Culture of Violence

According to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, it is estimated that by the time a child reaches the age of eighteen he or she will have seen 200,000 acts of violence, including more than 16,000 murders on television alone. Movies, video games and/or surfing the Net can only add to these numbers. As adults most of us easily differentiate between what we see on a screen and what is real. But children, especially the very young, cannot.

Of course many will grow up relatively unaffected, neither turning into mass murderers nor torturers of animals. But equally clear is that some will be affected. How can they not? Just looking at movies, the message often seems pretty obvious. Violence IS conflict resolution (Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Green Lantern, Judge Dredd, etc.). Violence is cool (see Tarentino, Quentin). Violence is heroic (or, at least heroes sometimes just happen to also be violent: 300, Act of Valor). Violence is needed (from Dirty Harry through the Death Wish franchise to Taken). Violence is sexy (A Good Day to Die Hard opened on Valentines Day…what message does that send?).

I am not railing against violence in movies in general (of TV, games, and film, the latter medium is the one I am most familiar with). Nor am I asking for regulating Hollywood, the TV networks, and computer game manufacturers. Violence in the media can have its place. It can inform, instruct, deter, and even be a creative and artistic vehicle. However, it is very hard to see anything sexy or cool about the opening (or closing) 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Visceral, impactful, and anti-war in a clinical, ground-zero way, yes. Something to enjoy…no. As well, it is a huge artistic and philosophical leap to include the intelligent, subliminal commentary and ballet-like choreographed violence of The Wild Bunch and Platoon with the artless, pointless, tasteless, and ultimately nihilistic torture-porn of the Saw and Hostel series.

Causation is the key word. We know violent movies, TV, games, websites, apps (insert your favorite media here) don’t directly cause adults to commit violent acts, though the deleterious effects on young children have been well documented. Outside of the realm of the young, studies measuring the effects of violent entertainment on behavior in the adult population are mixed. If violent depictions weren’t so prevalent, perhaps we would be less concerned. But even in a post-Newtown Massacre world, violence sells in a big way. We have to ask why.

Is this a case of fulfilling demand or creating it? The answer is, as it is with many such questions: yes, both. We (and I write in the universal ‘we’) are drawn to violence as a moth to flames, a rubbernecker to the pile-up, a junkie to the next fix. However, unlike the moth, we are not entirely driven by instinct: we can make a choice. Not the false choice of either burying one’s head in the sand and watching Happy Day’s reruns or wallowing full-on in the latest revenge-via-abattoir, but instead the choice of being informed and making decisions based on that.

We really don’t need a study to tell us that a steady dose of violence is unhealthy, desensitizing and dehumanizing. The culture of violence begins and ends with those who consume it. Informed citizens consume based on knowledge. Shoppers merely look for the “best deal.” Do you eat a burger and a large order of fries everyday? Do you partake in entertainment violence every evening? In both cases I would suggest a change in diet: your arteries and our culture would greatly benefit.

Next: State of Fear

As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.




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This post, and the series you're working on, made me think of two posts from the PLOS/neuroanthropology blog:

"Inside the Minds of Mass Killers" where Daniel Lende investigates the cultural concept of 'amok' and how it appears to be playing out in our society.

And, "Jared Loughner has a Violence Problem not a Mental Health Problem" where he discusses what we know about the connection between mental health issues and violence.


Jeff Clay's picture

For far too long we have ignored the mentally ill (lock 'em up! Oh wait: we don't want to pay for that...let them out!) as well as the role(s) they play in society. But as those posts you cite point out in length (and depth), waving our hands in the air whilst claiming yet another mass shooter is mentally disturbed does nothing but create a safe and comfortable distance between Us and Them. It's as if That Monster is another species, as distant from Me as a rabid wolf is from Us. Not so. The poisoned well of violence is within each and it is our unique journey that determines whether we dip from it (and how often) or pass by to seek fresher, cleaner waters.

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