October 4, 1996

Violence in the Media

Violence in the media. Does it glamorize violence? Sure.

Does it desensitize us to violence? Of course.

Does it help us tolerate violence? You bet.

Does it stunt our empathy for our fellow human beings? Heck yes.

Does it cause violence? ..well, that's hard to prove.

The trick is to ask the right question.

Bill Watterson, 1995

Like the so-called drug problem, the problem of media violence is one that doesn't seem to have a solution in a so-called "free society." Like the weather, everyone talks about it, but no one does anything.

I don't like violent movies and I don't watch them. I have seen enough real violence and I want nothing to do with it. Even though I don't watch it, I do watch the news on TV, so I am exposed to it because when they advertise a TV movie, it is the bloodiest parts that they use to hype it. It seems reasonable to conclude that the audience for TV movies likes violence, and the bit of the movie that is used to hype the film is designed to appeal to these people. It certainly isn't supposed to appeal to me or people with similar tastes. The news itself seems to specialize in the violent events that take place locally and in the world.

I don't watch movies on the tube because I don't like being interrupted by commercials, nor do I want my movies cut. When I want to see a film, I rent it.

Do violent movies make killers out of people? For the vast majority of people, the answer is clearly "no." There are large numbers of people who don't watch violent movies. Of the rest, most take it seriously only for the brief time when when they are watching it.

But it doesn't take a large percentage of people to pose a serious problem for all of us. Let us assume that one person in a thousand -probably a very low estimate- is influenced to become violent. In a population of 250,000,000, that means 250,000 violent people. Concentrate them in one place and you have a deadly army.

Almost as big a problem is the violent tradition of our nation. I remember the aphorism, "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." I believed that nonsense for a long time. As a believer, all that remained was for some demagogue to convince me that some political system was a threat to my freedom and I was ready to die to defend my freedom. Oh, the gullibility of youth.

If anyone doesn't believe that watching violent films can make you violent, let me frame it in another way: Can watching erotic movies make you horny?

Movies have an immense influence on people, and the younger they are, the greater the influence. You may question whether movies should be censored or restricted to certain age groups -but don't try to tell me that they are not an extremely powerful influence in our lives.

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