As usually happens, I have found a topic to write about from reading another writer’s work. This is also my third post in a row to link out to another content creator whose work I really enjoy. The article that has motivated me to write today is called The End of the World as we Know it, and is posted on the blog Shift. The spirit of the article is in asking the question “how can we be so surprised and disgusted by the carnage we see in reality when our fantasy entertainment is rife with the destruction of life?” It’s a good question.
The Roman Empire was huge, and if you seek the similarities between it and the United States, you can find them. One aspect of Roman life involved the Colosseum, essentially a sporting arena in today’s terminology, if only slightly more barbaric. We don’t pit slaves against each other in battle for entertainment, and we aren’t yet to The Hunger Games, but we do glory in violence and seek it as entertainment.
I like to watch movies and play video games that include violence. There is a line where I feel entertainment crosses over to exploitation, and that’s where I cease to consume the media that offends me. The line seems to be reached a lot sooner these days.
I’m slightly torn on the topic; I really like the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and other comic hero based movies, but they do have a lot of violent content. As a personal and family rule I don’t watch movies with R ratings. I stick with the G, PG, and PG-13 movies, however, a lot of content that I don’t necessarily want to be entertained by is commonly seeping into PG-13 rated movies today. The point here is that what once was deemed inappropriate for movie audiences is becoming more and more acceptable by society.
The Romans held death fights in the Colosseum for entertainment. We do the same thing, but only pretend, in Hollywood movies and hit video games. In addition to the question of why are we so fascinated with destruction in entertainment, is this: is there a psychological difference between watching gladiators fight to the death at the Colosseum and watching a violent action movie where people are constantly being killed?
I’ve heard moral counsel suggesting that we shouldn’t play video games that have the user controlled character performing acts the user wouldn’t perform in real life. Essentially, if you wouldn’t kill or steal or blow up a building in real life, then don’t do it in a video game. Why would that be?
I believe that media consumption is to our minds what food consumption is to our bodies: we are what we eat, we think what we see. Garbage in, garbage out.
If I’m playing a video game that has me running through the streets stealing cars and killing people, I know that it isn’t real, and I don’t run out to do it in real life, but the images are there, the thoughts are there, somewhere in my mind I say “I just stole a car and killed someone.”
When I watch a movie that features a heavy gun battle with people’s bodies being torn apart and blood flowing everywhere, I know it isn’t real, I’m watching actors and seeing the result of hours of special effects work, but somewhere in my mind I’m thinking “Wow, this is exciting! People are dying, but it’s not real, it’s just entertainment.”
We may look back at the Romans and their Colosseum and think it primitive and barbaric, but is it really any different than some of the entertainment we seek today? In some ways it seems that the entertainment options made available by modern technology make our situation even worse. It all begs the question: to what end?
Why are we focused on destruction of life in our media while condemning it all around us in the real world? What effect does exposure to entertainment destruction have on our reaction to destruction in real life? In less than fifty years movie violence went from off-screen, suggested destruction of life in Psycho to on-screen gory destruction of life (so I’m told, I’ve never seen it) in Saw. Where does this path lead us, and is it somewhere we want to end up?