples condone Vick's behavior but points to the array of contradictions in our society.

There is a chance that the 27-year football phenomenon did not know right from wrong.   Perhaps being coddled as superstar athlete for most of his life, embracing the thug persona of the hip-hop culture, and living in a dysfunctional and contradictory society impaired Vick's decision-making ability.

We need to come to grips with the fact that American society made Vick and many other rambunctious young men the way they are.  We want to be entertained but we do not want to mentor; we do not want to invest in education; we do not want to invest in character-building social programs.  If America is not willing to invest in the character of its young people then we can inevitably expect more thuggery, callousness, and dogfighting.