Media violence and the desensitized
By Lori Mastronardi and Megan O'Toole
"Cut our wrists like cheap coupons/And say that death was
on sale today" (Marilyn Manson: "The Fight Song").
You heard the man. Do you now feel an uncontrollable urge
to run home and get out your razor?
For years now, we have all been exposed to the ongoing debate
regarding the relationship between violence and the media.
Conflicting perspectives have fought over whether the media
simply intends to reflect levels of violence in society or
if such outlets push people to express their rage in acts of
Media violence may include images of war, murder, abuse and
graphic sex, and is intended to serve as a form of recreation.
But is that all it is recreation? Or is there a more sinister
dimension to the violent words and images now so common on
TV, radio programs, the Internet, the silver screen and almost
everywhere else we look?
The above lyrics from Marilyn Manson are only a tiny snippet
of a pervasive trend in today's media. Of course, "The Fight
Song" is intended as an ironic investigation of the American
mentality and not as a "how-to" lesson in committing suicide.
Nevertheless, the debate as to whether or not his words have
the power to incite violence in his devoted young followers
So we're back to point A: does the entertainment media cause
violence or merely reflect it?
If we take a step back and look at the violent images in films
such as Saving Private Ryan or Kubrick's dark psychological
classic Full Metal Jacket, we immediately see similarities
between these fictional constructions and the realities of
war as shown on the news. There's a fine line between fiction
and fact: if we were to show a war scene from one of the aforementioned
movies, many would likely find it difficult to pinpoint whether
the scene originated on the silver screen or on the news reels
With that in mind, can we perhaps argue war films are intended
to "hit home" to viewers with the goal of building a stronger
sense of nationalism? Or is there another reason why such forms
of entertainment prevail?
The simple truth is that today, violence and entertainment
have become synonymous in many ways. Just look at the WWE (World
Wrestling Entertainment): the sole purpose of the entire federation
is to glamorize fighting and the masses simply eat it up. The
wrestlers are akin to rock stars; the fighting ring, their
stage. And the angrier they get, the more the audience cheers.
In our modern, media-saturated culture, we've become increasingly
desensitized to violence to such an extent that writers, musicians
and directors feel the need to constantly push past the edges
of the mainstream in order to get noticed, attract larger audiences
and maintain interest levels. In essence, the spectacle has
become the norm and now something even bigger and more outrageous
is needed to take the spectacle's place.
Take the recent Quentin Tarantino flick, Kill Bill, for instance,
with its frequent and intense scenes of blood, gore and violence.
The film left Tarantino fans raving about the top-notch quality
of the film, the inability for Uma Thurman's face to be blood-free
and the release of a refreshing, R-rated film. The humourous
element of exaggerated violence appeals to fans; violence is
a marketable commodity and directors like Tarantino realize
this and have fun with it.
However, the more explicit lyrics, images and text becomes,
the more difficult it is to resort back to moderate levels
of violence to instill interest and send a message. People
hunger for the graphic image of aggression and are simply not
content with descriptions of an event, which explains society's
reliance on televised news stories.
Critics argue video games and films promote violence; they
depict violence as a method to solving arguments. It's inevitable
people are going to foster feelings of rage and there is only
so much one can take before the build-up spills over. So perhaps
media provides an outlet whereby people can expel their aggression
through entertainment, as a form of catharsis. Surely this
is a better alternative to repressing emotions or acting out
in the world separate from entertainment.
Will media violence surpass the saturation point of its audience?
Has it already? Reactions range from calls for unnecessary
censorship to requests for more vulgarity and disturbing elements.
Whatever your take, however, in today's society you can expect
to be entertained by a blend of killing, shooting and blood,
all wrapped up in the controversial realm of media violence.