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July 1996, Week 5


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Jeff Apfel <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 29 Jul 1996 08:42:12 -0700
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It seems to me that attempts to get at the issue of violence in film through
strictly social science means (e.g., can film violence be shown to lead to a
propensity for real violence in a laboratory setting?) do not do justice to the
complex relationship we have to media in the modern age.  One can argue all day
on the micro level about the relevance of research findings one way or another.
 Likewise, one can point on the macro level to the fact that, for example, Oslo
remains peaceful despite a steady diet of Schwarzenegger, Seagall and Stallone.
But in the USA at least, we live in a culture in which lots of kids are
virtually brought up with television as a surrogate parent/extended
family/circle of friends.  Can anyone doubt that the assorted media we are
saturated with do not now comprise an essential, critical and central element of
our culture, specifically as a means of acculturation?  How could it be
otherwise?   Framing the issue defensively (as in "the connection between screen
violence and real violence has not been proven") misses the point, I think.
A recent American Scholar (Spring 1996, I think) has an interesting article by
Stanley Rothman on violence and religion in film. He and his research associates
sampled films over a fairly long period--several  decades--and coded the content
for various types of imagery.  No surprise, religious imagery (at least in terms
of a benevolent God) is way down.  Violence, non-religious supernatural imagery
and aliens popping out of stomachs-- no surprise, way up.
Rather than get caught up in a cause-and-effect cycle, Rothman takes the longer
view about this.  He brings up Bruno Bettleheim's Uses of Enchantment, pointing
out that, in Bettleheim's view, the violent imagery in fairy tales performs a
useful function of sanctioning (in *both* senses of the word) a child's violent
impulses, both accepting their existence while, at the same time, showing that
there are right and wrong ways of coping with them.
To the extent we all carry the child around with us, do we not have the need for
similar mythic structures as adults?  In this sense, violent imagery in movies
can be understood and sympathized with as a coping/growing tool and (maybe)
should not be criticized so heavily for "contributing" to the problem.  However,
the bigger question then becomes: what is it about *this* culture at *this* time
that would give rise to a need for *these* myths as opposed to (as Xyvind
Staalen says with reference to Norway) myths dealing with "nice and harmless
things such as children, puberty, pregnancy, unemployed comedians and hopeless
Jeff Apfel
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