“The addiction to violence in America is nearly erotic.” 

That’s a stunning quote from Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University professor and regular TV commentator.   It was striking to see addiction,  violence and sex in one short sentence.

Since he said this the news broke about the recent murder/suicide by Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher.  And now more recently we are devastated by the unthinkable events in Newtown CT.   In addition to the serious considerations about gun control there is reference made to our culture of violence.  What is the psychology of this “culture of violence?”  And what maintains it?

Is Vicarious violence part of our culture?

Let’s look at some of the ways that we entertain ourselves.  I am leaving aside video games– which many people argue are desensitizing children to extreme violence and eroticism– because they warrant a blog of their own.  But there are  other kinds of culturally sanctioned entertainment in which we experience violence vicariously.  I am referring particularly to experiences  that purport to be about something harmless, something like sports, weather, or sex.

There is football (which I personally love to watch), there are disaster movies (which I am neutral about) and of course the increasingly violent and explicit content of internet pornography (not a big fan).

I recently flipped by a discussion on NPR about “disaster porn,” i.e. enjoyment of videos of disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes.   I had never really thought about people “getting off” on disaster footage but, figuratively speaking, it made sense.  It was calling it “porn” that suggested the idea of  acting out a violent fantasy rather than simple schadenfreude.

Does football promote a culture of violence in players?

There has been attention given to the question of whether football players are prone to violence against women.  An ESPN.com article talks about “alarming trends” regarding domestic violence arrests among college football players and about the fact that  professional football players who commit domestic violence are treated with far greater leniency that the general population.

There is resistance by the NFL to openly opposing domestic violence.  The ESPN article quotes former NFL quarterback Don McPherson as saying:

“It’s easier for the NFL to wear a pink ribbon [for breast cancer awareness] and say they support women that way as opposed to aligning themselves against violence. If they align against domestic violence with a feminist organization, they begin to chip away at the image that is a direct link to their fans.” (My italics)

Is there a gun culture in the NFL?

“According to a recent USA Today poll, three out of four NFL players own a gun (compared to the 40 percent to 45 percent of the general population who own firearms).”

On a positive note, at least seven NFL players turned in their guns to their teams’ security officers in the wake of the Belcher shooting

Do football viewers become violent against women?

A 2011 online article from UCSD called “Crime and Football: Domestic Violence Rises 10 Percent After NFL Upsets” reviews earlier large scale University of California study showing that following home team losses in particularly emotionally charged games against rivals, police reports of violence by men against a female partner at home were 20 percent higher than usual.

Violence in Pornography

This is way too large a subject to deal with briefly.  Suffice it to say that a 2010 content analysis of best-selling adult videos found:

  •  3,376 verbal and/or physically aggressive acts were observed.
  •  on average, scenes had 11.52 acts of either verbal of physical aggression, ranging from none to 128.
  •  48 percent of the 304 scenes analyzed contained verbal aggression, while more than 88 percent showed physical aggression.
  •  72 percent of aggressive acts were perpetrated by men.
  •  94 percent of aggressive acts were committed against women.

The resistance to bursting the bubble

In the dialogue about football the question is whether the NFL wants to dodge the issue of violence against women because the football audience do not want their enjoyment of the sport to be seen as sexist or morally suspect.

In a similar way the fans of all manner of pornographic imagery protest quite loudly at any attempt to point out that there may be damaging effects of porn.  See my blog “Good Porn, Bad Porn.”

What I take this to mean is that we can and do enjoy watching things that mirror the violent and sexist side of us so long as we don’t have to think about the damage.    We want to avoid any guilt or responsibility about the potential after-effects.

Would it ruin football for me if I have to think about whether it’s related to domestic violence against women?  I guess my honest answer is yes, it sort of does bring an unwelcome note of reality into my awareness.  Maybe we all need the outlet of a harmless fantasy about something bad that we will never do.  But we need to be able to get out of the bubble and be grown ups too.

 


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    Last reviewed: 17 Dec 2012

APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2012). A Culture of Violence: Football, Porn and Vicarious Aggression. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 1, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2012/12/a-culture-of-violence-football-porn-and-vicarious-aggression/

 




Check Out Linda Hatch's books,
Relationships in Recovery & Living with a Sex Addict.


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