There was a time in the not so distant past when married couples in blockbuster movies would be filmed sleeping in different beds. This is when people were still sensitive to overt sexuality and violence to which modern people are immune. In the 1950’s, a villain would get shot by the protagonist and the bullet wouldn’t make so much as leave a blood stain in his white shirt. However, there were always those who felt as though the envelope needed pushing. One of the great things about art is its ability to make us face things that make us uncomfortable. However, the blatant violence and sexuality displayed in today’s movies can hardly be described as art. A constant bombardment of visually explicit images has led to the systematic desensitization of an entire generation of children and the results have been quite dire.
Systematic Desensitization to Sexuality and Violence
It takes but a glance at some of the gory images being displayed in recent horror movies to realize that most people in modern cultures have been desensitized. Desensitization literally means feeling no longer sensitive. There was a time when people would have not only been outraged by the blood and guts bonanzas that constitute most of today’s horror films, but they would have demanded their removal from the theaters entirely. Desensitization represents a slow descent into something from which humanity may never escape. It’s difficult to grasp how far people have gone without looking at the way people in the mid-twentieth century behaved in movies and in society.
There was a time when a woman in a one piece bathing suit was considered to be scantily clad. In today’s society, girls in grade school attend class with their midriff exposed. It seems like a small issue until you truly examine how far society has descended. There has to be a balance between freedom and indecency, and it seems as though we may have crossed the line. Young parents may think it’s acceptable to reveal so much of their young children, and perhaps it is. However, it would be negligent to act as though the overt sexualization of young children isn’t directly related to the increasing number of teenage pregnancies.
Pornography and Desensitization
Even pornography of the past was relatively mild when compared to the graphic movies of today. People also had much less access to pornography in the past. A young man in the 1950’s might have a magazine or two with women exposing their bare breasts, and that was enough excitement for him. Unfortunately, this is the way desensitization happens because the young man will look at the relatively mild pictures until they no longer excite him. The publishers of the magazines were forced to show more and more of the female form to generate the same thrill. This problem is compacted by the introduction of the Internet which has given people an endless supply of pornographic images and movies. Furthermore, watching people have sex without recourse lowers people’s inhibitions until the nuclear family becomes a thing of the past.
Violence for Violence Sake
Just as it’s negligent to dismiss the effects of pushing sexuality’s envelope, it’s equally negligent to pretend as though the violence in movies and on television isn’t directly related to the shocking violence in everyday life. It was once an international media bonanza when a mass shooting took place, because they were so rare. However, there have been multiple mass shootings in the US already this year. The uninterrupted broadcasting of murders and bombings is worse for the human psyche than anything produced by movie studios.
The Media’s Role in Desensitization
Though the use of computer generated images allows movie producers to create incredibly realistic violence, people are still able to determine that the movie is a work of fiction. However, 24 hour news coverage of a suicide bombing is far more difficult to dismiss because it isn’t a work of fiction, it’s a reality. It’s easy to point the finger at the media for the desensitization of today’s youth, and the news is partly to blame. However, more of the blame actually falls upon the people who watch the stories without fail. The news organizations who cover these stories have an obligation to their sponsors to generate the best ratings possible. Therefore the non-stop coverage of the world’s most horrific events are directly dictated by people’s willingness to watch. If coverage of puppies and chess matches generated the best ratings, that’s what the news stations would broadcast. However, people have become obsessed with shocking themselves for a thrill. Every time someone is appalled by something, it will take something worse to thrill them the next time.
Desensitization: Pushing the Envelope
It’s a part of art’s purpose to push the envelope and shock people a little. However, crossing the line effectively establishes a new line. For instance, a woman would have been arrested in the 1930’s for wearing a thin bikini on a public beach. The men who saw the revealing garment would have probably passed out in the sand, because there was already an established line of what was acceptable and what wasn’t. It’s alright to push the envelope from time to time, but people need time to recover from the previous shock before they’re exposed to another.
The same thing applies to violence in movies and the media. One of the first masters of horror was a gentleman by the name of Alfred Hitchcock who could frighten people to their very core without the use of gore. However, it became increasingly difficult to scare people due to the desensitization they are subject to through the media. Prior to Hitchcock, a writer by the name of Edgar Allen Poe was scaring people with his tales. However, the stories like The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven are read in grade school as assignments for children even though they once terrified adults.
Graphic violence was once once strictly prohibited on television and the big screen, but people now give incredibly violent video games to their children as a means of acceptable entertainment. Some of these games are so realistic, that it’s difficult to differentiate them from reality. The children spend hours on end blowing away opponents online until the less stable of them can no longer tell the difference between the video game world and the real world. While the vast majority of people playing video games will never resort to violence of any kind, the connection between video games and mass shootings can’t simply be dismissed.