Do we enjoy violence? No, of course, most people don’t enjoy actual violence—but a lot of us just love reading a gruesome thriller, watching a TV show about gangs or the mafia, or taking a guilty pleasure in a blood-splattered horror movie.
Back in the days of Freud, psychologists and psychotherapists tried to rationalise the human drive to see or experience violence and death, and the fact that those who have suffered trauma tended to return to it again and again in terms of natural instinct. They failed, however, to reach consensus about our attraction to death.
One of the things that sets us apart from other mammals is the fact that from an early age we understand our own mortality and that we will one day die. While all animals fear and hate pain, and quickly learn to stay away from anything that poses a danger to them, we are most certainly alone when it comes to the capacity to ponder our own demise and fret about the many dangers present in the world around us.
As a species, we tend to be risk averse. That means that we typically stay away from situations that pose a risk to us. Even dare-devils like tightrope walkers generally minimise risk by putting systems in place that will keep them safe. We also tend to dislike unpredictability—and unlike other mammals, we have the capacity to understand that, no matter how many systems we put in place to keep ourselves safe, there is always the possibility of something unpredictable happening. Perhaps the most frightening idea of all is that someone might murder us, either because they don’t like us, or just because they feel like it.
In much of the world, and certainly in most developed countries, actual rates of homicide have been declining for years, but the public appetite for thrillers and shows that deal with crime and violence keeps getting bigger and bigger. What’s going on?
Perhaps, because of our naturally risk-averse nature, watching shows like this, or reading books like this, gives us the unconscious impression that we are preparing ourselves for the uncertain future we all face. By viewing or reading about acts of extreme violence—even if they are just simulated—we can process our fears in a socially acceptable manner and help to manage our fear of the unknown.
Is there anything wrong with taking pleasure in books and TV shows that feature high levels of violence? Not per se, no. As stated above, an interest in violence can be seen as a natural aspect of our humanity. However, if said books or TV shows seem to normalise certain types of violence (such as domestic violence or racially motivated violence) then potentially there is a problem. The important thing is for the violence we encounter to stay strictly in the realm of fantasy.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.