Sensory Assault

I’ve started to notice that I when I watch movies these days, I’m more aware of the quality of the production and how it makes me feel. For example, when watching The Conjuring with my good friend Josh the other day, I realised how certain scenes were seriously creepy and how it actually made me a bit uneasy for a few days. Yes its only a movie, but just how well can the mind and the body distinguish between virtual reality and actual reality? How much of what we see on the screen and how we feel afterward do we carry into our lives?

In his book Four arguments for the elimination of television Jerry Mander argues that “The viewer must deliberately inhibit the neural pathways between visual data and the autonomic nervous system, which stimulates movement and mental attention. To do otherwise than inhibit the process would be ridiculous. The viewer is left in a passive, but also frustrated state.” If we were to run and hide behind the couch or grab a sharp object to protect ourselves we’d be considered crazy, so we subconsciously or in some cases consciously stop ourselves from acting on our instincts or even expressing our feelings when watching TV or a movie. This is confusing for your body/mind and I think that violence in movies can be far more intense than other modes of behavior on the screen, increasing this sense of confusion.

When I was younger I had no issues with playing playstation games in which you blow people up with rocket launchers or are thrown into a Colosseum and have to kill multiple adversaries with a sword. I don’t recall ever taking that violence with me into the real world, but who’s to say it didn’t contribute to having nightmares or feelings of fear or anxiety? The intensity with which some scenes of violence are produced in film, TV or games can be quite amazing. There have been major advancements in special effects and graphics which are incredibly stimulating, but I often find that if I watch a movie at the cinema I sometimes find that the screen is too bright or the sound effects are too intense.

Trick art action, no violence required!
Trick art action, no violence required!

Violence in certain kinds of films, games and TV shows can be quite overwhelming. But more than the mere presence of violence or the visual effects, it is the praise that is paid to the characters committing the acts that I find disturbing. For example, when the violent scenes are a representation of some real world act, such as a gun fight between criminals and some authority, characters playing people of authority are seen as heroes and are mourned when injured. But when ‘the bad guys’ are harmed or killed it is praised and seen as a victory. I get the idea of good versus evil, but what kind of values are being projected when murder is justified depending on who does the killing?

Let’s look at Liam Neeson. He is quite a force to be reckoned with in Taken. He kicks ass fighting the heinous cause of human trafficking. Fair enough. The bad guys are sleazy, Liams martial art skills are impressive and I’m sure everyone feels a sense of redemption when he hurts the bad guys. But, it’s to the point of gross and ridiculous the amount of people he kills and cars he wrecks. This is what action movies are all about but again, it’s the attitude toward the violence that doesn’t make sense to me. He walks away with his happy family leaving behind a trail of hardcore murder! Hmm.. What I find even more disturbing is when a nonchalant attitude and even a status is attached to the violence, a ‘cool’ element.

“You make a move and I’ll break your face…Tony, I swear to God. I’m gonna blow his face off.” The Godfather Ironman 3

An example of this is Ironman. This film is extremely popular among young kids. I know when I was in Korea, my students loved this dude. He’s wealthy, a tech wiz and he’s a hero. But I don’t like the idea that by killing so many people, by destroying the enemy with rockets and bullets, you win. It is a fiction but when a film is so hugely popular with kids, surely there are better ways to portray the hero.

I believe that as long as certain perpetrators of violence are praised whilst others are demonized we’ll always have conflict, and it would be awesome to see less of this model being used in films. In a world where we struggle to see past one anothers’ differences,  where there exists real conflict and violence, a medium as prolific and influential as film could do better than to glamourise explosions and decapitation. Its a desensitising to, and in some cases flat out promotion of certain forceful and unethical organisations and the violent acts they take. There is also much promotion of false stereotypes. I won’t go into the demographics of who the bad guys and who the good guys usually are but I would love to see a decrease in movies that promote conflict and violence. There is something these films that appeals to us, but maybe we should become conscious of how absurd some of these scenes are and what the message being conveyed is.

“TV is not a mirror, it is a billboard and anyone who pays their money can put their message into the trip. This is an extraordinarily insidious situation.” Terence Mckenna.

For me, I now steer clear of most action movies, unless they promise to have some meaning behind the madness, a sense of quality or something unique. Otherwise its just more blood and more explosions.

Whatever movies we watch, stories we hear, books we read, nothing is more true than your own experience. Nothing should distort your perception of reality and bring you down. If something you are experiencing is too violent, too boring, too weird for you, I say walk away. If it is true that movies imprint on our minds, it might be better to choose movies that exhibit qualities that are in line with how we want to feel and what we want to experience. 

If you enjoyed reading this post, check out this ted talk which relates to what I’ve written:


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