Can some people’s violent tendencies be curbed by voyeuristically watching violent films?
That’s the argument being made by two researchers in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. The pair argue that violent films attract would-be assailants to cinemas to watch celluloid villains commit dastardly deeds instead of themselves being out in an environment, such as a bar, that would fuel their aggressions.
According to one of the authors of the study, Gordon Dahl, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, and quoted by the New York Times–
You’re taking a lot of violent people off the streets and putting them inside movie theaters. In the short run, if you take away violent movies, you’re going to increase violent crime.
Dahl and his co-author Stefano DellaVigna, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley studied crime statistics around the opening dates of films released over the last decade and have found that the showing of violent films in the United States has decreased assaults by an average of about 1,000 a weekend, or 52,000 a year. The possible calming influence of the films may even last a few days, with Dahl and DellaVigna reporting that on the Monday and Tuesday after packed weekend showings of violent films there is no spike in violent crime emerges to compensate. Even up to a few weeks later, they claim there is no evidence of a compensating resurgence.
Of course this research flies in the face of numerous studies which claim that violent movies actually encourage violent acts. These are the studies that critics love to trot out after disasters such as school and workplace shootings. So far, I haven’t seen any response from these selfsame critics.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that an unbalanced mind doesn’t necessarily need a violent movie to influence it to violence, but that anything can set off the unbalanced- the wrong paisley pattern on a tie, a movie, someone taking their time in the pedestrian crosswalk, whatever. Any person blaming their reprehensible actions on a movie is only showing their own failure of character. It’s an arguement Gus Van Zant made in his disturbing film Elephant, where two teenagers are shown in a number of different activities from playing a violent video game to watching a documentary on World War 2 on television to playing classical piano before they leave to gun down several of their high school classmates.