By Evelyn King
There is strong research and a long history of use by psychology in PTSD cases of a technique known as Flooding or Prolonged Exposure Therapy to overcome fear or revulsion of something.
How this works is one is subjected to repeated exposure to the very thing one fears. The idea is that with prolonged exposure will come a lessening of the sense of helplessness and dread that consumes one around the fearful thing or event. In other words, the idea is for one to become desensitized or immune to the power of what one fears.
This sounds simple enough when we think of the fear of spiders or speaking in front of a large crowd. But I have been made uneasy and then downright angry at a set of contradictory statements that seem to be restated time and again almost like a mantra by some people. So here goes.
I read an article by a Hollywood mogul about his delight in how movies and music are driving a change in thinking by the public and that there is, in fact, an agenda to do so by many in Hollywood. So to restate this: with enough exposure to images of behaviors and ideas, people will be influenced to change their own behaviors and ideas. Sounds like flooding or prolonged exposure therapy to me.
Then there are those people who keep repeating, “No studies have shown a connection between violent video games, movies, or music and violent behavior.” No? How can that be when we have proof prolonged exposure to something can immunize a person to dread, fear, or revulsion of such actions and change their behaviors and ideas? It makes no sense. Exposure either does or does not influence people.
Perhaps morally strong people can withstand the onslaught of violent images or words and keep fantasy and reality safely apart. But what about those without a strong moral foundation? Or those who get truth and fiction confused? Those too immature to realize the guy who gets up again and again after being blown apart is not real and that in reality there are no do-overs?
As we talk about gun violence in this country we repeatedly sweep under the table the idea that exposure to violence on TV, in movies, video games, and music could have an effect on the behavior of immature or mentally ill individuals. We are shocked when they choose, like both the villains and the heroes, to use violence to solve life’s problems. I, for one, believe entertainment violence has a huge part to play in the violent choices made by the unstable. And that until we address that glorification no amount of gun control laws are going to have an impact on the violent outbursts of the few.
Last time I wrote about indifference being an evil. If we have become indifferent to the violence we see in entertainment then we have started down a slippery slope. Only if we remain appalled, outraged, and morally injured by the unrelenting images put before us can we hope to hold our own against the agenda of violence as a solution to everything.
There have got to be more ways to entertain than to have good and evil face off in ever more dramatic and violent encounters. I have reached my limit and for my own mental health I am boycotting all entertainment that is gruesome or violent. Will you join me?
Evelyn King is a preaching elder at the Community Presbyterian Church with graduate work in values education from San Francisco Theological Seminary and a BA in psychology/social science. She is a past director of the Healy Senior Center and the facilitator of senior fitness exercise.