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Is Violence in the Media a Reflection of Our Own Social Anxieties?

What inner psychological need is met through our mass obsession with crime and prosecution?

Photo Credit: Amat


The following is an excerpt from Eros Over Logos: A Revolt of the Instinctual Mind Amidst the Madness of Modern Life by Salvatore Folisi.

I am repeatedly struck by our country's incredible capacity for criminalization and incarceration, our unending fascination with criminal court proceedings—such as Judge Judy and the televised trials of famous persons like OJ—, and the rise of TV shows about criminal investigations and prison life, such as CSI Miami, Women Behind Bars, and weekend-long MSNBC ―Lock-Up documentaries. We have become a culture completely obsessed with all aspects of crime and punishment, with law enforcement, the justice system, and violence as entertainment. Every night we look on with a mixture of horror, disbelief, and glee as the TV news features the latest crime, the latest high speed chase, the latest indictment, and the latest ruling or prison sentence.

The fact is, these kinds of news stories fascinate us. But why? Does life in a modern technological world breed individuals who are more criminally incited or inclined? Is it somehow more difficult for us to cope with our lives, with our basic instincts and needs, in societies which are cut off from nature? Through disconnecting and dividing us from our true instinctual inner nature, has modern technological society distorted and deformed our souls into criminal forms of madness? Or does our high level of sensationalizing interest in crime and punishment, in violence as entertainment, point to something else?

The list of television shows based on crime and criminal investigation which one can watch on any given night is too long to list. It is simply mind-blowing. In fact, these kinds of TV shows dominate the air waves, and it is sometimes difficult to find a program on a major channel that is not focused on criminal matters, that does not feature the lethal wielding of a gun or depict a bloody and cruel mortification of the body. Is this criminally obsessed state of the media a projection of our own guilty conscience, social anxieties, and mistrust of an expandingly impersonal, mechanized, and out-of-control world? If so, is it also a kind of reflection of the true state of the union in which we live, and thereby intended to help us adapt to the chaos of the real world?

Perhaps our interest in crime and prosecution is indicative of our interest in power and control, things we desperately need as a result of how powerless and out of control we actually feel in this society of surveillance and increasing impingement on our individual liberties and freedoms. Does our love of crime, prosecution, and violence as entertainment, both in reality—as in the news—and at the movies, reveal a secret wish we harbor for living the exciting and dangerous lives of criminals, police, or FBI agents?

Through vicariously experiencing their thoughts, motivations, feelings, and actions at the cinema are we relieved of our own pent up frustrations and feelings of vengeance at having been sharply instructed on what we can and cannot do, can or cannot feel or want, by our parents, teachers, bosses, government officials, and law enforcement—at having been socially repressed—our whole lives? Or are we simply taken by the archetypal dynamics of the pursuer and the pursued, the hunter and the hunted, the triangulation of criminal, victim, and prosecutor? What inner psychological need is met through our mass obsession with crime and prosecution?

We revel at the movies when the criminal gets away with the perfect crime, just as we revel at the news upon hearing of real life criminals—be they ex-football players, politicians, or just ordinary citizens—who are convicted of the crimes they committed and sentenced to years in prison. Either way, we love to see people roll the dice with their lives. In fact, we seem to rely on these people and their dramas to make us feel more alive, more pumped with adrenalin and filled with energy. Perhaps the dramas of their lives shake us from the numbing boredom of our own ...

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