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Media Violence, Hollywood Narratives, and the Mentally Ill

The violent imagery problem that deserves a national conversation.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

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April 1, 2013 - 12:02 am
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I have been reluctant to say much about the relationship between entertainment violence and real violence, partly because of the research that I did on the subject when writing this paper long ago. There was evidence that children, at least, exposed to a steady diet of violence became somewhat more aggressive because of it, but there was contradictory evidence as well.

The experimental research that I found suggested that kids from healthy homes were not at any risk; indeed, violent entertainment might have a cathartic benefit for them. Kids from unhealthy homes, however, might be at increased risk, perhaps because what they watched reinforced violent behaviors already within the family structure. Perhaps the strongest argument against the claim that violent entertainment increases real violence, however, is what has happened to murder rates over the last 33 years: rates in 2011 were less than half of what they were in 1980.

Yet I had a sudden revelation while doing a radio talk show in the Midwest a few weeks back. A caller was trying to get me to talk about the supposed enormous problem of gun violence by white-supremacist hate groups. I was trying to find some way to diplomatically tell him that he was full of it; that as despicable as such groups are, all of the blacks murdered by white supremacist hate groups in the U.S. in a decade would not equal a typical week of black-on-black Chicago murders.

The FBI’s 2011 Hate Crime Statistics report shows a total of four murders committed for reasons of bias: only one of those was because the offender was “anti-black”; three murder victims were because the attacker was “anti-male homosexual.” In a country of more than 300 million people, that’s actually an astonishingly low number of murders.

(By the way, that table is worth reading just for the categories of bias crimes: anti-homosexual — yes, there are people that hate homosexuals; anti-heterosexual — yes, there are people who hate heterosexuals; but what kind of bias is “anti-bisexual”? What sort of person hates someone for being bisexual, instead of for being homosexual?)

What caused my sudden insight was this caller asking if filmmakers were using their films to incite crimes against blacks. I was briefly in shock that this caller was so paranoid that he thought Hollywood — the essence of limousine liberalism — was intentionally making movies to stir up hatred against black people. It has been a very long time since D.W. Griffith made The Birth of A Nation (1915), which celebrated the birth of the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan, and helped to bring about its revival.

I turned it around, and suggested that if movies are doing anything to promote violence, it might be by reinforcing beliefs held by those who are severely mentally ill. You and I can watch a film about zombies, or read a well-written novel like Max Brooks’ World War Z, and recognize that it is fiction. We can buy Hornady’s Zombie Max ammunition and recognize that it is all a joke. But what about a person whose mental illness has reached the point that he thinks that zombies have taken over the U.S. government? (Something horrifying, destructive, and brainless has indeed taken over, but they aren’t zombies.) What about someone who thinks that aliens have taken over the Earth, so he beheads and eats the guy in the seat next to him on a Greyhound bus?

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Top Rated Comments   
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there are no more spree killings today than there have ever been. Due to improved communication and dissemination of news as well as changes in police techniques and accountability, we simply hear about more of them.

What did we use for statistics before the FBI started keeping statistics? How did newsmen find out about spree killings before the Internet? How did news outlets report spree killings, and how many people read about them?

I don't think human nature or human behavior changes with time. A certain number of people are born or become killers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To the question “do movies shape or reflect society” should be added a third selection: that movies act as a “repeater station” wherein they take a weak local signal, boost it and ensure that it is spread to a far broader audience.

The mass media didn’t invent evil. They just gave it a platform and some grisly examples which are presented to those marginal personalities which may never had imagined some of the more obscene grotesqueries on their own.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (80)
All Comments   (80)
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We have “mainstreamed” graphic death just like hard-core porn in the media for over 30 years now, and created a cult following around serial murders as heros…. todays mass killings are just the Public Masturbation Events of the those ill-equipped to control their impulses, when all the messages and images they see are triggering a specific response they cannot filter out.

