The violence we see in entertainment is desensitizing us to real violence

I wrote last week that I don’t think anything will stop the growing desensitization of violence in America. Like a drug, we keep having to up the dosage, up the intensity, in order to have any sort of reaction to what we consume in film and gaming culture. However, while I gave this ultimatum, there is, in my opinion, one potential scenario that would change this damaging progression. What if violence were an everyday aspect of our lives?

While having a warzone swept across our nation is a terrible thing to imagine, nothing else seems likely to wake us up from our obsession with violence as entertainment. Daily struggling for survival ourselves can be the only way to change the way we think. Why? Perhaps because it is an innate human quality to be selfish—we can’t help it. And while there are people who defy this norm—i.e. Mother Teresa—there’s a reason people like her are highly esteemed but rarely followed. We may take a bullet from someone we love or something we believe in. But we as humans—especially comfortable American humans—are incapable of empathizing with victims of violence similar to what we are consuming through media.

When I say this, I do not discredit events like mass shootings or the infamous 9/11 attacks. These are horrors that have plagued our country, yes, but they are just that: shocking tragedies. They are not a normal part of life that the general public has to deal with each and every day. While the news of events like these are fresh we may feel their impact, but there is no widespread change in mindset. And I am not implying that the violence in film and gaming culture are the perpetrators—far from it. But it does pose a problem when we abuse or become addicted to the heavy amounts of violence created for consumerism. There is a problem when we disregard the realities overseas and the dehumanizing byproduct of depictions of arbitrary deaths.

This idea of dehumanizing leans further towards the quantity rather than the quality of violence in entertainment—though, of course both are continuously growing in intensity and raising the level of desensitization. When people’s deaths become arbitrary, they become only a number, or worse, they are forgotten and become nothing at all. One of my favorite film series that, unfortunately, follows this trend is the “Bourne Trilogy.” While pretty much everyone I know loves watching Matt Damon being a boss left and right, sometimes I cannot get the amount of arbitrary deaths out of my head. Time is taken and sympathy is given to the murders of particular characters, yes. But what of all the faceless victims of the accidents Jason Bourne causes in his continuous attempts to escape those chasing him? Is his one life really worth that much that he should sacrifice—if we can even call it that—the lives of innocent bystanders? But we are trained to focus on him. On Jason. And the film moves too fast to acknowledge what loss is left in his wake.

I see no evidence that this trained focus away from the consequences of violence—as depicted in films and video games—will ever shift unless we as a public can actually empathize with victims of violence. But to experience life like that, to live in perpetual violence, is certainly not a positive pathway for our nation either.   

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