There are questions that have plagued the movie industry for years that pertain to whether movies cause violence. As a writer of articles that pertain to movies, and someone who has always found an interest in the psychology of movies, I feel that I might be able to directly answer these questions.
From time to time movies come out that have changed our society for the better, or for the worse. There have been more than once that the influence of a movie follows us out of the movie theater, into our cars, and is carried with us all the way home. Sometimes, those influences stay with us for many years to come.
One example of this that I point out regularly would be the movie, Jaws. Ever since this movie came out, people have been horrified of swimming in the ocean. Psycho made many of us afraid of taking showers, while It made us realize that clowns wanted to eat us. These movies gave us impressions that we cannot shake to this day. Keep these ideas in mind for a few moments.
In many cases, psychologists have looked into the case of if and how violence in movies affect us. In many cases, these psychologists have found direct correlations to violence in movies and the increase in violence in our communities.
Take for example the cases in Detroit, Philadelphia, and LA of increased gang violence after the releases of such movies as Colors and New Jack City. Both of these movies were directed at making a statement about how damaging gang life can be. Instead, both movies ended up being the precursors to increased gang violence in some major cities.
Being a life-long resident of the Detroit area, I remember the stresses that befell local police departments upon the release of New Jack City. Since the movie directly told the stories of drug dealers from the city of Detroit, the police soon realized that there were going to be strains from this movie that would carry out into the streets. After violence broke out two night in a row from teenagers that had seen the movie, police cars were placed at almost every movie theater in the area that was showing the movie. While New Jack City did not directly cause violence, it set up an atmosphere in some communities that led to violent acts.
I remember it being pointed out at the time that in almost every case of someone being picked up in Detroit at the time for violent acts after seeing New Jack City, the person already had had some kind of run-in with the law. In almost every case, the violence was perpetrated by someone who had already been in trouble for some kind of violent act. While there were exceptions, the overall percentage of repeat offenders could not be denied.
Strangely enough, if we take a look at the first known violent outbreak caused by a movie, we actually have to go all the way back to the 1930s when the first previews were being shown of Frankenstein. In the original version of the movie, there is a scene in which the Monster throws a little girl into the water, and she drowns. The scene incensed some people in the theater so much that chairs were thrown at the screen and a fight broke out in the theater.
One of the points of a good movie is that it will bring a lot of suppressed emotions to the surface. A person watching a horror movie might find themselves screaming for the first time in years. A person watching a love story might cry for the first time since childhood. A person watching a violent movie might become on edge and consider letting out bottled up frustration.
Sometimes, also, people can be led to violence that already had a strong predetermination through the method of copying what they just saw in the movie. While not a movie, the TV show “Hunter.” can give us a great example of this.
In the mid-1980s, there was an episode of, “Hunter,” in which a person was shot and killed by a drive-by shooter. To this point, most communities had never heard of such an act of violence. Over the next few months, drive-by shootings began happening in cities that they never had before. Many at the time pointed to the TV episode that created copycat crimes for many years to come.
Instead of causing permanent changes in our perception, such as in the cases of Jaws, Psycho, and It, some violent movies make a temporary change in our perception. Instead of taking these ideas and ideals home with them, some people take these thoughts with them out into the streets and begin acts of violence. Chances are good, from a psychological aspect, that these people already had the predetermination for violence. It is just that a violent scene, or violent movie unlocked the predetermination. It would not be the movie’s fault, or the directors fault. It would most likely be the fault of society for not paying attention to the warning signs that were seen before the movie.