Lately I have been eager to identify ways individuals can make small intentional changes in their behavior to help promote the well-being of the community. We need to work to create an environment where all segments of society can flourish and contribute. Even seemingly private activities impact others. One low-hanging fruit to address is our violence-as-entertainment industry.
When we listen to or watch a story about a couple growing old together, we may shed a tear when one of them passes away. Even if the story is fictional, there is something in it that draws out our emotion. If it is a good story, even fictional characters will remind us of real people with real struggles. Our minds are primed to find the truth buried in the fiction.
Now consider the violence in our American stories. In America there is a constant stream of movies filled with cruel and gratuitous violence. Even classic “family” movies such as the Indiana Jones series have random (dark-skinned) people getting shot or pushed off cliffs while the (white) main characters smile or think nothing of it.
As we watch these kinds of things, our minds try to make sense of them. If the story is based on historical events, most likely the tone of the story will align with the violence. We have a chance of putting the violence into context. However even if we consciously know the stories are fictional, we try to find the truth in the story. If the violence is simply an element of entertainment, how will the psyche make sense of its meaning? What “truth” is being communicated by characters that treat murder as inconsequential or cool?
This is a question everyone should ask. No matter how intellectual or how mature we think we are, we cannot completely control the way our brains subconsciously interpret things. Even if we think we can handle violence in media, we need to acknowledge that some people are far more vulnerable and susceptible. What message do we send them when we openly praise a movie filled with violence?
When we were living in Maryland in 2021, there was a six-week period when our county, Prince George’s County, experienced 7 homicides committed by juveniles. This sticks in my mind because my daughter went to school with one of the kids, though everyone was still supposed to be in Covid lockdown. His was one of the senseless crimes that seemed to be committed for no reason.
Indeed it is the senselessness of the crimes that is so disorienting. These kids were not engaging in fights with other willing participants to somehow blow off frustration or energy. Perhaps that would make sense. Even if someone got hurt, at least it would be consensual, so to speak. No. They were killing innocent strangers. It was like violence for the sake of violence. A psychological affliction.
I wonder if some of these kids stopped to consider the implications of what they were doing. Did they realize there would be blood and that a real person’s life would be lost? If they did, perhaps they turned to the “truth” taught in so many of our movies: the taking of lives is cool. Did these boys realize they would be chased by the cops? They probably did. However, in America, being chased by cops is cool. Anyone who has watched even a small fraction of American-made movies will have been exposed to this message.
The thought has crossed my mind that perhaps being chased by the cops and being infamous was, in fact, the goal.
The next time you watch a movie glorifying the sexy main character with a gun, consider how it profits the violence-as-entertainment industry. Consider how this industry impacts young growing minds. And most importantly, consider how it is impacting you.