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An old writing on media violence, 2003-04-13, 10:50 p.m.


I thought I'd share an old writing. This is from a pop culture course I did a few summers ago. We watched a video, 'The Killing Screens which discussed violence in media. At the time, someone close to me was dying and that impacted on my thinking. Here, in it's unedited version, is that paper:

I made four pages of notes while watching The Killing Screens. They contained information about what was presented – the stats on how long a television is on a day in an average household, the body count and how in sequels of gory movies the number increases from the original and the lessons that violence teaches. However, perhaps because of my particular thought patterns and because of conversations in class I ended up looking at this video, not for how they desensitize the violence that these movies and games present, but how they desensitize death.

We had a conversation in class about death. In it, we discussed how students do think about their own death – and about ending their lives. No matter how invulnerable they think they are, they do consider bringing the end to their own lives. Do they realize what they are doing when they end their lives? Do they know that that is the end, no second chances, no rewinds? If the movies and videos that they watch are any indication then no, they don’t realize. They are shown violence day in and day out and very often, are shown that this violence has resulted in death. Yet they don’t see what happens after this person dies. Or how people feel when someone they love dies. And if they do realize that their death will garner attention, they are inspired by the violent deaths they see on television, seeing the reaction of those around them and the attention they garnered.

Perhaps this is all part of red-shirt syndrome. It is said that (in the old ones at least) if an extra on ‘Star Trek’ was wearing a red shirt that meant that they wouldn’t be around for long – perhaps not to the end of the episode. We look at people in movies as ‘red-shirts’. If Ar-nuld kills them all off, no odds. We don’t know their names, don’t know anything about them except that they were against the person who killed them. They are a red-shirt – not even a person in many ways. Even if they are killed by the bad-person – perhaps in a hostage-taking situation or because they were a good-person, we still don’t feel much more for them.

But they are a person. Something happens after they die. Their family mourns. They may leave a spouse and/or children behind. They, if they were people, had real interests and concerns. Maybe they were the head of the local bird watching society and only battled good guys on the weekends. Or maybe they’d just gotten their degree and were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were out celebrating. The body count for movies is made up mostly of people we don’t know and because of this don’t care about. They may show up again in another movie, or even as another character (I remember a ‘b’ movie I watched once that spared expenses that had two extras die in one scene then show up in the another scene as different ‘red-shirts’.). Nothing happens when you die as a ‘red-shirt’. No one is sad that you’re gone, no one misses you and, unless your death is a plot development, then your death has no real impact on life.

So, teenagers (and adults) see all of this violence. And they see these deaths. And, if it is felt that the violence will affect them, then it must also be felt that the death and lack of reaction will affect them. Seeing an unmourned body count will make a persons feelings on death are going to be different than if their only experiences of death were with people that they at least knew something about, if not someone they knew personally. And this different feeling will perhaps, over time, make people begin to feel that their death will have the same impact. No one will care, no one will miss them and they can come back and do it again. Death is something that doesn’t impact anyone and isn’t final.

There are some who feel that if they kill themselves or if they die, they will finally get the attention that they are looking for. It is these deaths that are the least thought out. Yes, they’ll get the attention, but they won’t know it or feel it. Instead, it has been glamorized by the deaths of those on screen that we do know. Anyone who dies on screen who is a main character is guaranteed a glorious send-off. One example of this is the death of ‘Christine’ on ‘Boston Public’. This character doubled her screen time with a montage at her funeral. Death, though in this case through high school sports, brought glory and prestige. Another example is the death of those who died in school shootings – especially those who killed themselves such as Dylan Kleobold and Eric Harris. These two boys killed their classmates and gained the attention of the world. Sites went up on the Internet talking about how what they did was a set forward for geeks everywhere. In their bloody deaths, they became deified. Those who watch these deaths on television will see how the act of dying gained attention for those on the screen. And this attention is what they want. They just don’t realize that they won’t get it.

This desensitization to death is scary. Whether it is due to a ‘red shirt’ phenomena or an attention seeking type of act, the feeling is often that death is not final. Through the violence that we see on television, we are submitted to viewing the deaths of many people each day. This appears to not have only desensitized us to the violence that occurs but also to its consequences. Because of this, obsessions with death are formed, with the person never totally understanding what they are obsessing over. As was pointed out, those who search out death, find a death clock and play with it only think its cool until they get their date of death. This, I believe, in my musing after this video, is an offshoot of our violent viewings. We need to discuss issues such as this with our students and our children and make them realize that not only is violence wrong, but that death is final.

Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest. ~ ~ Bion


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