Attractions to violence and the limits of education

Journal of Aesthetic Education 40 (4):21-38 (2006)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:The Journal of Aesthetic Education 40.4 (2006) 21-38 MuseSearchJournalsThis JournalContents[Access article in PDF]Attractions to Violence and the Limits of EducationPaul DuncumThe effects of violent media fare upon young people are of great concern for educators and parents alike. Recently, some visual art educators have attempted to deal with the issue under the rubric of visual culture. 1 Adopting a critical position toward media violence, they have developed programs that attempt to encourage in their students a view of citizenship that rejects an easy use of violence as the solution to resolving real life issues. In consideration of these attempts, this article examines media violence—not to comment upon the efforts of other art educators but to point to the exceptionally difficult, perhaps intractable, forces faced by any form of educational intervention.There can be no doubting that violence—defined as involving intentional physical harm—is highly popular in mass media entertainment and is increasingly gory. Tartar refers to Shakespeare's term "violent delights" 2 as an oxymoron, but delight in violence is exactly what many people appear to find. There appears to be no contradiction in Shakespeare's term—Shakespeare being no stranger to the idea—only a succinctly expressed observation of a particular taste that is both long-standing and nowadays evident in an increasingly visceral, violent mass media.This article addresses three questions: First, what is it about displays of violence that is so appealing? Where is the pleasure in watching bodies being blown apart? Where is the delight in watching barbarous torture, slaughter, and death? What is the lure, the attraction? Or, since one of my arguments will be that there are qualitatively different kinds of violence, is it more appropriate to ask what are the attractions of violence? Second, why are violent spectacles becoming more and more intense? Why are representations of violence becoming increasingly visceral? Third, what are we doing to ourselves by exposing ourselves to so much violent mass media? [End Page 21] What is the societal significance, the real world consequences, of being attracted to violent imagery?There are many kinds of violent spectacles. This article deals exclusively with violence in current mediated popular forms of entertainment, principally television, film, video, and computer games. It is not narrowly concerned with intentionally aestheticized images, for example, through the use of slow motion or when the soundtrack to images of mass slaughter switches from the mayhem on screen to the souring beauties of operatic singing. Such images are included here, but the article deals with an inclusive range of representations of violence typically found in some degree to be pleasurable by large sections of the public. Specifically, four kinds of violence are examined: comic, transgressive, retaliatory, and gratuitous.Of course, not everyone is attracted to violence, and most popular entertainment is not violent. 3 The best-selling video games are violent, 4 but violent films and videos are far outweighed by nonviolent fare, especially comedies. 5 Nevertheless, much media fare is violent. Studies conducted in the mid-to-late 1990s concluded that 60 percent of U.S. television programs contained violence, 40 percent of which was offered as humorous. 6 By the age of eighteen a child has seen around 200,000 violent acts on television, including 40,000 murders. 7 This includes 3 to 5 violent acts per hour on prime time and 20 to 25 per hour during Saturday morning cartoons.Sensory AttractionProfessional critics of film and video often talk about the aesthetic qualities of media violence—for example, of "balletic spectacle" and "orgiastic energy." 8 The New York Times film critic's review of Sam Peckinpah's 1969 film The Wild Bunch, a milestone in cinematic violence, wrote of the climatic massacre as a "blood ballet" and that the director "first highlights the horror of the mindless slaughter and then—and this is what really carries horror—makes it beautiful, almost abstract." 9 Virtually the same words were used recently by eminent U.S. film critic Roger Ebert with regard to Tarrantino's exceptionally...



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Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture.David Buckingham - 2004 - British Journal of Educational Studies 52 (2):206-208.

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