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Think Out Loud

Why Do We Watch Violent Entertainment?

Pete Springer/OPB

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary reignited a long-standing debate about the effect of violent media on our behavior. As part of our post-Sandy Hook discussions, we’ve taken up that issue. And it brought up another question: Why is there a market for violent entertainment in the first place?

Contemporary American society is hardly exceptional in its cultural bloodlust. Take these lines from The Iliad

Achilles then went in pursuit of Polydorus son of Priam, whom his father had always forbidden to fight because he was the youngest of his sons, the one he loved best, and the fastest runner…Achilles struck him in the middle of the back as he was darting past him…The point of the spear pierced him through and came out by the navel, whereon he fell groaning on to his knees and a cloud of darkness overshadowed him as he sank holding his entrails in his hands.

That’s actually tame compared to other descriptions in the book. Much of the violence in The Iliad can be as stomach-turning as a Quinten Tarantino film. Violence as entertainment is widespread: whether it’s gladiator fights in ancient Rome, bear baiting in Elizabethan England, bullfighting in contemporary Spain, public executions throughout history, or the oft-targeted video game Grand Theft Auto. (Warning: the following video depicts graphic video game violence.)


Do you enjoy violent entertainment? Why? What about violence grabs our attention? Is there a divide between good violence and bad violence in media?


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OPB | Broadcast: Jan. 31, 2013