Are We De-sensitizing Society from the Results of Violence?

In 1967 I was 12 years old, and I still clearly remember two movie experiences.  One was a major feature film, Bonnie and Clyde, and the other a B-movie war drama, Beach Red.  Of course, in Bonnie and Clyde we see the two subjects of the film slo-mo machine-gunned to death in re-creation of the actual demise of the historical outlaws.  In Beach Red extreme war violence was depicted, including amputations, beheadings, eviscerations and other assorted mayhem.  Some kids at school had a set of trading cards depicting gruesome Civil War battle scenes that we would look at huddled in small groups, away from adults, like it was porn.  After all, if Mom & Dad knew we were looking at such trash they would be upset, although oddly they were complicit in my movie watching.  Thus began my de-sensitization from violence.

Civil War Trading Card

Many movies followed:  The Wild Bunch, Dirty Harry, Straw Dogs.  Then in high school driver’s ed we all had to we all had to watch movies from the Ohio Highway Patrol depicting actual images of graphic fatalities from traffic crashes.    I was a young rookie in 1978 when a senior officer took me to the morgue to see an autopsy.  Beach Red and driver’s ed really didn’t prepare me for that.   For cops, firefighters and paramedics that sort of thing is necessary.  You have to learn to dissociate from the results of violence surrounding you at a crime scene or crash site.  Not to say some of us don’t lose our lunch in a quiet corner outside the tape, but you have to be able to function.

Oh, how I now yearn for those gentler times; for today, the visual assault on our senses and sensibility is virtually unabating.  And the things I saw as a police officer, images I can quickly conjure up in my head if I just think on it- not something I do much at all – often pale in comparison to things readily available on the internet, television, and movies.   We can see actual beheadings in progress and other recorded acts of murder, cruelty, and mayhem.  Popular TV shows such as NCIS, Bones, CSI, and others show simulated human remains in a wide array of dismemberment, evisceration, and other evidence of murder most foul.  Not to mention The Walking Dead, where both the living and the zombies are regularly dispatched with tooth, nail, and crossbow bolt in most graphic fashion.  And the movies, wow.  Not enough space to list them.   But sometimes you don’t even need to show the killing to go too far.  I decided George Lucas violated my social contract when Anakin murdered the school-age Jedi children off-screen.  You don’t kill kids, even to make a point.  Someone might get the wrong idea.  Darth Vader ultimately ends up with some good left in him at the end of the full tale, after he has slaughtered how many over the series?  Is this the message someone like Adam Lanza gets – I can do horrible things and still be good, deep down inside?  Our fascination with such figures is perhaps becoming the death of us.

De-sensitizing in progress?

Video games are another arena of murder and mutilation, and the topic has now come up in the discussion of young Adam Lanza and how he might have ended up in Sandy Hook.   I am not a gamer.  I never got past level one in Doom, or Super Mario Brothers for that matter, so I don’t relate to the attraction, nay, the addiction through which many people, mostly young men, feed their psyches.  I know they are graphic, almost real in terms of image quality.  I also know that pretty much any fantasy of death and destruction can be fulfilled by a game.  And that the higher the level in some games, the more graphic the visual reward.

Today I watch The Walking Dead and other violent tv and movies with maybe just a little guilt and discomfort, like thumbing through Dad’s Playboy at twelve.  I watched when Arnold was berated by young John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day to avoid needless killing, and he shoots all the guards in a prison in the knee.  It was played for laughs in the film, but I squirmed a bit because of the cops I knew with torn up knees and other parts from doing their jobs, in tremendous pain, families anguished, cheated with a miserly disability retirement or worker’s compensation settlement rather than serving out an honorable career.

See, that’s the problem.  We play the violence for laughs, and shrieks of mock terror, and self-satisfied perceptions of justice served, and we ignore the pain, the maiming, the death that goes along with it.  Actions have consequences,and even fictional ones should.  So now the national dialogue begins again.  Like it did so seriously after so many mass murders of our era, right?



photo credit: <a href=””>Daniel M. Reck</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

photo credit: <a href=””>Marxchivist</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

photo credit: <a href=””>Danny McL</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

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