I wrote briefly in a post below (Mali – The Fragility of Hostility) about our desensitisation to violence in the media.
At that point I was referring to the carousel of nightly news stories regarding war and conflict across the globe, however the same applies to entertainment media. Think back across the last action movie, TV drama or even terrestrial soap series that you watched. I can imagine the homicide rate was a lot higher than it is in your street, but why? Well of course, the drama of a murder is seen to be good entertainment, or a necessary part of the plot progression in certain narratives. A show like CSI, for example, would be considerably slower if there was a lack of cadavers.
Action movies are a bit different to crime dramas, however. Generally, one or perhaps two well-developed characters (at least ones with names) might be killed off – a sad moment for the protagonist in our tale. “Now it’s time for revenge” he thinks (or she, but usually he, we’re covering violence today not sexism). Cue the mowing down of plentiful “bad guys”, usually in their tens but sometimes in their hundreds. This is a widely acceptable entertainment format. We are trained to passively accept the slaughter of multiple humans because they are not on “our side”. They don’t have a name, we don’t know their back-story, they work for the bad guys – their death was justifiable. Pleasurable, in fact.
Now if we look at combat sports in the media, there is a shift in public thinking. Around the time of any international title-fight, critics of boxing will line up to espouse their distaste for the sport and campaign to have it removed from television as it is “barbaric” and could “negatively influence children”.
The furore around the UFC and other forms of MMA (mixed martial arts & ‘cage fighting’) was unprecedented. In the states it was banned in all but a few states – one of the exceptions of course being the den of inequity that is Las Vegas. A place where, for some reason, American morals are held to a different standard. The fighters have been dubbed “animals” by more than one opponent of the sport. Despite a huge following, in exists on the sub-strata of media. Lurking amidst pay-per-view and obscure cable channels. The violence, they say, is too much.
This polarising view, placing combat sports in an area marked “almost acceptable” and simulated murder in an area marked “good clean fun”, is for me, perplexing. Consider this for me, if you will – is it not safer for a person of any age to watch a sport; in which two consenting, well-trained athletes compete in non-fatal combat, than it is to to absorb hour after hour of cinema ultra-violence? Let me put this another way. Boxing or MMA involves hours of training, a good coach will not put you inside a ring / cage unless he believes that you are ready. People do get hurt -sometimes long term – but nobody dies there and then. Anybody that wants to get involved in the sport needs dedication. They will also, generally, be less aggressive outside of their respective dojos.
Let’s address the issue of influence. A child, particularly boys, will have generally grown up with similar toys and cartoons to others. A combination of harmless fun like yo-yos and slinkies, alongside reams of plastic guns, tanks, mini-soldiers and cartoons featuring sanitised violence. People still die, but there’s no blood, just falling over. From a young age, boys are taught that you can kill if it’s the “right” thing to do. If they’re a bad guy, you’re justified. This is a theme that continues as your media consumption grows and you mature into what we can only hope is a reasonable and well-balanced individual.
Now we’ll return to the bad guys for a minute or two. This article came to me whilst watching Black-Hawk down. The well organised, well-oiled and brave American soldiers just happen to be attacked whilst flying over the lawless, chaotic and unruly Somali population, in attack helicopters. The locals then have the sheer audacity to attack the Americans! Can you imagine? What savages! They must be punished. Queue a large number of gunned down, nameless, faceless “baddies”, with a generic “eastern” soundtrack in the background. Marvellous, we are safe again.
The ideology of acceptable violence is perpetuated, the status quo is restored. You may think this is a little OTT. “It’s not real, film violence is ok, we’re not simple enough to be taken in by it”. Perhaps you’re right – I’m not advocating a ban on showing violence in film, it’s a fact of life. What I’m questioning is why one man fighting another man in a controlled environment is treated with more disdain than 50 men being gunned down in film. Why is one ok to show to teenagers and the other isn’t? In the UK you might argue that we don’t have ready access to guns, so the threat of imitation is low. In the USA however that is not the case, and I think their history of teenage gun violence speaks for itself.
What do you think has more power over a young mind? An occasional exposition to a combat sport, or a continual bombardment of weapons and war films? Also, next time you watch a recruitment advertisement for the army, pay attention to the format. In a society in which advertising smoking and drinking is frowned upon, if not prohibited, should the glorification of war be considered acceptable? I suppose it depends on who you’re dying for. Your vices or your government.