Regarding Django and Media Violence

This article was originally posted on January 19. It is reposted now with added content.

Recently, I saw the movie, “Django Unchained.” If you have never seen a Tarantino movie, I do not recommend you start with this one. If you have, and you appreciate his style, then by all means give this one a try. Notice I did not say, “like his style.” I used the word appreciate very deliberately. It is a very violent movie with way more blood flying than is humanly possible but that is his style. There are also scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny and serve as comic relief between scenes of dreadful misery.

The theme of the movie centres around slavery and the cruelty and violence that pervade slave society. As a condemnation of that entire era, this movie is very effective. I am sure that this film will pick up at least one Oscar. In general, the acting was excellent, especially in the case of Cristoph Waltz who does an excellent job of combining winning charm with stunning violence.

And speaking of violence, the question that will not go away is whether or not there is a correlation between violence in the media and violent behaviour. My answer is “No.”

I should explain myself. I am not a behavioural scientist but I did spend 30 years as a high school teacher. That gave me ample opportunity to study behaviour in the developing mind. In my experience, people are not, by nature, violent. In the teen years, we are inclined to be impulsive and sometimes thoughtless. We are risk takers who are learning about boundaries. We are learning how to define ourselves. We are exploring our place in the world. I remember my own teen years as being a very difficult time.

If we throw violent media into the mix, it can only complicate this difficult time, however  the words nature and nurture have to enter the equation at this point. Both contribute a great deal to how we respond to our world. Our family environment has a major influence on our development.

I will never forget a student I had in my first year of teaching. She was constantly angry and belligerent, and frequently fought with her classmates. She was one of six children. Both parents were abusive alcoholics and were known to police. Three of her brothers were in prison. A couple of years after I knew her, she ended up in prison serving a lengthy sentence for the attempted murder of a police officer. She committed suicide in prison.

In the case of this very unfortunate young woman, both nature and nurture were strong factors. As far as nurture was concerned, she was raised in a violent atmosphere and was exposed to conflict on a daily basis. As for nature, I suspect that she may well have been a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome. As a result, she was pre-disposed to violence and would have ended up the way she did with or without exposure to violence in the media.

I have taken a long route to my conclusion. I have watched many violent movies and TV programs but I have never raised a hand against anyone. In my opinion, video violence does not make people violent. Under normal circumstances, we are not violent and seeing a violent movie will not turn a peaceful person into a violent person. We can only be violent if there is an underlying predisposition to violence. On the other hand, in extreme circumstances, such as witnessing an act of violence against a loved one, all bets are off.

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