On Violence

This week’s Daily Post writing challenge is about violence in film. Specifically, they ask whether I think watching violent movies inspires violence in the real world. As usual, there is a poll attached, and as usual, I don’t entirely agree with any of the answers. These polls are always black and white, and my opinion usually falls somewhere in the middle.

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Let’s start with the first poll answer: “Yes, violence begets violence, fictional or otherwise.”

In 1888, Jack The Ripper didn’t leave the theater after seeing Michael Bay‘s new movie, Xtr3m3 Xploshuns 9 and start killing people. It’s hard to believe there was ever a world without omnipresent Michael Bay explosions, but it’s true. Thug Behram in India may have murdered 931 people through strangulation in the late 1700s through the early 1800s. Elizabeth Báthory is said to have killed up to 600 people between 1560 and 1614. Gilles de Rais sodomized and killed between 80 and 200 children starting in the spring 1432. Forty of his victims were discovered in Machecoul in 1437.

How you could do anything in this armor is beyond me. Gilles de Montmorency-Laval, c. 1835, wikipedia.
How you could do anything in this armor is beyond me.
Gilles de Rais. Image from wikipedia.

If you notice the dates there, all of those horrific, prolific serial killers were doing their thing long before the invention of television, movies, video games, comic books or death metal music. Serial killers existed well before movies were ever invented so anyone arguing that violent movies cause violence is arguing a contrived point.

The second poll answer isn’t entirely true either: “No, film violence is a scapegoat for deeper social issues.”

As an example of its untruthiness, John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan because he was obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver, more specifically, the actress Jodie Foster, who plays a 12-year-old child prostitute. Towards the end of the film, the main character, Travis Bickle attempts to assassinate a United States Senator running for president.

Hinckley saw Taxi Driver at least fifteen times (an impressive number when you consider that this was before the days of VHS or internet torrents) and identified way too much with Travis Bickle. He began stalking Foster around the country, writing her letters and calling her, and even enrolled in the same university. When she said she wasn’t interested, he figured she was a little out of his league, which was clearly true. Instead of giving up like any reasonable chap, he decided that he had to enter her league by, you know, killing the President of the United States of America. Crazy logic is crazy. So, he started stalking the President, shot at him point blank six times and missed. He shot three of Reagan’s entourage and Reagan himself was hit by a bullet that ricocheted off the presidential limousine. Everyone survived.

If it weren’t for Taxi Driver, Hinckley probably wouldn’t have tried to assassinate the President. However, if the movie never existed, Hinckley would not have been less crazy. He most likely would have become obsessed with some local girl and done something horribly crazy for her instead. There’s no way that the movie was responsible for Hinckley’s lunacy.

In my typically scattered way, I’ve just proved and disproved the belief that violent entertainment causes real world violence. So, I chose the third answer to the poll: “Maybe, but crazy people will always find something to inspire them.” Strangely, at the time of writing this, my answer is solidly in the majority with 68% of the vote. I’m in the majority! Woot.

Let’s use me as an example. I love some gory movies. I love buckets and buckets of blood on screen. Here are some examples:

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I’ve seen all of those movies and they are all ridiculously violent. There is so much gore that it becomes unrealistic; it almost becomes a caricature of gore. Of course, it’s hard to take a girl with a machine gun for an arm or a robot geisha seriously anyhow, but really, these films are designed to entertain, not to glorify violence. I have seen all of those movies, yet I haven’t killed a single person. In fact, amazingly, I haven’t even attempted to kill anyone. I’ve never been arrested for anything. While I do have a gun and a baseball bat in my room, I have never used either on a single soul, nor would I, unless my life was in danger.

The films in the slideshow are all Japanese movies. They have produced some of the goriest and violent movies in all of cinema, yet their culture is not one of violence. Japan’s murder rate is 0.4% (506 total murders in 2012). From the same source, the United States has a rate of 4.8% (14,748 total in 2012). That’s embarrassing.

So, my real answer to the poll is none and all of the above. Violence in entertainment doesn’t necessarily beget violence in the real world, nor is it totally innocent of it. Humans make our own choices in life and accept the consequences of those choices. Just because some people use violent movies as an excuse, that doesn’t mean that violent movies are guilty or bad. People will always find something to inspire them to violence if they’re looking for it, where those of us not inclined to violence will not.