When it comes to violence, is media a cause or an effect?
I'm really amazed by the conversations the Vingle community is having right now about gun violence (thanks to @nicolejb and @VinMcCarthy for prompting everyone- here and here). The conversation seemed to be shifting towards the topic of cause and effect. Does violent media cause violent behavior, or are violent behaviors the reason that people are drawn towards violent media? The Marvel movies came up and that seemed like a great place to continue the conversation.
Violence is a prevailing theme in our media.
It's so embedded, we often don't notice it. It doesn't look like violence to us. It's so common it's unremarkable. And my favorite films are not exempt. Alongside the themes of heroism and sacrifice, there is a continuous thread of violence. It's reached the point where it's hard to imagine a hero story that doesn't have violence. They exist, but they're extremely rare. So when we have discussions about video games and mass shootings, part of me agrees that there is a problem and a discussion to be had, but video games aren't alone.
Every film. Every song. Every book.
With a few rare exceptions, violence or the threat of violence is a plot device used to motivate characters and propel stories. While some acts of violence are coded as "bad" (example: Loki leading an alien invasion in New York City), others are coded as "good" (the Hulk grabbing Loki and smashing him against the floor). And Loki doesn't die. And the narrative rewards the Hulk for doing this because Loki is "getting what he deserves".
The heroes don't kill, only the villains do
Even though the actions of plenty of Marvel's heroes would probably end up killing a lot of people, we never see the consequences of their violence in that way. Loki damages New York City and the result is hundreds of fatalities. The Hulk goes on a rampage in Age of Ultron and... the buildings are all empty? He doesn't trample anyone on the way there? Or he fights a battle in Harlem, and destroys the neighborhood, but it's okay because he was preventing even worse destruction by the Abomination?
The blame falls solely on the villains, meanwhile the heroes can commit violent acts and "get away with it" because their violence doesn't kill anyone. It creates an unhealthy dichotomy: "bad/unjustified" violence kills people, "good/justified" violence doesn't. And while none of this is working on a conscious level, the message still reaching us.
In the scene below, Captain America rampages through a bunch of armed guards. We see them fall, but we don't see a confirmation that they've died. Physically speaking, getting kicked in the face by a supersoldier would probably result in a broken neck. But we don't see that. We see a nameless, often faceless obstacle fall. They're not humanized, they're anonymous. They're person-shaped props. So it's okay, right? Because props are objects and objects can't die.
Is Violence Masculine?
Judging from the statistics, the answer is yes. While women are absolutely perpetrators of violence, and men are absolutely victims of violence, mass murders are overwhelmingly carried out by men*. Women are the exception to the rule, not the norm. Via Maya Dusenbery at Feministing:
"The fact that 61 out of 62 mass murders which happened over the past 30 years [as of December 2012] were committed by men is not considered particularly noteworthy because, in a country where 95 percent of violent crime is committed by men, it’s not noteworthy. It is expected. We’ll assume the shooter is a man unless told otherwise and then we’ll be surprised...
We teach men to be aggressive. We teach them that is the very essence of “being a man.” We say that women are supposed to be caring and compassionate and we tell men not to be like women–to be anything but a “girl.” We teach men that anger is the only acceptable emotion for them to express–and violence is an appropriate way of expressing it. We police their masculinity in a million small ways every day from the time they are even younger than the children who died in Sandy Hook. In Katz’s words: “We socialize empathy out of boys all the time."
And then we act as though this state of affairs is natural–as though the rules of masculinity are ordained and not systematically enforced. It’s not. There is nothing inevitable about the fact that 95 percent of violent crime in this country is committed by men."
How do we do that? How do we train men not to have empathy? What kind of toxic culture are we nurturing, to separate men from their natural emotions? Is it social? Is it media? Or is it both?
If men are getting the message everywhere they go that any emotion other than anger is unacceptable, why is it surprising that it's taken to heart?
*Obligatory not all men. Of course not all men do this.
Since we've been having such a fruitful conversation, I'm tagging everyone who's commented on the previous gun violence related cards, but I hope everyone feels welcome to chime in if they feel like they have something to say!