Through long research, I have found that implying violence is far more effective than actually displaying it on screen. So lets explore why violent movies don’t actually make people violent.
Where it all began
For many years’, filmmakers have shocked audiences around the globe by pushing boundaries and displaying excruciating amounts of graphic content.
Cinematic violence and gore is something that has been around for a very long time and it isn’t going away any time soon, there seems to have been a birth to a new subgenre for it which spawned roughly around the Saw era starting in 2004, however some people may say it started with the infamous I Spit on Your Grave in 1978…
By using practical effects with fake blood and organs, or by using the new game changer, being CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). Whether you’re a gore-head who is obsessed with watching people being ripped limb-for-limb or somebody more on the squeamish side, there is a disturbing film out there for all.
A Japanese horror ‘snuff’ series titled ‘Guinea Pig’ is just 9 movies of torture. American actor Charlie Sheen once watched the second entry into the franchise and called the FBI as he was convinced what was occurring in front of him on screen was real; thankfully it was all just filmic “fun” and completely fiction.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film from 1974 written and directed by Tobe Hooper about an insane inbred family that pick off a group of kids out on the road. The antagonist is Leatherface, a notorious, chainsaw wielding psychopath that kills our protagonists in horrific ways yet there isn’t an ounce of blood from a fatality shown. Having said that, it is to date one of the grisliest and nastiest film I have seen. Does violence have to be in your face to be effectively horrendous? Or is it okay to leave it up for the dark imagination to piece the puzzle together?
Why audiences love gore? It is all about personal taste and preference, some people get a thrill from watching people being tortured whereas others find it sickening. Horror motion pictures, especially modern-day horror flicks, dwell on graphic images as many young people go on dates to watch them at their local multiplex; when the film gets disturbing the couple get physically closer, in most cases, the girl will want the boy to comfort her with a hug.
Those kinds of films are a great way for teen couples or young adult couples to embrace each other physically. Many members of the mainstream audience who find violence sickening will argue that those who indulge in gruesome cinema, might be mentally insane, so the best way to approach this is to look at the psychology of the brain when it comes to on screen violence.
The Psychology behind it all
In 2016, 1.31 billion Americans went to the cinema and less than 0.001% of those engaged in a violent crime. In psychology there is a term called ‘priming’. Priming is when a stimulus can be used to trigger a particular effect. Someone who just watched a violent film might be more likely to have a violent response to something in the short term.
The effects of Priming
In 1998, Brad Bushman published a study on the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin which looked at the effects of media violence ‘priming’. He found that participants who were primed with a violent video had a much faster reaction time to aggressive words. They had more aggressive thought processes.
The effect however, is temporary and wears off after 30 minutes of stopping the violent stimulus so it is not likely that violent cinema would lead to a violent act as severe as a mass shooting for example, but in the off chance that it does, violence is best off implied rather than displayed.
The social learning theory is the idea that children learn to behave by observing others. In 1969 a study showed that when behaviour is rewarded or unpunished, they’re more likely to adopt the observer’s behaviour as it has led to no punishment and praise within reason.
But what if young children are exposed to Violence?
Craig A. Anderson published a study on December 1 2003, showing that children exposed to violent media are more likely to become aggressive in later life but one must remember there is a clear difference between aggression and violence, they are not the same thing.
People all over the world on a daily basis consume violent and graphic media, whether that is on film, in video games, pieces of art such as paintings, the lyrics and videos accompanying a song, a TV show, a book or real-life footage yet more people go their entire life without resorting to violence.
Japan has one of the least strict violence censorship laws in the world, and also consumes very similar mediums of art to the United States yet Japan has a homicide rate 13 times lower than the US. Every violent crime category is at least 11 times lower in Japan; this is a country that can consume large amounts of gruesome media including snuff films featuring mass torture. Violent crime has been decreasing in the last 10 years too, and as there is more access to this violent and sickening material.
So why is implying violence better than displaying it to the consumer?
From the point of view of a moviegoer, you go to the movies to be entertained and lose yourself, we love the ideology of escapism which is part of the uses and gratifications theory (an approach to understand why people seek out media). We love to lose ourselves to the silver screen and forget about life around us, but when someone is ripped to smithereens on camera, it turns off those relax sensors and takes us out the picture.
In terms of plot, films that have engaging stories hook most people so on-screen violence isn’t exactly necessary to heighten the experience. Despite this, some people invest in films or series that are filled to the brim with horrific details, the Saw franchise is one of them which started with a 2004 crime thriller that was thought provoking and an all-round immersive experience. The series then went on to breathe life into sequels that became nothing but 90 minutes (each) of blood and guts.
Eli Roth jumped on the band wagon with the Hostel films, another sick and twisted series all about gore. So, people do love on-screen violence too but when it is implied it leaves it all up to our imagination, the grotesque sound design of bones cracking, body parts being gashed open and the sound of chainsaws being lodged into people; it is all enough to make anybody a little squeamish.
Even if it is unnecessary, displaying gore and violence doesn’t make consumers turn violent so although it is hard to stomach, when the projection has stopped, the lights come on, you leave your seat and walk out the doors into the real world to walk amongst other fellow human beings, you will eventually forget about it.