Today is the one month anniversary of Sandy Hook, and the discussion of the causes behind the shooting continues. One topic has been the possible link between violent entertainment and violent real-life behavior. This topic always surfaces after such incidents.
What is the relationship between death on the screen and death on the street? Put it this way: I frequently hear people say that Rudy inspired them to keep playing when people said they couldn't or that The Pursuit of Happyness inspired them to brush themselves off and follow their dreams. I also hear folks say they watch certain movies or scenes from movies to "pump themselves up" for certain activities. So why are we so afraid to consider that Die Hard might inspire something comparable in the other direction?
Look at kids and pro-wrestling. Nearly every kid sees the wrestling moves on TV and tries them in real life. I speak from experience on this. I doubt I would have invented the camel clutch on my own.
I also know I'm not the only one who has been involved in conversations about how the ubiquity of harcore porn has altered sexual expectations and responses.
If seeing something on the screen didn't influence your behavior, there would be no such thing as commercials.
When I went to the movies recently every single preview was for an upcoming explosion extravangaza. People love this stuff. Hollywood wouldn't keep sinking money into big budget bloodbaths if there was no demand. The vast majority of viewers walk away without seriously mimicking the carnage. But for a deranged viewer, why couldn't it be one of the contributors to his ultimate meltdown? If people are going to claim that uplifting, inspirational entertainment has a positive impact it seems like a stretch to say that violent, nihilistic entertainment can't have a negative effect on viewers' perceptions and behaviors.
Obviously humans were violent and aggressive before violent movies and video games. But does that automatically mean that continual exposure to certain kinds of violent entertainment can't help shape the way that aggression is expressed? People also had sex drives before the pill came along, but once it began to circulate, behaviors changed.
If violence on the screen doesn't desensitize people, then why has movie violence escalated so much? Go watch the darkest, most existential noir film from the fifties and see how tame it is compared to today's PG-13 films (to say nothing of R-rated ones). If our expectations and reactions weren't changed by continuous exposure to violence, we wouldn't be experiencing dimished returns when it comes to onscreen blooshed.