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October 30, 2013 at 8:54 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Fright Night, Every Night

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Halloween is just around the corner. It's time to embrace the scary and the macabre. I love this holiday and am always one of the first people I know to start thinking about dressing up and carving pumpkins as September turns to October. Sometimes, around this time of year, I wonder just how scary is scary enough and whether society has become desensitized to traumatic issues. Don't get me wrong, I love this stuff, but I think whether or not we are hurting ourselves as a society bears consideration.

Death Everywhere

A couple nights ago, I went to the Redbox machine and picked out a movie. I grabbed a Nicholas Cage flick called Frozen Ground, which is based on serial killings that took place in Alaska in the 1980s. Throughout the two hour experience, I think I "witnessed" four or so brutal killings. I'm really not even sure how many people died in the movie. Is there something wrong with that? 

After the movie, I scanned the news on my smartphone before bed. Every other story covered macabre, murderous killings across the country - a school in Nevada, another school in Massachusetts, a family in Ohio. My attitude was disconcertingly indifferent - just another day.

The Media Bloodbath

By the time the average American child finishes elementary school, it is estimated that he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence in the media. As the child approaches adulthood, that number escalates to 40,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence. These numbers are staggering, and I can't imagine that a sensitive human being can experience this without getting scathed and desensitized.

The unfortunate response to this predictable desensitization is a "ramping up" on the violence in Hollywood. Examining "family hour," the 8 p.m. time slot for major networks, revealed a 41% increase in violence between 1998 and 2002. Over a decade later, I feel it is a factual observation to say that things have further worsened. Shows like "Bones," whose focal point revolves around murdered, decomposed bodies, are among the the most viewed. 

Consequences

CBS president Leslie Moonves stated after the Columbine High School massacre that, "Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with this is an idiot." Impressionable minds are just that... impressionable.

Hollywood has a tendency to set expectations and reset reality. In a Hollywood world, people are beautiful and glamorous, while action, violence, and murder are everyday occurrences. These sentiments seem parallel to things considered newsworthy. It seems that we, the public, are the pawns in a contest among the media for attention. And with attention drawn naturally to the most shocking items, nothing seems sacred. I fear that we are being unknowingly left in shock, and it seems like a vicious cycle: Media sells increasingly alarming violence, consumers absorb the violence, consumers play out violence in their own lives in alarming fashion, news media reports on the alarming violence to consumers. Are we on a runaway train?

Conclusions

I am part of this problem. I watch the movies and shows. I react to news stories. I have seen countless murders and violent acts in the media. I have been entertained. While I don't meet the criteria of a sociopath, I know that this has left a mark on my sensitivities and there have been times that I have felt darkness creeping into my thoughts, fed by those crime shows I got drawn into. 

I enjoy being scared for entertainment, and I enjoy the pageantry of Halloween, but I know that this walks a fine line with my psyche. It's time to find a more uplifting form of entertainment, but I'm skeptical that modern media will hop on board without some sweeping changes.

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