Dehumanizing Humanity

I love action movies and television shows. Especially the kind that have some suspense added to them. My favorite TV show is Criminal Minds. I love trying to figure out who the killer is, how, how they will be caught, and how my two Master’s Degrees qualify me for a job with the BAU.

Last weekend, I watched Braveheart. Again. But it was the first time in years. I like the historicity of the movie, even though it is definitely Hollywood-ized. This time, I was watching the movie specifically asking myself if my 10 year old son could watch it. I had either forgotten or just never realized how graphic and bloody the movie is.

As I think about the majority of stories I watch on a screen, I am starting to recognize that, not only do I watch a lot of violence, I am not moved by it in anyway.* Whether it is super heroes fighting villains and destroying entire cities, some type of alien/zombie/vampire invasion ushering in the apocalypse, elves killing orcs, or bad guys assaulting their victims until the police show up and return the favor, I surround myself with images of violence.

And based on Nielsen ratings and box office hauls, many of you do, too.

So why are we surprised when one human being kills another human being because their music is too loud?

Please understand, I am not saying that watching violent movies is a direct path to committing violent crimes. However, I think there is an important lesson at play:

The more we watch, the more we dehumanize.

What is your reaction to all the victims on a show like Criminal Minds? Mine is, “Well, that stinks. I hope they catch him before the next one!” At the end of the show, there is a sense that the good guys won so all is right with the world. (Never mind the 10 victims who died before the bad guy was caught.)

When we watch movies, we rarely flinch at the piling body count throughout the movie; provided the hero stands tall at the end. It is the same with property destruction: how many times can New York City be destroyed by evil people/creatures? We watch buildings fall, streets rip open, and businesses demolished; but we feel good because the good guys win.

I understand that movies and television shows are supposed to provide us with some escape. They are fiction. They are not real. They are diversions from the often troubling realities of daily life.

But my concern is that these avenues of escape have so infiltrated our minds that we no longer remember the humanity of real people.

So when we live in a state that has a Stand Your Ground law, people are willing to point their guns at unarmed teenagers of a different race. After all, they are a problem to be dealt with before the end of the story; not a human being to be talked to.

When we read stories about the crimes people commit we can say things like, “Just wait til they get to prison; then their own kind will take care of them.”

When we hear about celebrities dying from drug overdoses we can say, “They got what’s coming to them.”

Again, I am not drawing a straight line from violent movies to violent behavior. I am suggesting, however, that the repeated dehumanization of our entertainment escapes may be leading us to forget that the people we encounter in real life are actually humans.

Real life problems are not solved in 46 minute segments (with commercial breaks popping up to extend the time to one hour). In fact, real life problems are not resolved in a way that we can just forget about them and move on the next problem.

Real life has consequences that linger. Real life requires hard work to make relationships work.

Real life means I have to be committed to recognizing the humanity of others.


*This is not true of all movies. Some, like Amistad, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and (from what I hear) 12 Years a Slave do move me because of the content of the story.

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