After the terrible murders of the Aurora shooting on July 20th, it was inevitable that the familiar issue of the effects of violent media were brought up. You all know the question. Do violent movies, TV shows, and games desensitize us and make us (the collective us) more violent?
In my humble opinion: no. Also: I don’t think it works that way. To disregard violence in artistic media is to shut out a vital facet of human nature and history. One of my “impressive” answers to people who’ve asked what the importance of art history is goes something like “art history is a lens through which we see the history of the human condition.” Our experiences, fears, dreams, and compulsions are bound to leak out into art – to different degrees of reality. So violence on screen, in games, in paintings, etc. does something for us and reflects real life as much as any other genre.
When the violent media issue comes up, a lot of patronizing criticisms of “the glorification of violence” and gore for its own sake are thrown around. But I’m sure almost any fan of horror or violence doesn’t think actual mass murder is awesome. Enjoying a gory movie says nothing about a person’s character. I’m not a psychologist, but the hyperbolic nature of most films, shows, and games grants us catharsis on some level. Maybe we’re finding an outlet to explore the difficult parts of life? No one (that I know of) is calling Saturn Devouring His Children “tasteless,” yet contemporary violent media gets a bad rap.
I know first-hand how satisfying the click click splat routine of Diablo III can be, or the experience of a heart pounding boss fight. I’m not, however, going to take up arms and imitate that. Some, if not most, of my favorite movies are intensely violent. In the realm of fiction, I’ll take all the blood spray and severed limbs I can get. The more tasteless the better. Some super gory movies explore complex themes beautifully. Park Chan Wook movies come to mind. But they’re too often brushed off on account of “excessive” violence. When we deal with any grey or difficult area of human nature, the output in art tends to be over the top. With some more research, I could probably argue that super violent media is an effective way to control real life violent urges we may struggle with.
Life is a messy thing. I could ramble forever about how good vs. evil, peace vs. violence is never cut and dry. Violence is just another example of “art imitates life.” When unfortunate incidents of real mass violence occur, it’s not because of art. All sorts of people enjoy horror/action movies, TV shows, artwork, and video games, so let’s stop writing it all off as unnecessary or sick.
(p.s. here’s a book for those of you who think the world is getting more violent)