When watching graphic TV shows like Game of Thrones and Oz, and movies like Natural Born Killers, the violence certainly doesn’t get lost on me. Realistic depictions of torture and brutality also tend to make me think why it’s there (not that I’m particularly sensitive; in fact, I tend to like those violent action films of the 80’s). If think, I can see why some people would be upset, particularly parents who don’t want their children seeing it. Where there’s upset, you invariably hear cries for graphic violence in entertainment media to be banned, or at least more tightly controlled. The problem, however, is that we need to be able to see violence in fiction.
I say this because the world is a pretty miserable place to live in. Conflict and drama are right in front of you wherever you can find it, and in the real world, violence is not a very pleasant thing. All too often, we’ve seen violence in the name of religion, profit, territory, and whatever else man can think of. What I’m trying to say is that we have to have violence in films, comic books, video games and TV shows because those outlets can teach us through entertainment why violence is a bad thing to begin with (or because it can often be a catharsis in itself).
Entertainment can offer a perspective of and reflection on the real world, and that’s why censoring violence is a bad thing. If you take away our freedom to depict acts of violence and torture, then it becomes much harder to learn the lessons such depictions would offer. I will readily admit that sometimes gratuitous violence is there just for the sake of gratuitous violence, but that’s why they’re called gore movies, or, in the case of video games, hack and slash action games.
The problem, as I see it, is that the amount of gratuitous violence in entertainment media has eclipsed the level of realistic violence, and whatever message violence may carry. In the case of Game of Thrones, I feel that the reason there’s a lot of violence, sex and other things is because it’s a fantasy setting that reflects of real life. In this context, Westeros is unpleasant and full of dishonourable characters because our world is unpleasant and full of nasty people who do terrible things. If writers and artists couldn’t accurately reflect on violence, brutality and torture, the only thing left is for people to try and experience it themselves, which will undoubtedly have terrible consequences.
Without fictional violence, or even pretend violence, we have only real violence, and that’s where the power of entertainment would truly be needed. If all we had was real violence, then we would all be killing each other for no real reason. I acknowledge that we can already see this happening around the world, but if we had nothing showing us why violence is a bad thing, then it would be even worse.
Violence is not an issue people like to confront, but at the same time, most people don’t like it being censored either. It could be the case that most people are wiser than I think when it comes to violence in entertainment, but we still need to be aware of the power entertainment has to make us aware of things, especially violence. Used responsibly, it can be a force that allows us to be aware of the morality (or immorality) of violence before we actually inflict it upon each other. Used irresponsibly, it can reduce violence to the level of being little more than gratuitous gore for the satisfaction of a baser desire that still lingers in us all.