We are what we indulge in?

SarahBeth Caplin

One of the highlights of my study abroad experience in Italy last semester was touring the Roman Colosseum. My friends and I were riveted by our tour guide’s animated and graphic depiction of the stadium’s use for violent means of entertainment—from gladiator fights to brutal executions.

Over two thousand years later, we Americans believe our society to be far more civilized. It’s illegal for humans to wrestle with animals that can only be found in zoos, and the methods once used by the Romans for execution are now deemed cruel and unusual.

Executions by the state are carried out in private chambers. These laws and practices are in place because we have progressed beyond the primitive days when such activities were considered acceptable for public amusement.

Interestingly, these “civilized” laws and practices don’t extend to movies, our most preferred form of entertainment.

We let ourselves off the hook for enjoying the torture and grisly murders we view in theaters on the premise that it’s all fake; the actors aren’t actually being hurt, and violence is “essential” to the plot. Some movies, like Hotel Rwanda, require some violence to make a point. Other movies, like the infamous Saw franchise, thrive on violence more than quality scriptwriting to captivate audiences. I go to the movies to enjoy a two-hour escape from reality and a good plot. I don’t go for the purpose of tossing up my lunch.

One MTV film critic said in an interview about the fifth Saw installment, “The movie opens with a guy being chopped in half. This does not surprise me, but what does surprise me is that the theater erupts with cheers. The question goes from ‘What have I become?’ to ‘Who are these people I’m surrounded by?’”

The reactions of that audience probably weren’t much different from the reactions of the crowds in ancient Rome getting their rocks off at gladiators tearing each other to pieces. The sad, yet ironic truth is, our society is heading in a direction that is not unlike the one of ancient Rome. We don’t have a whole lot to pride ourselves on in comparison, except a better use of restraint from carrying out such deeds in stadiums using real people, and not stunt doubles.

I have to wonder when a line is crossed between mindless entertainment and brainwashing. Some questions to consider: are we or aren’t we what we choose to indulge in? If we become desensitized to acts of violence made to look as realistic as possible on the big screen, will we eventually get bored and crave more? Will we no longer be as horrified to hear about it happening to real people in the real world? Furthermore, what will happen to our sense of compassion if we crave the gritty details of real-life violence, completely losing focus of the fact that a real, living person suffered, someone who could very easily be one of us?

I don’t believe that the media are solely responsible for numbness to real-life violence, but I do think there is a direct correlation.

SarahBeth Caplin is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]@kent.edu.