Put it this way...a long ago, some (anarchist, whatever) freak shot at President-elect Franklin Roosevelt, and killed the mayor of Chicago. He was executed for his crime within that same calendar year. Few people ever remembered his name, and fewer still ever learned of his rants, his politics, his favorite movies, grudges, authors or ideas he associated with, saw himself as, believed in, complained about or promoted.

He was not seen as a “political figure” like a David Hinkley or Sirhan Sirhan. He never became a “cult personality” like Manson. He was not “famous” or “interesting, or “cool”. He was a murderer, apprehended at the scene, and rightfully executed soon after that event. There was no TIME for this freak to become “famous”… speculated on bt the media as the possible voice of the “disconnected”, the down-trodden, the mangled refuse of The Great Depression, driven to despair and madness by the times, such that we needed to dissect and analyze what happened, to further understand ourselves…no. There was nothing of VALUE to be wrought from inspecting this pathetic man, and everyone knew it.

If anyone learned anything at all from him and his deed, it was a lesson in what NOT to do… if you at all value your own life or legacy, as the consequences of those acts result in nothing but a swift and ignominious death, followed by, if you are LUCKY, mere obscurity… or more appropriately, the universal revulsion and contempt of all who cannot forget you ever existed fast enough.

THAT is how we treated “sensational killers” in my Fathers Era.

It is NOT what we do with them today.

What unstable people see today is, maniacs that commit “spectacular” killings are routinely bestowed with absolute instant, universal fame. Their acts are not crimes, they are Rites of Passage for a Select Few. A Coronation if you will. A Ritual of Pageantry we are happy to engage in every few months, because it is so BEAUTIFUL in its horror and the perpetrators Royalty, among a Pantheon of the Strangely Revered and Rewarded.

Because for the Media, sex is death and death is sex…and sex is the ultimate marketing tool in everything they do. . .Hollywood will play both sides…the faux tears and knee-jerk of Gun Control support… But The Freaks know above all else, they well be STARS…. they will be FANTASTIC...

Dark, enigmatic, frightening, complex, and larger than life. They KNOW they will be worshipped, in the sleek sexy undercurrent of “edginess” and “death” and “madness” , they KNOW Hollywood Celebrities would love to portray on screen someday in an orgy of self-importance…because is just so f*cking COOL to imagine what it would be like, to be so evil, to be like THEM.

It’s a generational feeding frenzy, each Potential Mass Killer living in a world super-saturated with the near cult-like status the media created around the PREVIOUS pathetic loser who achieved “fame” by attacking a room-full of un armed people, with guns…or knives…sharp blades are sexy too…what happened to a roundly pregnant Sharon Tate morphs effortlessly into the uber-thin Ms. Thurman, now as Administer not Recipient, because death by knives is SOO sexy, ( and the Baby- Belly kinda ruins the buzz, right?)

Sensational killers flourish today, because The Dignity and The Discipline of my Fathers Generation has long since died, and nothing worthwhile has bothered to replace it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"We have “mainstreamed” graphic death just like hard-core porn in the media for over 30 years now..."

Part of the underlying problem here is the religious right that pervades the US, where one can show severed heads rolling down a stairway in all their grotesque glory, but showing a female nipple? Oh, the humanity. Expressing love via sex is porn, and grisly war and death is tuesday night tv fare. Utterly backwards. The real porn is murder and war. And you wonder why I think of the religious right as more of an enemy than the communists. This is their doing, not the left's.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Expressing love via sex is porn....showing a female nipple? Oh, the humanity."

Yes indeed, the violent tearing away of that portion of Ms. Jacksons dress in order to expose her breast, was such a tender form of love, want it.

Something my 9 year old daughter needs to just "get over" and accept, because thats what she should expect boys to do to her when they're "all horned up" right?

I mean, it was only a Sunday afternoon, on a network broadcast...surely we should have expected a bit of nuanced "kink" and a bit of "rough sex" alluding to, during the Family Hour, right?

