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Alain Giguère

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Do you like to watch violent movies and TV shows? 42% of Canadians admit that they do (and Die Walküre by Richard Wagner)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 10-23-17 at 11:38 a.m.

One of the most fascinating phenomena we've observed over the years has been the steady rise in the number of people who answer this question in the affirmative. When we asked Canadians if they agreed with the statement "I like to watch movies and television programs in which there is violence," 26% of the population did in 2004. By 2017, that percentage had risen to 42%!

From one year to the next, the hikes may be modest, but they add up over time. The upward trend is almost perfectly linear!

To meet the demand, the supply of violent entertainment has been growing apace. Hollywood and even our local television networks are constantly offering us new content in this genre. Not to mention the video games of the same ilk!

When I stand back and reflect on this trend, I can't help thinking there may exist some relationship between the steady rise in people's interest in violent media content and the declining crime rate across the country, including violent crime (Statistics Canada: Canada's crime rate: Two decades of decline). It's as if violence has become "virtualized." It may have abandoned the streets, but it has found a home on our screens!

Far be it from me to suggest a causal link between the two phenomena, but some kind of social dynamic around violence appears to be at work here. The media is providing a fantasy outlet for our aggressions, at the same time as the civilizing effects of empathy make us less violent as a society. (The aging of the population also plays a role.)

It is true that violent dramas regularly make headlines but, overall, "real" violence is declining in society, while interest in "virtual violence" continues to rise. There may be a few suggestible individuals who can be inspired by violent media content to commit violent acts, admittedly with often catastrophic results, but in society as a whole, we are witnessing a decline in "real" violence as violent content proliferates!

Lovers of violent media content present a very characteristic sociodemographic profile. They are over-represented among men, people under 45 and, interestingly, couples with children under 12 (understandable given the age of the parents). It seems that interest in this type of content starts young!

Note that Quebec is the only province that stands apart on this question, with only 36% of its population expressing interest in this type of content, compared to 43% in English Canada.

A desire for chills and thrills

Violent media content probably touches something deep within these viewers and gamers. Their values and hot buttons express a strong need for escape, for chills and thrills, for strong emotions and intensity. They want to flee the real world momentarily and be transported to a thrilling, fantastical universe.

This type of desire is on the rise in society and is accompanied by an apocalyptic view of life: a fatalistic and Darwinist vision of today's world, along with the feeling of loss of control over one's life. This kind of "mindset" is typical of the lovers of violent media content, whose numbers are on the rise in the country.

Violent content frequently deals with the adventures of a hero, who risks his life for a cause, often to save the world. The hero fights against "evil-doers" who bring disaster, even apocalypse. He may lose his way for a time but he eventually triumphs (and gains total control over the elements).

Violent media content acts as a metaphor in the imagination of the lovers of violence. It offers them a sublimated version of their apocalyptic vision and their lack of control over their lives. Violent content lets them fantasize about an quasi-supernatural ideal (or totally supernatural, like Superman, etc.), which helps them transcend the vicissitudes of their lives.

Interestingly, this type of "fantasy" is less prevalent in Quebec than in English Canada (although it does affect more than one in three Quebecers). The need for escape is just as present in Quebec, but it tends to express itself more as sensuality and conviviality.

Finally, one can hypothesize that this trend will continue over the long term, since the underlying motivations (need for escape, lack of control, etc.) show no signs of abating, and a whole new generation is being exposed to this content. (Recall that the lovers of violent content are over-represented among people with young children).

Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner

This week, my clips present two variations of the same musical theme: "Ride of the Valkyries," the overture to the third act of Wagner's opera, Die Walküre. This music is the perfect accompaniment to the topic of this post. In ancient Germanic, Nordic and Viking mythology, the Valkyries were flying maidens whose mission was to take worthy warriors killed on the battlefield to Valhalla, the paradise in these mythologies.

My first clip is from the opera, staged in Valencia in 2007. The music is also well-known because it was used in the soundtrack for the movie, Apocalypse Now, by Francis Ford Coppola. My second clip is therefore the epic scene from the movie, where a Vietcong village is attacked by U.S. Army helicopters.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Zubin Mehta, La Fura dels Baus, Valencia, 2007, Unitel Classica.

Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, 1979.