What We Want: Violence in Media

Our recent readings and discussions have all linked death in media with violence, which does seem the rule in genres like horror or action. However, this same prevalence indicates that humans want to watch or experience violence rather than death. Why?

I’m reminded especially of a scene from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, in which the then-established pattern of audience directing the story through making choices becomes disrupted by the presentation of essentially a single option:

The therapist character, in a position of authority or at least supposed wisdom for both the protagonist and for the audience, introduces that mere exposition or conversation is boring in media. Viewers then respond to the query “do you want more action?” by selecting either “Yeah” or “F*** Yeah”. At least one of these choices prompts a surreally elaborate fight scene, something that would (presumably) never happen in reality.

Movies, books, and so have received criticism for unrealisticity, but here draw attention to the notion that that may be their ultimate appeal. We want to experience things that we do not or cannot experience realistically. Living things are rationally, instinctually against ourselves dying to the extent that we want to avoid it happening to even semblances of us. We’re fine with killing others or watching them die, but it’s difficult to think of media in which the protagonist or audience stand-in dies without somehow resurrecting (aka “real death”). Violence– or for that matter, love, invention, and so on in certain cases–, though, allow us to explore possibilities and fantasies physically inaccessible. We cannot attend Hogwarts, but we can read and watch Harry Potter do so while speculating what may happen to ourselves in the same universe. We can, however, have a conversation with another person, as protagonist Stefan does at first in the Bandersnatch scene. So, Black Mirror anticipates that “F*** yeah,” we do want more action.

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