Violence is to be abhorred and resisted, whether it is conducted with fists, knives, guns, or bombs, whether it is in the home, on the streets, or on the battlefield. This is a moral imperative.
Therefore, violence as entertainment is to be abhorred and resisted as well, right? I don’t understand how any pleasure can be derived from the graphic, gruesome depictions of bloodbaths and human carnage common in movies and games. And yet it is. You guys are a bunch of sick sunzabitches.
But wait. According to the guys with lab coats and clip boards, we humans crave violent imagery the same way we crave sex… it’s natural, built in. Imagining death and mayhem apparently helps us to avoid or escape it in real life, or something.
Okay, so being drawn to violence is natural, but I also have a 24-hour-a-day craving for donuts. And last week I was sexually drawn to the woman next to me in the hardware store buying a toilet seat. All cravings need to be tempered by factors such as our own health and decency toward others.
But when it comes to violent imagery there is no temperance – it’s sold to us at every corner of our real and digital lives. TV, movies (don’t get me started on fetishist Quentin Tarantino – he’s gone off the deep end) and “sports” like ultimate fighting. There are downsides to indulging our natural cravings past a certain limit, and there can be no doubt we passed that limit long ago and far away.
Take violent video games. Decades of study tells us there is no established link between gaming and real-world violence. That is, gamers don’t become criminals. But, as we’ve long suspected, though playing violent games doesn’t turn them into killers, it does change the way gamers see and respond to violence in the real world. According to a 2015 report from the American Psychological Association (APA):
“The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”
There’s no reason to believe that what’s true for gamers isn’t true for the rest of us and our over-consumption of violence from TV, movies, sports, and the “news.” Who among us can’t admit to decreased empathy and sensitivity to aggression? Bombs in Syria and gun violence in Chicago kill and maim real, actual people. How do we feel about that? How do we react?
If we are hard-wired to imagine violence and are therefore drawn to depictions of violence, I won’t argue the science. But I WILL argue this: We as individuals need to take account of what we are consuming and try to understand the effect it has on us and the world. And, those promoting over-consumption, and profiting from it, suck. They are exploiting our natural human cravings. Overselling food makes us fat and sick, and hurts the environment. Overselling sex makes us schizophrenic and misogynistic. And overselling violence makes the world a colder, harder, and more dangerous place.
Charles Bursell is a writer, performer, host and commentator heard nationally on SiriusXM, National Public Radio, and The Pacifica Radio Network. He currently hosts the podcasts Stream of Consciousness Talk Radio Theatre and Conversations With Charles Bursell. Both shows, and more, can be found on several platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and Libsyn.com.