When we think about violence, we envision it’s misuse.
The thought of power being forcefully asserted against another person immediately prompts a negative connotation.
The overtone changes however if violence is used as a means of defence. Violence in this context is considered to be a reasonable action.
If violent acts are justified in some instances but not others, it isn’t the act itself that is wrong, but the motives behind it.
Violence is often regarded to be a baser and brutish form of resolution in Western society. Many refrain from discussing it, and others refuse to watch the news because of it.
Ten years after 9/11, Gallup released a global poll examining the public’s acceptance for violence toward civilians. The study found a correlation with countries higher in human development and societal stability, being the least tolerant toward any form of violence, military or individual, against civilians.
In comparison, countries with poor governance, less liberties, and lower national wealth, were not more tolerant toward government attacks, but they were more accepting of individual ones.
Although these findings do not specify the public’s perception of civic violence toward institutions and government, it does reveal Western society’s overall censure for the behaviour.
If Western society disapproves of violence, why then does it still occur?
Research associate Tage Rai sought to answer this question by exploring the psychology of violence and how it persists in an otherwise civilized society.
He first addressed that psychopaths only account for ten percent of violent acts. While that is a disproportionate amount considering such people only make up one percent of the general population, he demonstrates that it is a common misconception that psychopaths are solely responsible for the majority of civic violence.
He goes on to examine the theory that violence is an impulsive desire in people. His research led him to discover that violence is not carried out intrinsically by an individual, but rather only if they are given reason to do so.
Violent acts can be considered as a manifestation of frustration and although people are not ambitious to engage in it, they will do so as a means of utility when no practical measure will suffice to achieve their desires.
He concluded that, “Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.”
In other words, people don’t inherently hate violence, they hate when it isn’t applied through their consequentialist perspective. The justification of violence, depends on its consequences, and what a given individual morally values.
On average, Western countries are wealthier, have more civic liberties and social stability; because more moral and physical needs are being met, there is less justification for violence amongst these societies.
Countries that lack consistency and stability in basic human needs, are potentially more likely to support violence because more values are not being met for a majority of people.
Despite America’s perceived disapproval for violence, their movie preferences indicate otherwise. According to Statistica, movie genres with violent elements have continued to dominate sales in the box office from 1995–2019.
Adventure leads at an estimated 60.63 billion, followed by action, 44.31, and drama, 36.15.
Comparatively, genres containing similar violent elements with less ethical intent, generate substantially less revenue.
Thriller/suspense trails behind at 18.65, while horror, 11.16, remains to be the least successful of the violent genres.
These sales demonstrate that America, like less socially stable countries, does support and enjoy violence, as long as it follows a desirable moral code.
Due to the fact that violence in horror and thriller/suspense movies is often erratic and unnecessary, it is possible that fewer viewers find value in the programming because the acts are not as morally justifiable.
Violence is justifiable, but most violent acts that are committed aren’t, which is why a negative association is often made with it.
Obviating from the thought of violence won’t control it, it will suppress it. To be controlled, violence first has to be acknowledged and understood.
When we feel the need to become violent, we are angry. We become angered when we are frustrated. When we are frustrated, we are unable to change or achieve a desired outcome.
Violence evolved in humans as a survival instinct.
Instinctually, people have a greater chance of survival if they exhaust their cognitive resources and work within a social structure. When that doesn’t work however, violence is the last and riskiest solution to eliminate an obstacle that threatens an individual’s liberty.
Anger and violence are natural primal instincts, but we know that it is not always ethical or rational to act on instincts.
We are entertained by the violence in adventure and action movies because it is often exerted and won by a hero we deem to be justified. That individual is an embodiment of our values and morals. When they win, we win, and it subconsciously validates our beliefs and brings us confidence in the principles we pride ourselves in.
If the American Civil War had not been fought in 1861, there is a possibility slavery might still exist in the States. If there wasn’t a violent retaliation against the police at Stonewall in 1969, LGBTQ+ rights would not likely have progressed to what they are currently. Violence has sparked numerous social justice movements throughout history; we don’t have to hate it, but we do have to question its merit and control it.
A hero is only as admirable as the ideologies they choose to fight for.
Gallup. (2010) Views of Violence. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/157067 views-violence.aspx
Rai, T. (2015). How could they?. Retrieved from https://aeon.co/essays/people-resort-to- violence-because-their-moral-codes-demand-it
Statista. (2019). Most popular movie genres in North America from 1995 to 2019, by total
box office revenue. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/188658/ movie-genres-in-north-america-by-box-office-revenue-since-1995/