We are presented with non-stop, highly-realistic montages of death on a personal and mass scale in much of our entertainment. But because it is expected that we—most of whom have lived our entire lives watching violent spectacles on various screens—are “used to” this stuff, any sort of visceral negative reaction would be considered “crazy.”
And yet our subconscious mind processes fantasy as reality…as it processes dreams as reality.
So what does this ultra-violent imagery exactly do to our subconscious? I hazard to guess that it might be giving us a sort of residual and persistent “low-level anxiety” we may not even be aware of.
Mind you, I’m not saying violence in the media produces more violence, or Columbine killers, or anything over-the-top like that. Just that too much of it over too long a time may produce a persistent low-level anxiety—a type of nervous “white noise” we carry around with us in our daily lives, that will sometimes reveal itself as suddenly being tense for no apparent reason, suddenly being fearful for no apparent reason, and so on (conditions that are readily ameliorated by indulging in the several “legitimate” relaxation options society offers us in abundance: alcohol, prescription pills, porn, eating, and, of course, watching more violent imagery).
Now, depending on the base-level emotional health of the individual, this “white noise” may cause additional problems.
Current news stories flooding the media may operate “in tandem” with the violent “fantasy imagery” and cause even more problems (especially with the aforementioned individuals with an already impaired emotional health). So if there is civil unrest going on in pockets of the nation, the “fantasy imagery” in the current movies/TV/videogames may also depict this unrest, but in a highly exaggerated metaphorical form. Or if there is a fear promulgated by the media over some sort of impending natural disaster or virus outbreak, the imagined gory “worst-case scenario” can be broadcast as a highly realistic “fantasy” for the populace to enjoy.
The most “important” thing of all regarding this is that the violent and terrifying fantasy narrative must not provide any sort of hope or solution for the corresponding feared event in real-life.
Hence, in the “disaster” movie, the key idea is “there’s no hope” (except, perhaps, for the one Male Action Star who represents any number of authoritarian concepts from the most abstract to literally that of “depend on the State”). Or perhaps, in the case of the “civil unrest” movie or TV show, the “answer” presented is more violence, or perhaps unquestioning trust in “authority.”
The point is: the viewer (the carrier of this low-level mental “white noise”) must feel COMPLETELY IMPOTENT in the face of the fantasy violence scenarios. With the exception of possibly instilling paranoia and encouraging increased gun ownership and more military spending.
You will be surprised, however, as to how many people will react extremely negatively to the suggestion that excessive realistic “fantasy violence” may cause any sort of even the slightest bit of tension to the human body and mind whatsoever. In fact, to a large extent I am less fascinated/concerned with the impact of the violent imagery itself as I am with the violently angry responses to the notion that violent imagery could be in any way harmful.
If you don’t believe me, try starting an online conversation regarding this topic using the social media lubricant of your choice, and see in how little time you will not only be thoroughly castigated and accused of “censorship,” but also told off in a manner that will increasingly incorporate violent language. And don’t start the conversation off with some old saw about “does violent video games produce serial killers?” I mean, just merely suggest in the most “harmless” way possible that violent fantasy content impacts the human psyche in any way. Do this, and see what happens; count the minutes until you yourself are told to “go die.”
And I believe some people react in this heated manner for two reasons:
1) Because viewing violent imagery becomes literally addictive. Some of these people will claim that watching the violence is “cathartic”…”I need that at the end of my stressful day.” But I’m not so sure that it isn’t, at least in part, also the result of the constant exposure to the low-level anxiety/”white noise” itself. There is something “addictive” about negativity in general, which I’ll explore further in a future post.
2) Because attacking the violent pop-culture is like attacking Society, is like attacking The American (or put in the hawkish country of your choice) Way…is like attacking and threatening this person’s Identity. At least in America, this level of violence—the shoot-out, the mega-million-dollar disaster movie, the realistic gore—is part of what makes us “American.” We OWN this. And in order to have this society function properly, we cannot question these more questionable aspects…heck, in order to have our collective agreed-upon national “reality tunnel” function properly, we cannot question anything like that.
You see, I think that to start to question any part of the “national narrative” that has traditionally gone unquestioned…is to act in a seriously “threatening” manner, which in turn threatens the sense of identity and reality of some individual people.
I write this all not as someone who hasn’t been exposed to violent fantasy imagery, but rather someone who has been purposely exposed to a whole lot of it; in particular, horror and disaster movies. But at some point, as the years went on, I noticed that these programs and movies were beginning to have a more and more negative effect on me. So I experimented with cutting more and more of them out of my life; in addition to being more choosy of what actual (“actual”) news I chose to consume.
Not that I decided to cut all negativity out. But I just reduced it, in terms of the media I chose to expose myself to.
What I found was that less violence in my media=less anxiety. Less anxiety, less fearfulness, less residual tension throughout my body.
And yet…this idea of exposure to fantasy (or real) extreme violence in our media resulting in negative mind/body effects is still considered incredibly taboo. “Hey asshole,” someone might reply to the notion, “I’m not going to have my entertainment curtailed because you are a Weakling! Violence has no impact on the brain at all, that’s just a pretense for censorship! Now why don’t you go kill yourself and leave my movies/TV/videogames alone?!”
In closing, I really don’t advocate any sort of “censoring” of this said violent material. Instead, I believe the individual needs to see what works best for them. Pop-culture is not going to evolve out of the current death-obsession unless we as a collective evolve out of our own; and, frankly, I think that will take a while. Society benefits too much off the effects of this violence “white noise” on its citizens…in terms of its addictive quality (which keeps bringing back viewers/players)…in terms of the low-level anxiety which in turn increases the sales of a variety of narcotic-like “cures”…in terms of keeping the populace in a state of fear, paranoia and sense of impotence to change their world.
Remember…”there is no hope.” That is the message. “Violence is Normal,” our brains are cut off from our environment (as we are hopelessly cut off from other humans), and the world could explode into death at any second. These are the messages. You can choose to accept them…or tune them out.