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A History Of Violence
Member Name: plipplop
Advantages: A minute percentage of the population may be inspired by horror films
Disadvantages: Horror films are a scapegoat for far deeper social problems
There is a very common mentality in the world today that if somebody finds something offensive, or that they disagree with it, then it should be removed from sight. Those who have no interest in (or importantly, don't understand) a genre of art, cinema or literature will often call for it to be banned; to be removed from sight lest it corrupt our very souls. I think this is a profoundly ignorant and potentially dangerous attitude. Children and adults should be bombarded with as many varying images, attitudes and people as time permits. It's what shapes us as individuals. It's where we get our identity from. As we go through life, we pick and choose things that match our belief system and reject those that don't. Put quite simply, it's what makes the human race tick.
In recent years, there have been a number of high profile murder cases, such as the brutal murder of the toddler James Bulger. These crimes, quite rightly, horrify society and leave us wondering how such crimes could possibly have been committed. How could man be so very cruel to another man? Naturally, it seems, we need to find a culprit. We need to find someone or something to blame - and violent films and computer games have increasingly come under fire. But do these entertainment products really contribute to these crimes or is society simply barking up the wrong tree?
Generally, I don't believe that violent entertainment leads to violent crime. To suggest so, to me anyway, shows a critical lack of understanding around the psychology of these things and highlights the ignorance of those campaigning for the ban. Don't get me wrong; I don't (and wouldn't) deny these critics the opportunity to criticise horrific films but I would challenge most of the assumptions they (wrongfully) make.
I've been a big fan of horror films since I was around 16. Surprisingly, up until that age I was very weak-willed; even The Towering Inferno terrified me. However, as I grew up, I found myself fundamentally entertained by the whole horror genre. I've often debated and discussed this with friends, some of whom share the love of such films and some of who don't. What I need to make clear is that I don't enjoy the idea of real people suffering nor do I actually enjoy the idea of fictitious people suffering, because there's only really a small distinction.
Horror films appeal to me in a number of ways. They are, for me and many others, an extreme way of satisfying a need for justice. The plot of most horror films, for example, will eventually lead to the bad guy / alien / monster being vanquished and killed in the most brutal fashion. The build-up is extreme and often very harrowing, but the badder the bad guy, the more satisfying it is when he finally gets the chop. Some modern film makers satisfy this need particularly well; in Hostel parts 1 and 2, the bad guys are so wicked, you're virtually willing the victims to tear them apart with their bad hands by the end. There's a moment in Alexandre Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes when one of the mutants is about to finish some poor guy off and instead, at the very cusp of his death, this guy finds enough strength to run a pickaxe through the mutant and turn the tables. It is one of the most satisfying moments of recent movie history. A psychologist might say (and I would agree) that this is actually a very healthy way of viewing a film like this. Look at the beliefs exhibited - innocence, good overcoming evil, the bad guy always gets it in the end. I'd be quite happy for my children to think like this.
If you look closely at some horror writers, the lines between the good and bad guys are often blurred, too. In the Saw series, serial killer Jigsaw puts people through various tortures to try and make them learn lessons about their lives. Nobody could argue that it's an acceptable thing to do, but the writers are trying to make a slightly more profound point here, albeit demonstrated in a very visceral and shocking manner. How many bad guys are the victims of a broken home or child abuse? Surely horror films are actually also a moral warning to us. Michael Myers is a fictional killer; but his childhood torment simply mirrors that of many real children. Perhaps there is a point of learning, here?
There's another reason we like horror films. We like to be frightened. We like to be shaken out of the normality of our every day lives. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say we need it. There's comfort to be taken from a horror film. At the end of the film, you can walk away, safe that in real life, such things (normally) don't happen and gosh, aren't we lucky for it? I think it's entirely healthy to use a horror movie for escapism.
What about violent video games? Well, I'm not such a fan of those, so I can't comment so closely, but it strikes me that there is a similar appeal. (Frankly, I'm just too lazy to stick with them.) Certainly, the escapism is there again and I can clearly the see the potential fun to be had from dashing around shooting zombies and / or people. Our lives can seem very normal, very simple and very law-abiding. Sometimes, we need to know what it feels like to be the opposite to take comfort from the way we are.
What I would say is that none of my interest in horror films stems from a need to be inspired. There is nothing in a horror film that would inspire to go out and replicate the act. There's nothing that COULD make me do that and for 99.999% of the population I believe that the same thing applies. For many people, the appeal that I have discussed doesn't apply to them personally and that's fine. That's what choice is all about and that's why I AM a big supporter of film certification and warnings on content. I think people should know if something contains gore or sexual imagery. Parents should have advice on what MIGHT be suitable for their kids and what might not.
So what about the other 0.0001% of the population? Yes, I suspect there could be a tiny, disturbed minority of the population who could be inspired to commit a violent act by a horror film or computer game. But then, men have always done horrible things to men - and horror films are a fairly recent invention. I don't imagine that the Moors Murderers were inspired by something they saw on a movie; nor was Frederick West. It has been argued that prolonged exposure to images of horror desensitises you to them and that you are no longer able to distinguish between right and wrong. This is bobbins. I've seen literally thousands of horror films and whilst it may now take more to shock / revulse me on screen, I can assure you that stories of real-life violence or torture still have the same effect that they always did.
Opponents argue that violent crime is on the increase and link this to the availability of horrific film material. I think violent crime IS on the increase, but I think you need to look more profoundly to find out why that is. Teenagers and young adults are beating and stabbing each other to death. I would suggest that this is more of a symptom of deeper-rooted problems in society. The growing divide between wealth and poverty; useless parents unable to break free from a cycle of useless parenting and actively discouraged from doing so by the welfare system. I'd be more inclined to blame politicians and leaders seemingly incapable of acting in a selfless, uncorrupted manner, seeming to exist only to serve their own greedy agendas. Or perhaps it's a bulging economy where even the basics seem to cost a fortune and our entire belief system is based upon profit and monetary value? It strikes me that each generation is becoming increasingly embittered than the last, as the world just goes further and further down the toilet. But it's these same corrupt politicians and leaders that are required to turn around some of these changes who, instead, misguidedly spend their time trying to ban horror films, simultaneously demonstrating their complete lack of social understanding of what makes their constituents tick. It's only human nature. When the going gets tough, the tough go for the easy targets, which horror films always have been.
I don't imagine that opponents of horror films will ever be silenced in any way, and nor should they. But to enable censorship, to prevent people having access to this kind of entertainment is ridiculous and fundamentally wrong. If the horror films were to go tomorrow, the violent deaths wouldn't - and what would the censors turn to next?
Summary: Horror films and their impact on violence in society