Despite Recent Shooting Tragedies, On-Screen Violence Remains Popular

on July 16 2013 3:03 PM
The Walking Dead
Shows like "The Walking Dead" or "NCIS" remain incredibly popular despite recent shooting tragedies. AMC

In the wake of shooting tragedies in Aurora, Colo., and the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, viewing habits have not changed. According to a new report by the Associated Press, on-screen violence remains popular and lucrative.

The AP report notes the approaching anniversary of the Aurora shooting, on July 20, 2012, during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight,” and the Sandy Hook shooting, on Dec. 14, 2012, as two events that could have shaped American viewing habits. The two tragedies, according to AP, did little to alter the popularity of pretend violence found on television or movie screens. 

The top three highest-grossing movies so far in 2013, “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel” and “Fast & Furious 6,” are all considered violent by AP. “NCIS” was the second-most-popular show on television during the 2012-2013 season, behind “Sunday Night Football,” while violent videogames such as “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” and “Halo 4” continue to be best-sellers. Despite the national attention of these tragedies there has been little change in viewing habits, argues AP, and some experts believe there will never be a change.

AP points out previous research and studies showing no link between real-life violence and videogame violence, while some fear that limiting portrayals of violence in movies or television shows is akin to censorship. Speaking to AP, Chuck Williams, from Drexel University and an expert in youth violence, believes American society does not like being restricted or told what they can, or cannot have. As such, anyone suggesting a limit to the amount of violence on television or movies would find little public support.

The issue of violence is a complex one with no single answer, notes AP. According to the experts, there may need to be a discussion about violence in entertainment, but at the same time, there needs to be a discussion about gun control and mental health.

Violent videogames have been the subject of much study, and while Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, did play first-person shooters, that genre is the most popular among males of all ages. Games like the “Call of Duty” series or “Halo 4” are rated Mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, similar to an R-rating for a movie, stating the content is suitable for ages 17 and older.

For many commentators, the issue of violence in movies, television shows or videogames boils down to a question of economics. If violence remains profitable, the entertainment industry will continue to produce entertainment that reaches the largest audience possible.

That’s not to say the recent tragedies have had no impact on how people think about screen violence. Jim Carrey has made several public statements discussing how the Sandy Hook shooting changed his beliefs about violence, to the point that he’s opted out of marketing efforts for “Kick Ass 2.” The violence in “Man of Steel,” where the battles would have led to thousands of civilian casualties, has also been criticized.