Violence at the Movies: Is there any simple explanation of the impact?

Inglourious Basterds scene This is part of a week-long series on violence and provocative themes in hit movies.)

My answer to today’s top question is one word:
    No.
    There are no easy answers here. That’s my conclusion after our week’s discussion of violence in film. Our readers’ comments and reactions show how complex the matter is.
    My wife and I went to see “District 9”—like me, she likes science fiction and was willing to go. But twice during the film she had the urge to get up and walk out. The film has a redeeming point (see Part 1) but the movie uses violence like a bludgeon to make it.
    Kathy Macdonald has a policy of avoiding violent films: “I made a decision a few years ago that I did not need to see violent films to know of violence in the world. All I have to do is watch the news. I don’t need to pay for more.”
    “Violence without purpose”—not violence per se—deters Dennis Crouch from seeing either “District 9” or “Inglorious Basterds.” After directing airstrikes in Laos and Vietnam, the only violence he will watch is “where heroes are engaged in violence to save our country and our warrior brothers. There has to be a higher purpose before I spend my money seeing the fiction movies you describe.”
    Ron Amen questioned the political motivation of “Inglorious Basterds” and pointed out that Arabs are often depicted negatively in Hollywood films. Jack Shaheen’s “Reel Bad Arabs”—an analysis of 900 films with Arab characters—makes the case with hard data. In this 2001 book, he finds that only about a dozen of the 900 portrayed Arabs in a positive way, and only about 50 were balanced.
    James added to our knowledge of research on violence in films, sharing some results from his thesis on the rhetoric of violence. “I found that portrayals of violence are not enough to incite people to recreate the violence they saw. It all depends on the way that the violence is portrayed and interpreted.
    “I’ve found that portrayals of violence can have widely varying rhetorical messages that can persuade people to do good, or persuade them to mimic the violence they saw on the screen.”
    His conclusion is good advice: “It’s up to us, as media consumers, to distinguish between portrayals of violence that persuade to do good and portrayals that persuade to do evil, and vote with our dollars as to what we want to see more of.”

 

    (Next week we look at “youth sports”—please stay tuned and tell us about your experiences!)

 

 

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