2 years ago1,000+ Views

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!
@smnthcarter773 @InPlainSight @ButterflyBlu @melifluosmelodi @Matokokepa @orenshani7 @loftonc16 @SarahVanDorn @alywoah @mansamirdha @RobertMarsh @MattK95 @mchlyang thank you all so much for sharing your ideas this week! This is a really difficult issue to discuss and I'm very humbled by everyone's contributions.
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@melifluosmelodi lol Regina George. I definitely agree, Spirited Away isn't an action movie. But I think that has to do more with style than anything else. The pacing is pretty slow and ponderous. I don't think every story could be converted to action (lol can you imagine Lost in Translation or something like that), but I do think someone could tell a similar story, with similar stakes, but place it firmly in the action genre. The more we talk about this, the more I'm tempted to try. I feel like so many action tropes are really tied up in violence, like you're saying. But ultimately the action plot can be boiled down to: hero has a goal, antagonist is preventing that goal, hero overcomes antagonist.
You boiled down the main point of a story correctly. You're absolutely correct on the goal, person, person/thing against person, then the ending. However, that main point is the main point of *every story in existence*, (I can't bold words here so i'm gonna use *these* and caps look too harsh) not just action. The antagonist can be your inner self, a mean girl, or schizophrenia, the hero-yourself, nature, or the new girl in school, and the overcoming: stealing the mean girl's boyfriend/discovering self-confidence etc etc. Every story is a protagonist overcoming an antagonist. That is what makes a story, a story. Action, as a genre, is car chases, fist fights, some building destroying, and maybe a few lines there or two. Non-violence stories are not rare, it's just what you expose yourself to. Maybe, if you don't want to deal with violence as much, join me in my journey of self-discovery and reading books of people lost in the wilderness who must survive in solitude and therefore discover themselves on the way there, which is what we will do through them. (also antagonist, protagonist, and resolution without violence). If you make an action movie without violence, it could be a suspense, drama, comedy, tear-jerker, feel-good, coming-of-age, romcom, or any other kind of story, but it would not be action anymore. You feel me?
@melifluosmelodi haha I like *this*, totally works! I think you're definitely right. Would man vs. nature possibly be an action-friendly situation? I'm thinking of the scene in the hunger games where Katniss is running from a rapidly spreading fire. Granted, that was controlled by people. But what about people being chased by an avalanche? Does taking a person out of the equation make the situation nonviolent, even though the stakes are pain, injury, and death? What about the training montages in a lot of films? Those are often sort of playful (the scene in pacific rim where mako and Raleigh fight is really friendly). Those are fist fights but they often have no stakes. You could put that scene in a rom-com and it wouldn't feel out of place. It seems like those concrete elements have the potential to be more interchangeable than they're currently being used for. I usually define action movies by the adrenaline. Are they fast paced? Do they spend 45 minutes talking, or do they move?
A valid question....but if you truly seek a rational answer to it, you must see the complete and larger picture. This desensitization towards violence, relies upon an underlying order, that very simple or small systems and events can cause very complex behaviors or events. Here are a few excerpts from an article that I recently clipped in my evernote. I find it extremely important in the context of your question here. Mass media is the most powerful tool used by the ruling class to manipulate the masses. It shapes and molds opinions and attitudes and defines what is normal and acceptable. Mass media are media forms designed to reach the largest audience possible. They include television, movies, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, records, video games and the internet. Many studies have been conducted in the past century to measure the effects of mass media on the population in order to discover the best techniques to influence it. From those studies emerged the science of Communications, which is used in marketing, public relations and politics. Mass communication is a necessary tool to insure the functionality of a large democracy; it is also a necessary tool for a dictatorship. It all depends on its usage. The number of corporations owning the majority of U.S. media outlets went from 50 to 5 in less than 20 years. Here are the top corporations evolving around the world and the assets they own. 1) AOL Time Warner owns: 64 magazines, including Time, Life, People, MAD Magazine and DC Comics Warner Bros, New Line and Fine Line Features in cinema More than 40 music labels including Warner Bros, Atlantic and Elektra Many television networks such as WB Networks, HBO, Cinemax, TNT, Cartoon Network and CNN Madonna, Sean Paul, The White Stripes 2) Viacom owns: CBS, MTV, MTV2, UPN, VH1, Showtime, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TNN, CMT and BET Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, MTV Films Blockbuster Videos 1800 screens in theaters through Famous Players 3) The Walt Disney Company owns: ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, A&E, History Channel Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax Film Corp., Dimension and Buena Vista International Miley Cyrus/ Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez, Jonas Brothers 4) Vivendi Universal owns: 27% of US music sales, labels include: Interscope, Geffen, A&M, Island, Def Jam, MCA, Mercury, Motown and Universal Universal Studios, Studio Canal, Polygram Films, Canal + Numerous internet and cell phone companies Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z 5) Sony owns: Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Classics 15% of US Music sales, labels include Columbia, Epic, Sony, Arista, Jive and RCA Records Beyonce, Shakira, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera