Last night, I watched an extremely violent movie, “Kingdom of Heaven” (2005, director Ridley Scott). This reminded me of a debate which surfaces in the media from time to time over violence on television: whether it should be restricted from minors, whether it should be produced in the first place, whether watching it is bad for you.
I understand that there are various damning statistics/studies on tv violence and its effects on children in particular, and I am not apt to doubt the data. But, in my own experience, I find that watching such movies actually makes me more acutely aware of the wrongness of most types of violence and intentional harming of persons.
(WARNING: Possible Kingdom of Heaven spoilers below the fold)If watching violent television were morally desensitizing, then voluntarily watching it would be a form of self-harm. It would be a moral disvalue, not only to oneself, but to anyone else the viewer might go on to harm in the real world as a result of the tv desensitization. Maybe I’m just not watching enough violence to become desensitized, and if I watched more, I would become desensitized?
But it seems to me that, offered at the right times and in the right amounts, watching some violent television can do a person real moral good. A person shouldn’t wholeheartedly enjoy watching it, as that would betray a deficiency of character. Instead, violent, conflict-ridden television is a (not totally pleasant) way of exercising one’s moral imagination. How would I feel if I were on the battlefield of Jerusalem nearly a thousand years ago? Could anyone of that time period and culture reasonably be expected to become a “conscientious objector” to the fighting? Given the medical knowledge and religious beliefs of the time, was it reasonable for the queen to kill her young leprous son? What role should religious conflict play in the waging of truly just war? Is a soldier morally excusable for following the orders of a bloodthirsty military leader?
I come away from a movie like “Kingdom of Heaven” even more repulsed by war than I was in the first place. Thinking explicitly about the moral questions raised by the movie validates the moral repulsion I felt at it. That is a good thing, as far as I can tell.
What about you? Is watching tv violence difficult for you? Is it morally educational, or just desensitizing?