All Family Law, All Around the WorldSM

Violence as Entertainment. What on Earth are We Doing?

I’m on the airplane. As is often the case, I’m noticing what movies other passengers around me are watching. The guy in a row ahead of me, just to the right, is watching Expendables 4. Here’s an early scene: Bad guys want something nuclear from the keeper of this nuclear thing. He won’t give it to them. Right off the bat, the bad guys kill the keeper’s wife. Then, they threaten to kill the keeper’s son, a young boy of 8 or 9. The bad guys haul the child in and hold a gun to his head. The child is sobbing. I turn away.

That’s entertainment? The guy in the row ahead of me certainly thinks so. From time to time I look up and the movie seems determined to use up the stockpile of all known ammo in the world. Shooting after shooting. Killing after killing. Toxic masculinity on hyperdrive.

What causes someone, anyone, to get their entertainment, their jollies this way? How does it give them a satisfying buzz? It can’t be healthy for anyone to be entertained by the threatened killing of a child. It certainly wasn’t for me. It made me queazy. It can’t be good for anyone to seek out so much shoot ‘em up, death and dismemberment. Surely we realize this isn’t productive, it doesn’t bring us a quiet peace, generous thought, courteous action.

Then I think, “but we’ve always been this way. Sure, it’s more graphic now, but a good killing has always entertained the human imagination.” But have we ever improved human kind because of it? Has our species become more humane, cooperative, problem solving because of the pleasure we seek from fantasized murder and mahem? Is the argument that it has always been this way really a good argument for always doing it that way?

How would we like to live? How do we choose to live? “I want my entertainment to create more angst in me,” said no sane person ever. So why do we seek it? Where do we find threatening to kill a child a permissible, even sought after mode of entertainment? Expendables 4 made $16.7 million in the US, $51 million world-wide. Where does that buzz come from? When we perceive it, why don’t we root it out and excise it for the cancer upon us that it is?

Like too much alcohol, this play acting at mass murder must feel good in the moment for some, but surely there is a dear price to pay in the long run. For every action, there is a consequence. For too much drinking, it’s liver necrosis. For too much violence, perhaps it is soul death. If we could just think through the wisdom of it, maybe we would choose to avoid the “pleasure” so that we would gain the health of a more life-affirming choice. Maybe death and destruction would not be our go to, even for our entertainment.

Then I read an article this week about a real girl, under the age of 16, getting virtually sexually assaulted by a group of gamers in a video game. “The girl was reportedly wearing a virtual reality headset and playing an immersive game in the metaverse when her avatar was attacked by several others.” The story continues, “A police investigator told the Daily Mail that the metaverse is already “rife” with sexual offenses. The Meta game Horizon Worlds has reportedly been the site of several sexual assaults.”

What the…?

So, again for entertainment, some savages used their avatar to attack a young girl’s avatar. It wasn’t the point of the game, they just found a way of getting their jollies when they came upon her. For them, that was entertainment. That is how they have a good time.

So what does any of this have to do with family law?

Couples fight from time to time, some more than others. Too often as family law attorneys we see physical violence in families. Too often as family law attorneys we see sexual assault in families. But also, too often as family law attorneys, what we see is emotional abuse in families. There’s no hitting. There is no sexual attack. There is just emotional abuse. One is getting their jollies out of abusing the other. It’s what makes them feel better. It’s a form of their entertainment.

Some signs that a partner is being emotionally and psychologically abusive include:

humiliating you in front of others;

calling you insulting names, such as “stupid,” “disgusting,” or “worthless”;

getting angry in a way that is frightening to you;

threatening to hurt you, people you care about, or pets;

the abuser threatening to harm him/herself when upset with you;

saying things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can;”

deciding things for you that you should decide, like what you wear or eat;

acting jealous, including constantly accusing you of cheating;

continually pretending to not to understand what you are saying, making you feel stupid, or refusing to listen to your thoughts and opinions;

questioning your memory of events or denying that an event happened the way you said it did, even when the abuser knows that you are right;

changing the subject whenever you try to start conversations with the abuser and others and questioning your thoughts in a way that makes you feel unworthy; and

making your needs or feelings seem unimportant or less important than those of the abuser.

(See U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Office on Women’s Health, Emotional and Verbal Abuse page)

The patrons of Expendables 4 aren’t physically abusing anyone. They aren’t sexually abusing anyone. They’re just getting a kick from the emotional high of watching it happen to others. The internet savages aren’t physically abusing anyone. They aren’t sexually abusing anyone. They are just getting a kick from the emotional high of virtually abusing someone. It’s emotional. It’s psychological. It isn’t real, right?

The article on the virtual sexual attack concludes: “The next generation of kids will spend an estimated 10 years in virtual reality over the course of their lifetimes – close to three hours a day…” What on earth are we doing? Who are we creating? What are we conditioning ourselves to become? What are we conditioning our children to become? If we put them on the internet in virtual reality for three hours a day, particularly with no governors, no awareness, no criteria for assessing what is good and preferable, what outcome can we possibly expect? What impact must that have on family life?

I’m not in favor of government censorship. I am in favor of awareness. I am in favor of an honest, thorough discussion about whether it is preferable for humankind to seek out quiet peace, generous thought, courteous action and to make that more likely through the entertainment we choose. I think we improve society if we approach our entertainment mindfully, taking in the good stuff, avoiding the bad stuff. I’m quite sure that our families will improve that way.

Expendables 4 cost $100 million to make. Remember, it only made $16.7 million in the US and $51 million world wide. It lost almost $50 million. It is nice to think that the market isn’t rewarding such violence porn. Still, at an average $15 a ticket, that’s 3,400,000 tortured, twisted souls who flocked to get their jollies on, taking that “pleasure” home at the end of the performance.

Let us very intentionally choose the good stuff.

-Michael Manely