They are quite popular in the media nowadays, but why do people watch them?

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  • Denial is not a river in egypt. – Neil Meyer Jun 16 '17 at 18:22

This has many dimensions, but I can agree that one is clearly questionable in value -- the investment in vicarious violence. It might be a good idea to look at Sisela Bok's book "Mayhem" to see how the main role of violence in our culture now seems to be entertainment, and how this can be looked at as a moral problem.

From a pacifist/feminist point of view, vicarious violence is about role rehearsal. We still live in a society where the male identity is tied up with violence. But violence itself is largely proscribed. So vicarious violence is what we are left with. Aside from video games, sports and violent drama, that includes crime and warfare news.

By knowing the details of these situations, we can insert ourselves most realistically into one of the roles involved in controlling them: the knave's, the knight's, the king's or the sage's, to put it short.

We imagine new and different variations of crimes to which we may fall prey. We imagine being in the position to stop crime and get to judge how ready we are to play that role. We imagine being in the position to do something about larger issues by learning from and generalizing about them. And we imagine being in the position of judging human nature and the position of violence within it. These are abstract versions of the jobs men are assigned by the militarizing force that places the male domain at boundaries for defense.

The remaining implicit militarism in the male role draws us to rehearse these roles, even if we know that we are not going to be called upon to play them. We get to have and express opinions that seem to matter more than our ordinary opinions in life, because they are tied up with the urgency of battle, albeit a battle that is already over.

Since the process of our current attempts at feminism do not retract this role from men, but instead extend predominantly male roles to everyone, this is an exciting vicarious experience for many women as well as men, and captures the attention of the culture at large. Unfortunately, that makes vigilantes into celebrities, in a way that may encourage abrupt and meaningless violence by the narcissistic.

  • An interesting addendum I started thinking about as I read this answer. The vicarious violence we insert ourselves into must be something we feel is not fully under anyone's control, or else that person would have control of our violence simply by controlling what we see. – Cort Ammon Jun 17 '17 at 0:09
  • @CortAmmon I don't follow. We do enter into vicarious violence that is or has been fully controlled. In the role of the 'knight', joining in the mutual defense is part of the assigned and unaccessed role. Being part of a working military unit is still a fantasy that supports the exaggerated importance of controlling and correcting other men's aggression as a principal part of men's collective assignment. – jobermark Jun 17 '17 at 12:17
  • I may just have used the terms improperly. What I was trying to get at is that we can only insert ourselves into such vicarious violence which we have been presented with. He who controls the narrative controls what scenes we can explore, and thus the nature of the violent portion of the male identity. This would naturally lead to the seeking of violent situations to insert themselves into which they are confident are not fully controlled by anyone. For example, if you were only ever given the opportunity to insert yourself into situations which are fully under state control, it would... – Cort Ammon Jun 17 '17 at 15:44
  • be called propaganda. We gravitate to viewing violent situations that do not appear to be fully under one party's control because then we are sure that nobody is controlling our violent side. Or at least that's a corollary I read into the argument. I'd argue it explains both our obsession with terrorism (where the state clearly has far less control than they want) and sports (where the rules may be fixed, but what matters is not known by anyone, and only revealed as the sports game plays out) – Cort Ammon Jun 17 '17 at 15:45
  • @CortAmmon I misunderstood. I would agree. Even more directly one of the most problematic aspects here is that one of the important roles is the role of the criminal himself. 'MotherF-cker' has that double meaning of 'dishonorable' and 'highly effective'. We honor badness, in a way that makes for a strange relationship with attempts to obey moral codes. One of the ultimate problems for pacifism (and many forms of feminism) is how to have rules and not over-value them to the point they become a means of 'hoarding love' -- how to have order, without encouraging a 'global protection racket'. – jobermark Jun 17 '17 at 19:05

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