Desensatisation to violence

[Editors note: this is the first piece in a series of blog posts on the topic of violence in all its various forms, written by final year students at Brunel University. This series spans a range of violent topics and sensitive themes – however these brilliant pieces told by such individual voices deserve their platform.] 

Words by Imogen Quinn

Given that I regard myself as a passive, non-violent individual, something I find amusing is that one of my favourite films is Kill Bill, both vols 1 and 2. To be fair, the majority of Tarantino films are excessively gory and violent, so I wouldn’t expect any of them to be anything less, yet it still surprises me just the same.

I think part of the enjoyment lies in the strong female lead driven by her revenge to kill Bill (obviously), but the film is undeniably one of the bloodiest films I’ve watched and that fact seems to not bother me. Maybe this is due to Kill Bill’s excessive nature – that I can’t fathom that much blood coming from one wound or person, or the outrageously cinematic crimson-coloured gore distracts me from the fact it’s supposed to be blood. I don’t lay claim to a particularly squeamish disposition per say, but if faced with a particularly serious accident or murder in real life, I doubt I’d be as unaffected as I am watching that film.

The key is that the audience of violent films have the ability to distance themselves from the acts of aggression and blood-letting happening on screen, despite people fighting or killing in real life. By appearing on a screen, the gruesome act of slicing the top of someone’s head off with a samurai sword exposing their brain, doesn’tfeel as shocking as if I saw someone do the same on the news or indeed in front of my eyes (and I’m very glad I haven’t had to actually witness such a thing). To a certain extent I do think because I’m distanced from violence in my everyday life, the only experiences of violence to this extreme being through film or TV, I have become desensitised to violence.

Obviously, I don’t choose to watch a show or film purely because it’s violent or there’s fighting but I’ve become more tolerant in accepting that it’s just part of what I’m watching. Another example of this is the show Sons of Anarchy. A show about bikers who again, like Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill, carry out their own form of revenge or justice (highly recommend btw). I find myself rooting for them against the law, seeing them shooting people or beating them up as a necessary part of taking revenge. Now, I don’t condone every day people taking out their anger by shooting someone or stabbing them. But, by perceiving the events from the point of view of someone who is frequently violent, I accept that’s what they do.

Point of view is essential here. Both examples I mentioned above show violent characters hurting people as justified by themselves without really illuminating the other side of the fight or disagreement. As an outsider to the situation, it’s easy to take the side of the person who you are following through the film or TV show without considering there are other ways to sort out the issue between people.

The emotional baggage that comes with these violent acts is seldom explored on screen, and, often, the negative consequences are rarely shown, so it’s useful to remind yourself if you are desensitised, that in real life the effects of violence can have a wider harmful impact. This is where I find myself wondering why I enjoy these types of cinematic pieces without pausing to think how violent they actually are. I’m not criticising those who enjoy them, as I’m one of them, yet it’s probably a good idea every now and then to step away and remember how violent these shows or films are, lest they begin to infiltrate and influence your own behaviour.


Read more from Imogen on her blog: Imogen’s Blog

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