Totally Deep Discussions: On violence in entertainment media, Part III: Reasons

Probably the most prominent underlying reason for violence in entertainment media stems from the reason that violent forms exist in present day period, that of which is a psychological reason. So, let’s take a break from the film discussion and talk a little science.

The peripheral nervous system, or PNS consists of all of the nerves that connect to your brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system, or CNS). Within the PNS is your autonomic nervous system, which divides into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system deals with all of your fight-or-flight responses, those instinctive survival responses.

Within your CNS is your brain. Within the brain lies all of your emotions, centered in a structure in the limbic system called the amygdala. The amygdala is associated most with fear, anger, and sexual emotions.

That tiny little red dot is an amygdala. Such responsibility for something so small.

That being said, one of the most basic emotions key to survival is aggression. In the past, when life expectancy was low and anything could happen, there was always the possibility that you had to be violent if you wanted to live. Although this issue isn’t as relevant on a massive scale in more developed societies today, the need for some expression of violence remains inherent. Violence is rooted well enough in our genetics that if they aren’t released at least by artistic means, or by means of entertainment, they risk being manifested in real life situations.

Now that the psychological basis for why violence exists in entertainment media has been established, we can discuss the other reasons. Like works of literature, you won’t really know the surface reason for why violence is in an artistic medium without directly talking to the person who is perpetuating the violence, but I’ve made a few generalizations based on observation.

The most obvious reason for violence in entertainment media is catharsis. For people who participate in contact sports, or even people who play violent video games, their reason for participating in the violent acts that come with the medium that serves for entertainment purposes is to get their violence out through means of mastering physical technique and various styles of those techniques.

The intent for martial arts, like judo, is not to be violent, but to get out aggression while also mastering a specific style of combat. Martial artists consider those styles of combat art, rather than violence.

Two more reasons that violence would be used in entertainment media would be for accuracy and to raise awareness. In a sense, these can go hand-in-hand. The goal when trying to be accurate in entertainment is to provide an immersive environment for the audience. For example, Forrest Gump depicted scenes of the Vietnam War while Forrest Gump served. The point was to get the audience to understand how brutal the war was, so it wouldn’t make sense to sugar-coat or gloss over the violence.

Forrest Gump, just an amazing movie, gave a first-hand perspective of the Vietnam War’s intensity.

Another reason for using violence is simply for aesthetics. Whether it’s a video game like Mortal Kombat, a director like Quentin Tarantino, or a genre like slasher films, the creators behind the entertainment medium make violence and the type of violence that they use a distinct characteristic of their material. Their material is not simply a platform for explicit violence, however. The violence itself is an embellishment to the material, and it also happens to be ornate enough, more often than not, to grab the attention of those who have the necessary curiosity.

Mortal Kombat, famous for its “fatalities,” or quite gory ways of demolishing your opponents.

The reasons for violence in entertainment media are not purposely dubious; in fact, the reasons are primarily subjective rather than objective. Regardless, the consequences of the exposure to violence in entertainment media cannot be chosen. Next, I’ll outline those consequences. Stay tuned.


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