October 17, 2006|by LYDIA HADFIELD


It follows SEX! as the proverbial attention-grabber in film hype. People are drawn to violence like flies to roadkill.

But why?

Since violence has made its way into the cinema, studies have been conducted to determine its appeal and effect. The hubbub concerning violence's impact often focuses on adolescent reactions, but most teenagers don't read case reports before watching the latest action flick.

So what do average teenagers think about cinematic violence? In general, they seem to accept and enjoy it.

"It's actually pretty appropriate, because that's what people go into the theater to see," says Skylar Lewis, 14, a freshman at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Md. "It's pretty much cool ... it has to be in action movies. Most people don't want to go see a chick flick with their dude friends."

Emily Rother, 16, a junior at Frederick High School, enjoys violence "in some movies."


"I don't really have a problem with it," says Kevin Cole, 16, a sophomore at Linganore High School, east of Frederick. He admits, "I haven't seen much violence in movies 'cause my parents don't let me see really violent types of movies."

"I am for it 100 percent!" declares Matt Lee, 16, a junior at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School. "It's all just entertainment."

However, Matt concedes, "It really depends on how the cinematographic violence is portrayed."

The level of violence and the context play a part in what people enjoy seeing. Those who watch violence for its sake prefer certain styles.

Skylar says, "I like those arty-violent films. Not just like, 'I blew your brains out,' but, 'I blew your brains out with cool cinemagraphics.'"

Artistic violence

Others prefer cinematic violence in certain contexts.

"Fun, sort-of-violent movies like 'Fight Club' or anything with fencing is perfectly fine," Emily says.

"I like action and science fiction-y kind of stuff," Kevin says. "I don't like horror movies."

For some, the visceral feeling that a realistic, gritty violent scene conjures is the point of well-done violence.

"I think the most well-done cinematic violence you can do is ... really realistic, up-close, in-your-face violence," Matt says.

"Why?" Emily counters. She believes that lately, "It seems there's a lot of unnecessary violence that doesn't need to be there for the plot, and it's just kind of dumb."

For those who see violent sequences as artistic pieces, movie violence is evaluated technically.

When Matt discusses the merits of violent scenes, he takes into account all the elements of the moviemaking process: camera work, style, budget, and audio and special effects. He says that creating his own zombie movie this past summer has increased his appreciation for "well-done" violent scenes.

Skylar describes good violence as, "Choreographed. Not like the director just threw it together. ... I go to a movie to see how they do the violence, not because it's violent."

However, others evaluate the quality of violent scenes based on how relevant and realistic they are in context of the story.

"If it furthers the plot, it's good," Emily says. "If the plot is violence, it's bad. There's a point where it goes too far."

How much is too much?

When does movie violence go too far? Despite acceptance and even an affinity for violent movies, people admit that some scenes have bothered them more than others.

Skylar says he was bothered by some scenes in the "Saw" horror series, "The 'Saw' movies, they were just ... trying too hard. ... It just wasn't interesting. I just didn't want to sit and see a guy's head yanked off."

Celia Lee, an eighth-grader at Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School, can't stand "movies where they torture people."

When Matt discusses cinematic violence that makes him cringe, he mentions documentaries that had a "real-life connection" or instances in which fictional characters he became attached to died.

When asked if their parents enforced restrictions on the violent content of movies they watched, all those interviewed agreed that "little kids" should not watch violence.

"When I was younger, (my parents) didn't really allow it," Skylar says, but he confesses that he ignored his parents and saw movies he wasn't supposed to watch at friends' houses. But young children should not be exposed to violence, he says.

"Parents should check what's actually in the movie before they decide whether or not their kids should see it," Skylar says.

Studies of the conscious and unconscious effects of adolescent exposure to violent content have caused concern. A U.S. Surgeon General's report on violence states that, although violent media has been linked to increased aggression, it has not been as definitively linked to increased violence.

According to those interviewed, violent movies are only a small portion of the violence young people are exposed to.

Matt scoffs, "It's not the film industry. ... Turn on the news every day. They're showing horrific violence."

"I don't think it's just the movies," Emily agrees, "In the media, everything's gotten a bit more violent. It takes more to shock people nowadays. It just seems like everyone is trying to shock you, so they all have to outdo each other."

Celia thinks the pressure in the movie industry to one-up the latest gore-fest is disturbing.

"It's just like, 'What're they going to do next?" she says.

On the other hand, Matt believes the more boundaries are pushed, the better the cinema.

"It's just a sign that the industry is growing," he says.

The Herald-Mail Articles