I mean, why ELSE do you people fall all over yourselves to hand out condoms to OTHER PEOPLES CHILDREN in the 6th grade, regardless whether their parents think is appropriate or not, right?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I hate to break this to you, but the religious right would find "severed heads rolling down a stairway" equally horrifying. You might want to look at the requirements of both the Breen Code and the Hayes Code which governed mainstream movie making for decades. It was the left's desire to make "realistic" movies that led to not only Last Tango in Paris but also The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I think of the religious right as more of an enemy than the communists"

Given that the Communists have murderd, "up close and personal" with pistol shots to the backs of heads, machettes to the necks and shovels to the head, upwards of 100 MILLION people in the last 80 years or so, I dont "think" I absolutely KNOW, that you are a fool.

Or a Tool, spouting Dogma that reality has proven wrong, 100% of the time
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, he now has zero credibility with me. I had hoped to engage him and find some shred of reason but whatever. He's a true anti-theist ideologue and yet I think he considers himself to be a conservative. Would my 1st amendment rights be safe with him in charge? Probably not. So he doesn't even qualify as a respectable Libertarian.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah DD, he's a troll, and not a very good one at that. Strictly Boilerplate Leftism, Consistanlty Socialist Appologetics, Christians are worse than Nazi's, Bla Bla,Bla.

Every so often you think its "worthwhile" to say "come on, seriously?" and have an adult conversation, and he goes all Huff-Post on you and you kick yourself for getting sucked in.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Good grief, can you possibly be more out-to-lunch? You are seriously obsessed with the "religiious right." What does the religious right have to do with severed heads rolling down a hallway? Did you get beaten by a crucifix as a baby? Dropped by a priest? Be reasonable if you want to engage people and earn a hearing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
" but what kind of bias is “anti-bisexual”? What sort of person hates someone for being bisexual, instead of for being homosexual?"

The list is no doubt comprised of all the reasons ever given for "hate crimes" by people admitting to them (or filing charges under them).
So either someone said as a reason for beating up someone else "I didn't like that he was bisexual" or someone claimed (s)he was beaten up for being bisexual (when that may not have been the reason at all, but that's how prosecutors come up with the "hate crime" argument for claiming increased sentences).

"I was briefly in shock that this caller was so paranoid that he thought Hollywood — the essence of limousine liberalism — was intentionally making movies to stir up hatred against black people. "

They aren't, they're trying to portray an image of a US society rife with anti-black and anti-homosexual violence, an image that's utterly disconnected from reality, in the same way that they're trying to portray a US society that's under constant threat from Big Corporations and can only be saved by a combination of the federal government coming in at the last moment to assist the heroic outcast hippie homosexual treehugger who's the secret love object of the girlfriend of the Evil Industrialist in bringing down the Evil Corporate Empire and restoring the world to its proper state of government controlled, environmentally conscious, bliss.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
FTA: "But what about a person whose mental illness has reached the point that he thinks that zombies have taken over the U.S. government? (Something horrifying, destructive, and brainless has indeed taken over, but they aren’t zombies.)"

Matter of fact, you can be sure they aren't zombies, because they have absolutely no interest whatsoever in brains!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't think most of Hollywood is smart enough to influence anyone OTHER THAN the mentally ill. Actors, actresses, artists, etc. in today's mold may exhibit incredible TALENT, which doesn't even remotely relate to intelligenc or common sense. As a society we insist on confusing talent and charisma with smarts. That's a fool's game.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there are no more spree killings today than there have ever been. Due to improved communication and dissemination of news as well as changes in police techniques and accountability, we simply hear about more of them.

What did we use for statistics before the FBI started keeping statistics? How did newsmen find out about spree killings before the Internet? How did news outlets report spree killings, and how many people read about them?

