Fictional De-sensitization Towards Violence

I’ve gone back and forth on the debate about media violence’s relationship to real-world violence. On the one hand, I’m not a big proponent of fictionalized violence. Sometimes, it’s overdone, and if it were my choice to make a fictional narrative, toy, or video game, a violent one would not be my first choice. I’m all for positivity. On the other hand, I grew up with a lot of war toys: Transformers, G.I. Joe—the whole lot. I think my brother and I had almost every single G.I. Joe ever made in the 1980s. We just didn’t have the U.S.S. Flag (sp?) aircraft carrier. That was too expensive.

The funny thing is that when I was growing up, my parents indulged me and my brother in this war toy obsession. They didn’t seem to have any problem with it. Then, one day, when I’d been in college for a couple of years, I returned home to see my mom’s car with a bumper sticker that said something along the lines of “Stop War Toys.” I asked her about it, and she said she was vehemently against war toys and that they were damaging to young boys’ development. Of course, I was flabbergasted. “Mom, didn’t you let us have war toys?” I asked. She replied that she shouldn’t have. I wonder if she somehow thought I had developed badly. I think most of my friends and acquaintances would agree I’m one of the most peaceful (if still highly opinionated) people around.

Two other situations confuse me about the supposed relationship between fictional and real violence. First of all, many people I know who freak out at the sight of real blood have no problem watching Blade or Kill Bill, films both of which containing much bloodshed, almost rivers of blood. Secondly—and this is the incident that got me thinking about writing this essay—I was walking down the street the other day, and I passed a cop with a huge gun holstered at his waist. As I passed by, I kept staring at the gun, thinking to myself That’s a real gun! Oh, my God!. Certainly I must have seen real guns on tv (loaded with blanks) or at least real-looking guns before, but I had not been desensitized to violence at all—the mere thought of real, possible death made my heart skip a beat. I’ll still pop popcorn, laugh, and fall asleep to media violence because I’ve developed an important skill: the ability to separate real life from fictional narrative life.

Now, you’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been talking mainly about my own experience, and it’s natural to wonder, “Well, sure you didn’t turn out desensitized toward violence, but many others have.” That’s my whole point, though: It’s not the media violence itself that desensitizes anyone toward violence; it’s how we teach them about it. We have to make sure our children learn and know the difference between fact and fiction, the difference between reality and fantasy. People aren’t shocked by beheadings in Hollywood films as much as they’re shocked by real-life beheadings. Why is there a black market for snuff films? Because it’s supposed to be real. There is still a novelty in reality, for those skilled and intelligent enough to recognize the difference.

I tell you, I must have seen about a hundred R-rated movies before I was ten years old, and the first time I punched someone (and it was an accident, I swear) was still novel to me. As Jesus once said, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.'”.

Further readings:
“Waging War on Toys”
“Toy Guns: Do You Let Your Boys Have Them?”
“Video games and desensitization to violence. Are they correlated?”
The Answer Bank on video game violence
“Television Violence and It’s[sic] Effects on Behavior”

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