October 24 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 31  

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Media violence and the desensitized masses

By Lori Mastronardi and Megan O'Toole
Gazette Staff

"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 aggression.

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 rages on.

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 of CNN.

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.




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