A limited number of actors in the cultural industry means a limited amount of viewpoints and ideas making their way to the general public. It also means that a single message can easily saturate all forms of media to generate consent (i.e. “there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq”). The merger of media companies in the last decades generated a small oligarchy of media conglomerates. The TV shows we follow, the music we listen to, the movies we watch and the newspapers we read are all produced by FIVE corporations. The owners of those conglomerates have close ties with the world’s elite and, in many ways, they ARE the elite. By owning all of the possible outlets having the potential to reach the masses, these conglomerates have the power to create in the minds of the people a single and cohesive world view, engendering a “standardization of human thought”. Even movements or styles that are considered marginal are, in fact, extensions of mainstream thinking. Mass medias produce their own rebels who definitely look the part but are still part of the establishment and do not question any of it. Artists, creations and ideas that do not fit the mainstream way of thinking are mercilessly rejected and forgotten by the conglomerates, which in turn makes them virtually disappear from society itself. However, ideas that are deemed to be valid and desirable to be accepted by society are skillfully marketed to the masses in order to make them become self-evident norm. In 1928, Edward Bernays already saw the immense potential of motion pictures to standardize thought: “The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation. Because pictures are made to meet market demands, they reflect, emphasize and even exaggerate broad popular tendencies, rather than stimulate new ideas and opinions. The motion picture avails itself only of ideas and facts which are in vogue. As the newspaper seeks to purvey news, it seeks to purvey entertainment.” – Edward Bernays, Propaganda These facts were flagged as dangers to human freedom in the 1930’s by thinkers of the school of Frankfurt such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. They identified three main problems with the cultural industry. The industry can: 1) reduce human beings to the state of mass by hindering the development of emancipated individuals, who are capable of making rational decisions; 2) replace the legitimate drive for autonomy and self-awareness by the safe laziness of conformism and passivity; and 3) validate the idea that men actually seek to escape the absurd and cruel world in which they live by losing themselves in a hypnotic state self-satisfaction. The notion of escapism is even more relevant today with advent of online video games, 3D movies and home theaters. The masses, constantly seeking state-of-the-art entertainment, will resort to high-budget products that can only be produced by the biggest media corporations of the world. These products contain carefully calculated messages and symbols which are nothing more and nothing less than entertaining propaganda. The public have been trained to LOVE its propaganda to the extent that it spends its hard-earned money to be exposed to it. Propaganda (used in both political, cultural and commercial sense) is no longer the coercive or authoritative communication form found in dictatorships: it has become the synonym of entertainment and pleasure. A single piece of media often does not have a lasting effect on the human psyche. Mass media, however, by its omnipresent nature, creates a living environment we evolve in on a daily basis. It defines the norm and excludes the undesirable. The same way carriage horses wear blinders so they can only see what is right in front of them, the masses can only see where they are supposed to go. Desensitization In the past, when changes were imposed on populations, they would take to the streets, protest and even riot. The main reason for this clash was due to the fact that the change was clearly announced by the rulers and understood by the population. It was sudden and its effects could clearly be analyzed and evaluated. Today, when the elite needs a part of its agenda to be accepted by the public, it is done through desensitization. The agenda, which might go against the public best interests, is slowly, gradually and repetitively introduced to the world through movies (by involving it within the plot), music videos (who make it cool and sexy) or the news (who present it as a solution to today’s problems). After several years of exposing the masses to a particular agenda, the elite openly presents the concept the world and, due to mental programming, it is greeted with general indifference and is passively accepted. This technique originates from psychotherapy. “The techniques of psychotherapy, widely practiced and accepted as a means of curing psychological disorders, are also methods of controlling people. They can be used systematically to influence attitudes and behavior. Systematic desensitization is a method used to dissolve anxiety so the the patient (public) is no longer troubled by a specific fear, a fear of violence for example. […] People adapt to frightening situations if they are exposed to them enough”. – Steven Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States Predictive programming is often found in the science fiction genre. It presents a specific image of the future – the one that is desired by the elite – and ultimately becomes in the minds of men an inevitability. A decade ago, the public was being desensitized to war against the Arab world. An ignorant population does not know its rights, does not seek a greater understanding of issues and does not question authorities. It simply follows trends. Popular culture caters to and nurtures ignorance by continually serving up brain-numbing entertainment and spotlighting degenerate celebrities to be idolized. I Hope, you all catch my drift here. This desensitization towards violence is not random or unintentional. It is all part of a broader agenda which is carefully contrived and purposefully designed.
@mansamirdha thanks so much for your comment! You definitely hit a lot of the ideas that we've been talking about/around. It's really great to see this conversation put in a more historical context!