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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Violence Makes Interesting Drama, But Is It Harmful Influence?

Violence Makes Interesting Drama, But Is It Harmful Influence?

The Bloodbath of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus - eigener Quelle
Many people find violent theatre, games & films entertaining, but they are also social reflections and present potential danger to the susceptible.

The notion that stage, TV, film or game violence desensitizes, is hardly new, but is given a fresh airing when shocking pictures of war, disaster and accident are streamed straight to screens. Sometimes people walk by; some help. Rubberneckers slowing to look at carnage on motorway/freeway pile-ups, are a danger to others.

Bloodbaths and Atrocities on Stage

Violence and theatre have always been partners. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is described by Sparknotes as “nonstop bloodbath of abomination with 14 killings, 9 on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or possibly 3), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity and 1 of cannibalism. That’s 5.2 atrocities per act, one every 97 lines”.

Sarah Kane’s 1995 Blasted was raw, shocking, earthy with rape, eye-gouging and cannibalism. The UK’s Sunday Telegraph condemned it as “gratuitous welter of carnage”. Four years later, after other plays that revealed what some critics described as creative but disturbing mental illness, but which also showed theatrical innovation and extreme emotional content, the 28-year old hanged herself.

Her work is “literature of despair”, a form of “In-Yer-Face theatre”. This largely British phenomena of the 1990s, saw young writers creating what Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph’s critic, described as, “sickening acts of sexual and physical violence, obscene language and a despairing view of contemporary society that seemed entirely nihilistic.”

It crossed into Germany, renamed as “Blood and Sperm” theatre, which is more unpleasant but accurate. In his 2000 book, In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today, Aleks Sierz dubbed it theatre of sensation, that “takes the audience by the neck and shakes it until it gets the message”. It’s an updating of techniques employed by both Brecht and Artaud.

Children Witness Murders

New Scientist magazine stated in 2007: “by the time the average US child reaches elementary school, he/she will have seen 8000 TV murders and 100,000 acts of violence”. The American Medical Association added: “by 18, the average US youngster witnesses 18,000 murders and 40,000 attempted murders”. So, does TV/movie violence exacerbate real-life violence?

Cybercollege reckoned in 2003 there were 2500 articles and books on the subject. Some studies show that boys or girls exposed to TV violence regularly are more likely to commit crime. Equally, exposure to parents being violent to each other, naturally has negative effects on young minds. Canada introduced the “V-Chip” so parents could lock out violence on screen, later adapted to take out sexual content. This was criticised for linking sex with violence.

The 1993 UK murder of 2 year old toddler, James Bulger, by two 10 year-old boys was described by the judge as “an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity”. He noted the bad influence of numerous rented horror movies on the boys, that made violence seem normal. The Columbine High School shooting rampage of 1999 left 12 students dead and a teacher plus the two perpetrators. Media and videos were thought to have fed the killers’ minds. No direct link was proved, but cause-and-effect is an easily understood assumption: violence breeds violence in impressionable youngsters.

A study released in March 2002, reported by Ann Marie Seward Barry in Visual Intelligence-Perception, Image and Manipulation in Visual Communication, found links between media violence and social problems, and an attractiveness (entertainment, ratings and ticket sales) of such violence.

Sick, Violent, Cruel, Gruesome, Upsetting, Sadistic

TV Guide in 1992 in one typical 18 hour broadcasting day found acts of assault/attack featured in cartoons (471), promos (265), movies (221), toy commercials (188), music videos (123), commercials for films (121), news (62), TV drama (69), tabloid reality shows (58), sitcoms (52) and soaps (34).

Running With Scissors maintains the 100 top-rated amusing movies by torture, rape, bestiality, child brutality, mutilation. There’re further categories such as ‘The Top 100 Goriest Movies, head-explosion-filled splatterfests, including zombie and slasher films’. They make a movie like The Godfather seem almost tame by comparison.

Titles like Philosophy of a Knife, Cannibal Holocaust, 120 Days of Sodom, Tumbling Doll of Flesh, Laboratory of the Devil, Subconscious Cruelty, The Gateway Meat, Snuff Perversions, Grotesque, Slaughtered Vomit Dolls, Rigor Mortis, History of Women’s Torture, All Women Are Whores and My Sweet Satan, convey the story. Do they negatively impact on susceptible viewers?

Video, Simulation and Virtual Reality Games

From the early 1970s, technology invented video games, which is now an industry worth over $25 billion a year. Games, simulations and realities are played on PCs, hand-held devices and consoles, cells/mobiles. The exponential growth of technology makes this industry both powerful and cause for concern about loneliness and isolation.

Douglas A Gentile and Craig A Anderson in Psychology report that all ages spend increasing time playing games. Most popular games are designed to be entertaining, challenging and sometimes educational, but up to 89% have violent content; a high body-count marks success.

They identify four effects of violent video games: the aggressor (which makes partipants more aggressive); the bystander (which desensitises people witnessing violence), the victim (makes people more likely to carry weapons for protection)and the appetite effect (the more people watch, the more they want to).

There is also the genre of mind-games and thought-experiments, that give rise to new and often original creativity, but can also be disturbing, with little or no research on how people are affected by such activities.

Critics argue that screen violence is unrealistic: death, injury and fighting are different in real life. In response, the industry points out that only a small minority of viewing audiences act out extreme violence they have watched, though this doesn’t answer the question of whether repeat viewing desensitizes audiences and act as as a negative influence.

First published at Suite 101, 19 June 2010, deleted by them in a Google algorithm purge, January 12.

Photo: The Bloodbath of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus – eigener Quelle

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