Are We Too Comfortable With Violence?

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I feel as if the desensitization to violence that seems to have taken over in our country has reached a higher pitch. Sometimes it feels like a glorification. I have never been a big movie person, but I do like a great film from time to time. However, my last skim through Apple Trailers provided almost only more of the gore, slasher, thriller, killer – vibe permeating our “entertainment”. On top of that, a few weeks ago, my housemates and I thought we would try out the Japanese science fiction drama series, Alice in Borderland. By the end of the second episode, we were so horrified and appalled we stopped watching. To be honest, we should have shut it off 30 minutes into the first episode. Yet we didn’t: we continued watching like we finished watching Squid Game.

I often find myself in conversation with my friends about our dislike of the glorification and desensitization to violence that our entertainment culture perpetuates. Yet, we still find ourselves picking out, watching shows or reading books that do just that. Why is that? And how has it managed to reach such a pitch? I understand the concept of the ‘suspension of disbelief’ and its - almost necessary - role in genres like fantasy or speculative fiction in order for the modern, enlightened reader or watcher to enjoy the work. I also understand that, like most in life, what is or is not overly violent/explixit is subjective. (This also varies culture to culture, as I have found some Japanese thriller literature pretty intense. They can be quite dark when it comes to their horror: think The Ring.) But I think that we can all agree that the depiction of intensely graphic violence is getting quite pervasive.

These thoughts have been spilling over into the book I am currently reading, Foolproof by Sander Van Der Linden. While this book is about misinformation and improving our cognitive awareness to be duped or manipulated into believing and accepting fake news, I find that can also be applied to our general social acceptance of violence in our culture. For example, Sander brings up the phenomenon known as the ‘illusory truth effect’. This is the human tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure. This plays a big role in fields like advertising, news media and political propaganda/campaigning. I think that combined with our abilities to suspend our disbelief, repeated exposure to violence has made us less sensitive to the heaviness of that violence and, in turn, more calcified against openly spreading loving-kindness to one another.

I fully understand the importance of exposing the darkness of humanity. Unfortunately, violence and unpleasantness exist in the human species and to push it into the closet and pretend it doesn’t do us any good. Not to mention that it further isolates individuals who have been or who repeated experience such unfortunateness, deepening their psychological and physical damage. Do horrifically violent things happen from time to time? Yes. Do I need to be repeatedly exposed to that in a 50-minute television show? No. I think not. However, this brings us back to the fact that though *I* do not dig it, other people may find it perfectly okay and if I do not like it, then I simply shouldn’t watch it. I know this, and I do just that (just not all the time, apparently).

That just takes me back to pondering the subtle threads of violence woven into the fabric of our society that we (at large) seem collectively okay with allowing to stay. It seems that H.D. Graham has a pretty strong argument that “that the American tradition is one in which violence is a constant theme.”1 We glorify our historic violent heroes, our country was founded on a violent overthrow of a civil authority, we raise children to emulate violent role models (think G.I. Joe, the Powderpuff Girls, or the X-Men). We then highlight victims of violence in our news media to introduce another part of the conversation: fear. And fear of an enemy helps to justify more violence.2 These are just two of several subtle threads woven into our society.

I suppose this just brings me right back to communication and developing skills in all of us to begin engaging in more calm and critical thoughtful conversations. I sometimes feel that we do not encourage adults enough to keep learning. English economist, John Maynard Keynes, (when challenged for changing his position on an issue) reportedly replied: “When information changes, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Apparently, the human brain is not necessarily naturally Bayesian. It comes to fast conclusions based off of repeated exposure and familiarity, among other things. I think that the majority of us do not like when our beliefs are challenged as it invites chaos of the mind and we like order. Plus, things like societal views on the embrace of violence are so interwoven into said society that it makes it challenging to decide where to start adjusting those views.

I suppose all we can do is talk to one another; open, calm and thoughtful dialogues on topics that seem to impede our movement to becoming a more loving and equal species. And, I think, we should put more emphasis on adults to keep learning, helping to question what being a “successful” society means. More focus on love and less on brutality, physical and mental. At least, that is what I think.

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.

1Blume, Thomas W. “Social Perspectives on Violence.” Michigan Family Review, vol. 02, no. 1, 1991, pp. 9-23.

2Graham, H. D. (1979). The paradox of American violence. In H. D. Graham & T. R. Gurr (Eds.), Violence in America: Historical and comparative perspectives (Revised edition) (pp. 475-490).


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