Desensitization, Patrick O’Connell

To quote a show I’ve seen only 2 or 3 episodes of, it seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV.  In the Book of Mormon the two dissident brothers of Nephi are described as past feeling, because they didn’t listen to what they knew to be right.  Eventually they were unable to understand right from wrong.  I’m to the opinion that violent video games and movies are not all bad.  It is bad when paired with an immoral premise, causing desensitization to the moral.  Like the book says, the emotional response will “extinguish.”  But I do not think that that is always the end outcome.

Here’s two experiences from my life.  First is from the movie Gladiator.  While not comparatively violent when put in the context of other war movies, there are some pretty intense action sequences where people are decapitated, delimbed, or impaled.  Yikes! If you haven’t seen this movie and don’t want it ruined then get out of here.  Anyway, Maximus in the end is fighting to give Rome back her freedom, and to return to be with his family.  I’ll get back to this later.  Another time I was at an internet cafe in Romania, and next to me was a child, probably 8 or 9, playing Grand Theft Auto.  I remember looking at the game and watching as the kid’s character pulled an innocent woman from her car and shot her in the head, driving away with the car.  He didn’t blink.

Now in both of these examples I witnessed simulated violence, but the 2nd instance had a completely different effect on me than the first.  Gladiator used it as a tool to promote a moral, and to set up the story to make me cry like a little girl when Maximus is reunited with his deceased wife and boy.  The second example of the little boy and Grand Theft Auto was pure immoral desensitization to the value of human life.  I had seen this game played before, but watching this child callously shoot someone, virtual or not, it got to me.  I think media violence can be used as a tool to enrich if used correctly, but when it is meaningless or without moral premise, it has no place.

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  1. #1 by mthomasmatthews on May 29, 2012 - 3:04 PM

    A similar thing happened to me the other day in the men’s locker room. As I was getting a new towel, the guy who tossed it over to me was watching a movie/tv show on his laptop. Right then, a woman pointed a gun at the camera, fired, and there was a quick splotch of red on the screen. It then immediately cut to a new scene, so I moved on as well. But as I was walking toward my locker, I realized that somebody (fictionally) just died! And neither I nor the guy watching it really seemed fazed by it. I definitely have been desensitized to violence against humans. Thanks for helping me reflect on that.

  2. #2 by blarimer on May 30, 2012 - 3:15 PM

    Patrick, I completely agree with this premise that you are arguing. Whether or not violence in and of itself takes some sort of negative effect on the mind regardless of the moral foundation, I’ll leave to others to discuss. But truly there is wisdom in suggesting that context of violence takes its toll in how the violence will impact the human mind. I love the show 24, it’s one of my favorites, and it definitely has some pretty hardcore action and some violence – even some disturbing violence. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I would advocate such violence, it certainly doesn’t haunt me so much when Jack is breaking a bad guy’s fingers one by one in an effort to get information that could stop a nuclear attack, or threatening to cut someone’s eyes out in order to intercept lethal nerve gas under terrorist control. That feels like violence with a good cause, and I can sleep at night after not having blinked while viewing it just fine. But when people are put in traps of psychological and physical torture such as in the movie saw, then the violence has a twisted undertone that truly can haunt me and phase my mind into a dark and just plain weird state.

    Good observation.

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