Famed Hollywood filmmaker Oliver Stone asserted that artists “do not invent nature but merely hold up to it a mirror” (Stone, 686-687). This statement infers that art is simply a reflection of reality; that artists create as a means to express their view of nature. One form of art that is often the subject of much controversy is the usage of violence in media. Critics lambaste media violence as a primary cause of societal violence, often drawing parallels between school shootings with violent movies and video games. Yet these critics overlook the fundamental fact that media, like all other art forms, simply reflects nature. As such, media violence is not a cause of societal violence, but rather a reflection of societal violence that has always been an inevitable aspect of human civilization.
Violence in media shows the aspects of human nature that we do not want to repeat. For example, war movies are often not meant to glorify war. Rather, they are meant to show that war is something that should be avoided at all costs. Ridley Scott’s epic Black Hawk Down was not meant to showcase the so-called superiority of US forces over local militias. Instead, Black Hawk Down was meant to demonstrate the futility of warfare in situations such the one in Somalia during the early 1990s. While the mission objective to capture several Somali warlords was achieved, the overall mission was considered a Pyrrhic victory due to massive casualties on both sides. Scenes such as Corporal Jamie Smith gushing blood from a severed femoral artery remind the public of the brutal consequences of war, no matter the how righteous the cause may be.
Violent films are also often used to make statements about media sensationalism towards violence. Despite being “condemned for its apparent glorification of casual murder,” Oliver Stone’s film Natural Born Killers was “intended as a satire of [the] media’s obsession with violence” (Kirszner and Mandell, 686). Stone himself stated that the purpose of the movie was to create a “heightened sensitivity towards violence” and to “reveal a truth about the media’s obsession with the senseless sensational” (Stone, 687). As a result, violent media such as Natural Born Killers is often blamed for tragedies such as the murder of John Grisham’s friend by Ben Darras and Sarah Edmonson, despite the fact that there is no logical evidence linking the two (Stone, 687). Sensationalism of media violence misses underlying factors that actually directly contribute to societal violence, such as Darras’s broken family and Edmonson’s psychological problems. Issues such as these should be taken into account as major contributing factors of societal violence.
Media violence also provides a natural outlet for a variety of innate human emotions. Gerard Jones, a writer for several popular comic books, stated that “through immersion in imaginary combat and identification with a violent protagonist, children engage the rage they’re stifled, come to fear it less, and become more capable of utilizing it against life’s challenges” (Jones, 681). Such a statement reflects the “catharsis theory” developed in the mid-1990s and still forms the basis for much of psychological theory today. Jones argues that by sheltering children from any and all forms of media violence, people are in fact “confusing them about their natural aggression in the same way that Victorians confused their children about their sexuality … [that people] shelter them not against violence but against power and selfhood” (Jones, 682). Jones even cites an example how his own son overcame a simple childhood fear of climbing trees by reading old Tarzan comics that were “rich in combat and bright with flashing knives” (Jones, 680). While climbing trees may or may not be applicable to every comic book reader, other overall themes and lessons of Tarzan, such as fighting for a cause and never giving up, are certainly applicable...