Why Do We Think Violence Is Entertaining?
“Being bored is the price we pay for not being insane.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana (Tweet This)
It’s 7pm, Thursday evening. I turn on the TV to unwind after a long day. At least one show focuses on murder as its main plot. I’m hooked, I admit. But why is it so entertaining?
In 2016, programs that routinely focused on this type of conflict made up 40 percent of the 20 highest-rated and most-watched shows.
With shows like The Walking Dead and Criminal Minds being so highly rated, I believe we, as a human race, seem to find gruesome actions entertaining.
It’s not only TV shows. We find it in video games, daily news, sports, and literature. And I don’t think it’s a Millennial or Gen Y obsession; history seems to prove it!
Then, why are we so entertained by violence?
Competition: The Major Draw for Violent Video Games
My brother is an avid Call of Duty fan. So much so, that his wife calls herself a “Call of Duty Widow.” He believes it’s the matching of wits and the “besting of his opponent” that attracted him to the first-person shooter game in the first place.
After a few minutes watching him play, I found myself shouting encouragement at the screen, much like someone cheering at a football game. It felt so real! The communication between players in different states, or even countries, makes the competition more lifelike without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.
In violent video games, storylines are created to cause a sense of urgency in decision-making and the feeling of life-or-death stakes, making the victory seem realistic.
An article in Psychology Today claims that competitiveness and human survival are biological traits that evolved over time. Competition is literally in our genes.
Problem-Solving Like the Detectives
Perhaps, much like myself, you are a fan of watching violent TV shows like Criminal Minds or NCIS. Being such a devoted crime TV-watcher, I know it’s the problem-solving aspect that keeps me tuning in. I enjoy the analytical side.
Trying to solve the crime before the detective on TV is like participating in a real-life game of Clue. It was Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the candlestick.
I like watching the characters walk through the steps of solving the crime, but honestly, I fast-forward through the gory scenes. They make me a bit sick, but I know a lot of people who’d rather skip the analytical part and relish the ghastly like it’s the first day of Christmas.
The aspect of problem-solving allows us to figure out whodunnit without having to attend the police academy, or law school. We don’t need to place our lives in any danger.
This includes the recent interest in Escape Room games popping up all over America. You get to solve the crime without having to be a first-hand witness to the gore.
It’s Not That Strange
When a heinous crime has taken place and the newscaster interviews the neighbor, they always say the suspect “seemed like such a nice guy!” But do we ever know our neighbors? I heard somewhere we only get to see the edited version of other people, but always the raw footage of ourselves.
We compare our flaws, peculiar thoughts, and weird habits with the “perfect” people we see throughout our day. This practice skews our view of how normal (or abnormal) we believe ourselves to be.
When you watch the evening news, the people you see at the supermarket are exposed, and it lowers your bar for what’s considered normal. Yup! Suddenly, my oddities seem almost boring.
Comparing our eccentricities with the violence we see on the news gives us the ability to say, “Hey, I may be strange, but at least I’m not THAT far off.”
Justice Will Be Served!
Have you ever had somebody cut you off in traffic only to get pulled over by the policeman they didn’t see waiting down the alley? It happened to me, and it was the best feeling of retribution I’ve ever experienced.
We see this happen every day and the assailant usually goes free, learning no lessons, off to continue their reign of driving terror. But that one moment of justice is delicious.
In his book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, David Brooks, a cultural commentator, suggests that this desire for justice may be instinctual in human beings.
In a study included in his book, researchers showed that babies as young as 8 months old could show pleasure at someone being punished for an unjust act.
When we play video games, we get to control our destiny. We get to bring the criminal to justice where normally there would be none.
It restores our feeling of being in control of our situation. As well as watching real crime TV, movies, and video games, we get that feeling of “rightness” when the criminal is caught and brought to justice.
Do It for the Adrenaline
I see this every Halloween. I walk, trembling, through a haunted house. I know it’s fake, but as I walk through the rooms, heart pounding and palms sweating, I am actively participating in a suspension of disbelief.
I am willing to sacrifice realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.
We also do this by joining in live-action games. We’re not willing to sacrifice our lives to go to war, so we suspend disbelief when we go to the paintball course.
Instead of shooting an AK-47, I pick up my Tippmann 98 Custom paintball gun with the bravery of a soldier headed to the front line. The goal is the adrenaline rush.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a male or a female. We are just wired like that.
According to Scott Bonn, a criminology professor at Drew University, adrenaline has an addictive effect on the human brain. When we get off our couches and take the next step toward “physicality,” our adrenaline is heightened by the possibility of injury. Our survival instincts kick in and we reach a new high, without sacrificing life or limb.
We walk through a haunted house feeling as if we’re still safe, but through suspended disbelief, we allow ourselves to believe the illusion.
Violence is everywhere. From the dawn of man until today, it has frightened us, motivated us, and fascinated us.
It’s scary, but it looks like we like scary. It’s unfair, but retribution feels sweet as candy. You like it too, believe me, maybe just in a lighter form. In every form of entertainment, it has proven to work as a tool for inspiring justice, competition, and the age-old adrenaline rush.
Whether this fascination is buried in our genes or a product of our environment, one fact remains. When you reach for that remote tonight, you’ll have no shortage of entertaining violence from which to choose.