Archive for » December, 2015 «

Violence as entertainment


Any fool producer, totally lacking in creativity, can still produce blockbusters these days – simply by saturating a humdrum creation with gratuitous violence.  Analysts and professionals can then spend much energy debating whether this is really a bad thing. To conclude that exposure to violence on screen leads to a more violent society is not easy, and that alone is used as evidence to claim that loads of screen violence does no harm to society – or for that matter, even to toddlers.

We must expose ourselves incessantly to scenes of horrendous cruelty because this is what now entertains. Everything else is tame, dull and unappealing. We remain riveted by the powerful stimulation-packed instant gratification of the virtual while mundane real-life passes by. Pleasure and cruelty become one as various productions try to outdo one another in presenting scenes of senseless and unending cruelty. At high speed.

If we think all this is bad, we are asked first to show evidence in the form of scientific studies. And we can be sure that whatever sound studies we conduct, to show harm from such exposure, will be countered by another that shows there is no real harm. In the data flooded world, it is not the science that matters but the selective amplification or dampening of the evidence. And that decision is not in the hands of people interested in making lives happier. So we can be sure that we’ll continue to be ‘entertained’ by increasingly virulent forms of violence through all forms of media.

Studies of harm tend to look at rather distant end-points – for example, does violence on media overflow into society to create increases in crime? And even this narrow question is very expensive to explore through scientific study. We have hardly any hope of examining more subtle impacts. And these matter too. I may become increasingly insensitive pain and suffering inflicted on others as a result of seeing people battered, over and over, as media entertainment. How are we to measure such changes? What happens to our sex lives when we see constantly on public media that the norm is to find pleasure in pain, constant change of scene or humiliation? What do we become when we all, children and adults, begin unknowingly to assume that vengeance, revenge and getting away with what you can is the norm?

Are we unintentionally being trained to believe that what was previously considered vile is now part of our normal culture? Does this make it difficult or impossible to spot the evil around us, let alone resist it? When politics too is reduced to pretend-aggression displayed on media platforms, it too contributes to the general trend. Eventually we may all learn to accept nastiness by our neighbours, politicians, police and fellow road users as acceptable or ‘normal’. Not only are media selectively amplifying violence, they are cleansing it through unending public airing as normal – and therefore acceptable or inevitable.

We may already be so trapped in incessant work, in the pursuit of ever-increasing income (which is then to be spent on endless consumption of baubles on a hierarchy of cost-status), that aggression is the only avenue to show we are really alive. That ceaseless consumption is excruciatingly boring is not an easily appreciated truth – especially if we belong to a group of people who venerate consumption as nirvana. The emotionless boredom of our status-seeking consumption may indeed be partially relieved by identifying with the infliction of trauma, suffering and torture on helpless human beings in the mass and social media. When we need as diversion the sight of hostility, pain and suffering inflicted on others – whether in news, fiction, ‘extreme sport’ – we may be no better off than individuals who seek diversion through immersion in alcohol or other things that inhibit the need to remain fully alive.

All this brings me to the question of whether the emotional energy expended in driving through heavy traffic, which is becoming increasingly evident, is too a symptom of the need for stimulation in a boringly busy existence. Now that we’ve been trained to seek emotional kicks in media aggression, we might as well enjoy some real life aggro in traffic.