I don't think human nature or human behavior changes with time. A certain number of people are born or become killers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mass murders go back a long ways in American history, but they were usually (although not always) domestic situations. As state mental hospitals became common in the 19th century, domestic murders in general (and likely the domestic mass murders as well) declined.

Mass murders that had some rational purpose, such as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, have always been present. The completely irrational mass murders, however, went from shocking in the 1960s to common today, because we scrapped our state mental hospital system in the 1970s.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The more publicity that a spree killer gets (often from politicians who want to use the tragedy to promote their own agendas), the likelier "copycat killers" will decide that's the way to get attention.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If media violence is a straw man, why does the military use conditioned violence to increase firing rates during time of war? If I am not mistaken, firing rates in WWII was 20%, now it is over 90%.

Condition response like lab rats after cheese. Mansize targets, targets that pop up, 1234 everyday we pray for war, 5678 rape kill mutilate...

Media violence works the same way. We get use to it, and some who have less than a good fondation of how to act towards others do not have any problem murdering babies. Those individuals are truely sick. Pushed by a society that has no problem spending 400 million on murdering the innocent.

The military has to. Society does not. Violence in the media is part of a 50 year full court pressagenda to destroy culture.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are mistaken. The 20% number comes from the work of SLA Marshall. It has long been debunked. He was the opinion that a conscript army couldn't be taught to shoot properly which is interesting since the Army could have given a quarter of the WWII draftees an M-1, 50 rounds to practice and zero the sights and then qualify on the first day they were in the Army. His research was instrumental in getting the M-16 to replace the M-14. After the Vietnam the Army did discover that indeed a conscript could learn how to shoot and that well aimed semiautomatic fire would defeat an opponent using "spray and prey" fully automatic fire almost all the time. We don’t use individual automatic fire very much anymore.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Mansize targets, targets that pop up, 1234 everyday we pray for war, 5678 rape kill mutilate."

Learning to kill is easy. A slit throat, a bullet to the head. Easy. Getting people to actually do these things is harder and requires a removal of the conditioning society places. That is IS okay to level violent force towards the enemy and every single exercise does this.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I did not say that media violence is a strawman, merely that the declining murder rates argue that it can't be a major factor in real world violence, or if it is a major factor, there must be much larger ones overwhelming it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To the question “do movies shape or reflect society” should be added a third selection: that movies act as a “repeater station” wherein they take a weak local signal, boost it and ensure that it is spread to a far broader audience.

The mass media didn’t invent evil. They just gave it a platform and some grisly examples which are presented to those marginal personalities which may never had imagined some of the more obscene grotesqueries on their own.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Many years ago, I read a rather depressing article by a psychologist who argued that as news organizations had become more explicit about horrible things done to crime victims, it gave ideas to sociopaths as to what to do. He did not present what I considered a particularly persuasive collection of data to defend his position, but I do not find it particularly shocking. In the 1960s, oral sex was still something that men had to go to prostitutes for -- it was not considered something that most nice girls did, even inside marriage. Today? Not only is it common, but even anal sex has worked its into the behavior list of many young women, at least in part because widespread distribution of porn with these behaviors has taken much of the shock value away from them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
i seriously doubt it was even in the 1960s something people had to go to prostitutes for, they just weren't openly discussing it in the pub afterwards...

And to class consensual sexual acts other than the classic missionary position as the same as sociapathic behaviour is so incredibly wrong on so many fronts it makes your entire argument laughable.

Had you remained at stating that the public portrayal of and large scale attention for gruesome crimes gives (potential) criminals ideas, you'd have had a strong argument.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You might want to read some of the books that were published in the period, such as Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex and The Sensuous Woman. I think you will see that ours was a considerably more puritanical society.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Any discussion of media violence should begin with the European and American response to the Great War (world war 1), a subject generally neglected by media critics. I attempted to describe film noir here: http://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/, retitled film noir, decoded. We continue to be cultural pessimists, losing ourselves on the dark side and antagonists to "outdated" notions of progress.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This media violence stuff is just as much a straw man as blaming gun ownership. Violence has always been a part of our pop culture, though the special effects are better now.

