The Violence Addiction

If one compares movies or television shows of the 1960s to those of today, it’s fairly obvious that the level of action, especially violence, and the frequency of violence have increased dramatically. So has the graphic depiction of that violence. I’m far from the first to have noticed this; it’s become almost a cliché.

Nor I am the first to have pointed out that exposure to so much violence tends to inure those who watch it to violence, both real and entertainment violence. What’s paradoxical about all this is that, as Steven Pinker and a number of scholars have pointed out, on average, life, particularly in the U.S., is far less violent today than it ever has been, yet on screen it’s more violent than it’s ever been, and U.S. parents, also interestingly enough, are far more worried about such violence occurring to their children than ever before, even though violence against children in the U.S., especially for children of the middle and upper classes, is markedly lower, rather than higher.

Yet, as a society, we seem to be becoming more and more addicted to violence in entertainment. Some scholars have pointed out as well that the continuing increase in violent public entertainment was a hallmark of the declining Western Roman Empire. Today, violent acts caught and broadcast via the internet seem to spark copy-cat actions.

All of this would seem to suggest that the emphasis on violence in public media and entertainment is anything but a welcome trend, yet it continues to increase with each television season dripping with more blood and action-packed violence than the previous season, certainly suggestive of a societal addiction to voyeur-violence.

At the same time, there’s an aspect to this that is generally overlooked, and one that, to me, is equally worrisome, if not even more troubling. As many of my readers know, for the most part I tend to keep graphic violence to a comparative minimum. I certainly acknowledge that it exists and is a part of any society or culture in some form, but what is overlooked about violence is that the vast majority of violence is a symptom of other factors or a reaction to another’s violence.

Thus, the concentration of attention on the violence itself, or the application of violent force to stop otherwise unchecked violence (while it may be necessary) tends to overshadow or minimize the causes of the initial violence.

But then, trying to solve problems that lead to violence just doesn’t play well on the screen, and it doesn’t have the satisfying crunch of seeing the so-called villain pulverized at the end of a great action sequence.

5 thoughts on “The Violence Addiction”

  1. JakeB says:

    Yes, but . . . depictions of violence are common in Japan yet they have a phenomenally low violent crime rate there. With respect to that, I believe, it’s even been floated that violent art (if you will) serves as a relief from violent thoughts, in the same way that it’s been shown that young people who listen to heavy metal and punk music are better-adjusted ceteris paribus than those who don’t listen to that kind of music.

  2. Robert The Addled says:

    I’ve always found implied violence (or sex, or several other things including backgrounds of rooms/etc.) to be more thoughtful. Leaves the ‘complexity’ and ‘severity’ of the text to the reader’s judgement. This easily makes a book more accessible to a greater age range.

    Better world building via manipulating the reader’s imagination. The concept is fresher in my mind because I was discussing Lovecraft’s writings on a Discord chat over the weekend.

  3. JM says:

    I’ve often heard that violent video games lead to violent acts. As a video gamer I have come to resent that. The other side of the picture, that people with violent tendencies are attracted to violent video games, seems to be completely ignored.

    And Japanese culture is very different from American culture. Their language itself has more empasis on respect and generally not being rude. And the art often explores the edges of societal norms.

  4. Nathaniel says:

    I think you buried the lede a bit there when you noted that ACTUAL violence in our society has diminished significantly over the past quarter-century. I can’t see any conclusion one can draw from this other than that violence in our entertainment and media has no correlation with violence in the real world.

    1. Not necessarily. We don’t know all the factors contributing to violence. There’s a strong correlation between lower lead levels and less violence, and some scientists think it’s causal and not a correlation. Less grinding poverty decreases violence as well. What if the decline in violence would have been greater without so much violent entertainment?

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