by Izzy Kalman (December 2005)
Are you a typical modern human being? Then the following describes what you go through at least a few times a week. You’re sitting on your living room couch watching TV and some mouthwatering food flashes before your eyes. Hunger aroused, you go to the refrigerator and find something tasty to munch on. Further along in the show, two hoods engage in a knife fight. Bloodlust aroused, you run back to the kitchen, pull out a steak knife and stab your spouse or child or whoever happens to be nearby.
What? This doesn‘t describe you? You don’t do this routinely? Well, maybe not the second part. How about the first part, about the food? The answer is probably a resounding “Yes.” The second part you probably don’t do more than a couple of times a year. What did you say? Not even once a year? Not even once in your lifetime? Chances are you don’t even know anyone who committed an act of violence because they saw violence on the screen. (Playfighting doesn’t count. It is play; there is no intention to hurt. In fact, non-hysterical developmental psychologists understand that playfighting is a necessary and healthy part of childhood experience.) But almost everyone is occasionally driven to eat by seeing food on the screen.
I have been conducting a survey of mental health professionals and educators at my seminars. One of the survey items is: After watching people enjoying food on TV, I feel an urge to eat. Another is: After watching a violent movie, I feel an urge to injure or kill people. Of 1174 people who have who answered the survey, 36% answered “Yes” to the item about food. For the item about violence, only 0.8% – less than one per cent! – answered “Yes.” This means that we are about fifty times more likely to feel an urge to eat after viewing eating than we are to want to engage in violence after viewing violence. And even when we feel the urge for violence, we are not likely to act on it.
Yet the average person watches several hours of TV per day, sitting passively on the couch, with images of food driving us to the refrigerator during commercials. Is it any wonder we are becoming so fat? Even if we had the urge to act violently, most of us are too heavy to get off our butts and do it. The U.S. government has recently declared obesity an epidemic, and rightfully so. Two out of three of us are overweight and one out of three is obese. The damage to us is practically incalculable.
But the murder rate in the country is only 5.5 out of 100,000. Our danger of being killed by another human being’s intentional act of violence is incomparably lower than our likelihood of being killed by overeating. Bookstores are full of bestsellers teaching us how to control our daily diets. Anyone know any bestsellers teaching us how to control our daily violence? Violence in real life is lower than ever in the US, while graphic violence on the screen is greater than ever. If violent entertainment actually caused real-life violence, the statistics would be going up rather than down.
There is a very simple reason why food in entertainment is more dangerous than violence. Eating is a positive biological need. Mother Nature wants us to do it…otherwise we die. So watching people eat stimulates an urge in us to eat, too. But violence is a negative biological need. It causes pain and damage. Mother Nature wants us to avoid violence unless it is absolutely necessary. Just because we watch others do it, it doesn’t make us want to do it.
But why do we enjoy violent entertainment? Personally, I am a rather non-violent person, yet I love violent entertainment. So does almost everyone else. That’s why we are getting more and more of it. Crime scene investigation. Emergency room. War. Drama. Action. Horror. Science fiction. And even humor (pay attention – one of the most violent shows on TV is America’s Funniest Home Videos). If we actually preferred watching people being nice to each other, you can be sure advertisers would be hounding Hollywood to oblige us.
Why do we want violent entertainment? Let me take the mystery out of it by asking you two questions. 1. Do you prefer a safe life or a dangerous one? If you are like the vast majority of people, you answered “Safe”. 2. Do you prefer a boring life or an exciting one? If you are like most people, you answered “Exciting”. Guess what? The two answers don’t go together. Safety is not exciting. Danger is.
We are going to increasingly greater lengths to create a safe environment for ourselves and our children. And the safer it gets, the more boring life becomes. Fortunately, the brain is an amazing thing. When we fantasize activities, the same areas of the brain get stimulated as when we are actually performing them. So entertainment allows us to have the emotional experience of doing exciting things without being in any real danger. And it’s usually cheaper than the excitement of shopping. Were we actually to get rid of violence from entertainment most of us would throw out our television sets. What would we watch? People being nice to each other? If we were to get rid of violence, we would also have to get rid of the Bible, the mythology of all cultures, fairy tales, and just about all other literature and entertainment. Like amusement parks, violent entertainment gives us the adrenalin rush of danger without actually being in danger. So stop feeling guilty about enjoying violent entertainment. It’s much healthier for you than watching food.