Please focus on the real culprit, Cultural Marxism and the entrenchment of moral relativism that allows be to justify or excuse evil more easily. And while we're at it, let's focus teaching people that evil truly exists and refrain from trying to ban things like guns, tv shows, ammo clips, and video games.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Murder rates have fallen dramatically since 1980. What hasn't fallen as much are the random acts of mass murder by mentailly ill people.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
in part that is because ever more people are pushed onto that pile of "mentally ill".
And with the ever increasing urge of government agencies and medical professionals to reap benefit from sticking that label on to people, it will only get worse.

It's no surprise they're pushing to prevent "mentally ill" people (rather than just clinical cases) from owning guns. At current the definition applies to over 50% of the population. Anyone who's ever been prescribed anti-depressants, most people who were prescribed sleeping pills, anyone diagnosed with any form of autism or AD(H)D, Aspergers, etc. etc. all fall under that nomer, and would automatically be deprived their 2nd amendment rights as a result.
The rest of the population is either not interested in owning weapons, has felony conviction (felony running a red light, felony double parking, felony jaywalking, come to mind), or is otherwise disqualified from owning guns already, so using this legislation they can ban guns from the law abiding population without openly breaking the 2nd amendment (bans on ammunition sales would have a similar effect but would cause more opposition).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Uh no, the severely mentally ill (those who used to be hospitalized before they started killing people) are about the same percentage today as in the 1970s.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
But you mentioned how violent media had an impact in unhealthy homes. Moral relativism had a part to play there. You need to have a strong foundation of right and wrong, a respect for life (and not just your life), and a good grasp of reality v. fantasy. These are all things taught in healthy homes.

I would argue that while we don't necessarily have more healthy homes these days or a more healthy culture, we do have higher rates of private gun ownership and concealed carry making it potentially more costly for people to engage in risky criminal behavior.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree that moral relativism is a bad thing, and that increasingly severe punishment by the criminal justice system brought on by high crime rates in the 1980s and early 1990s probably is compensating for the moral collapse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One would think that the "moral relativism" argument could and would be corroborated with actual real world data; say, the rates of domestic violence for starters. This seems like a term thrown about by the far right as if it were received wisdom yet painfully lacking in actual definition and/or data-rich example. In other words, it's anecdotal nonsense and mere partisan grandstanding at best.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Allows PEOPLE. I don't know what thought process led me to say "allows be."

Also, our comment board should allow us to edit our posts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Clayton, you hit the nail on the head with regard to your mention of institutionalization. My father was a worker for the state at the time of the Willowbrook disaster, on Long Island, where all manner of people who did not fit in, schizophrenics as well as simply retarded people, alcoholics, depressives, etc were thrown together to live in filth and violence.
As a result of Willowbrook, the state and all states seemingly, swung the pendulum so far in the other direction that people now only get institutionalized after they have demonstrably hurt others or very nearly done so. I'm not blowing out my rear on this. I work in the system. One really needs to try to hurt someone else before they get institutionalized. we are seeing the results of this and it is leading to gun control and big profits for phrama, who would rather sell pills. It is being supported from the bottom up by ACLU types who see any type of loss of liberty as terrible except the loss of firearms liberties. To put it plainly, the right to bugger, sacred, the right to scream at hallucinations, sacred. The right to defend one's self, well, that's up to the NRA to defend, and you. So let's quit stroking each other on line and instead give money to NRA and GOA and others who can support our position





1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You may find my new book about the history and consequences of deinstitutionalization [http://www.amazon.com/My-Brother-Ron-Deinstitutionalization-ebook/dp/B008E0LRQE/ref=as_li_wdgt_ex?&linkCode=wsw&tag=claytocramersweb] of interest.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I ordered your book.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Will look it up. Thanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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