I keep wondering, though, whether this is applicable to being steeped in violent media throughout an American lifetime. It’s much harder for me to believe that when almost every Marvel hero wins through violence, when Star Wars makes politics a boring interstitial to the fight scenes, when our fantasy books are about using magic in exciting combat sequences… doesn’t that teach us on a subconscious level that violence is an appropriate or preferable solution to problems? That peaceful resolution is boring and impotent and you need a (usually white male) hero to kill someone to make a “real” difference?

MJ Paxton on violent media.

I love violent media as much as the next nerd, and I don’t believe that violent media causes violent actions, but…

But.

I am increasingly of the opinion that it’s not the violence per se that’s the problem, so much as it is the overarching eschatological/Manichean outlook. Like, problems in pop culture are always existential, life-or-death, with ridiculously overblown, world-ending stakes. Stakes high enough, in other words, to “justify” whatever violence the “heroes” perpetrate. I will never forgive films like The Avengers, for example, for endorsing nuclear genocide against an alien species as the “heroic” action,1 and yes, I think those messages do matter. I don’t think they make people violent, I don’t think it’s as simple as that, but I do think they make people… cold. Uncompromising. I think they tacitly teach people that trying to understand and empathize with “the enemy”, whomever or whatever that happens to be, is not just futile but a morally wrong action.

And I do think it’s a problem, yeah.

  1. Spoiler alert, Americans: Hiroshima and Nagasaki were absolutely unpardonable, unnecessary, and unconscionable war crimes—ones that will be forever a stain on your national consciousness—no matter how often you try and re-litigate the issue in pop culture. See also: the legacy of civilian casualties in your current Forever War. []