Why we care less about war

14 December 2017

Why we care less about war

Image credit: Jordi Bernabeu Farrus (Flikr) – CC BY 2.0

Darkness fills your vision, your ears left ringing from the explosions and gunfire that fill the air, alone, trekking through the thick mud as it clings to your boots, slowing you down, nothing but the weight of your bags and rifle to keep you company.

It is a nightmare, with nowhere left to turn; your only option is to continue pushing, gunning down enemies, watching them drop like flies, any minute your life could be taken from you.

You have already escaped death by the skin on your teeth too many times to count – then it hits you; a sharp pain in your back as you drop to the floor, your blood spilling onto the cold mud below you.

Your life slowly fades. It is all over. Until your teammate comes to your aid, reviving you with a tap of the ‘square’ button.

With the continuous improvement of technology, and the rapid pace that we crave innovation, it is no surprise that we are constantly shown movies and video games with state-of-the-art realism, graphics and special effects.

However, how much is too much? Is it okay to be exposed to the graphic monstrosities of war on such a regular basis? Is it harmless fun and entertainment? Or are the pictures of war that we are being shown all too often through the countless Hollywood blockbusters and video games desensitising us to the horrors of it, and normalising destruction and murder more and more with each generation?

The Vietnam War was the first televised war, and for the first time the world was shown harrowing images of real bloodshed and violence, the actual cost of war. In October of 1967, roughly 35,000 American activists held protests outside the Pentagon after being haunted by the graphic images they were shown of the Vietnam War on their televisions.

So, what’s changed since?

We now have the internet, 24/7 news cycles, digital photography, the ability to communicate instantly on a global scale, as well as film and television that continues to increase in budgets and quality. Violence and gore is almost inescapable, and the effect this has on the human psyche may not be too pleasant.

It is not uncommon for one to open Facebook and see videos of terrorist groups torturing captives, or to see videos of the destruction in Syria and the countless families and lives being decimated in the Middle East. These are the very images and scenes that caused outrage during the Vietnam War, and forced the people of the United States to take a stand and fight for peace.

However, today this is not the case; instead of protests filling the streets at the sight of these images, the internet is filled with people tagging their friends or making light of these horrendous videos, almost as if these images were not real, and merely a video game or movie.

Is this really a result of desensitisation from the images and media representations of war and violence?

When it comes to Hollywood, ‘genre films’ are movies that tell familiar stories, with familiar characters, in familiar situations. War films are no exception, often following very similar plots, with very similar characters. Could it be that we have become comfortable with this same formula that we see so often within films and video games, that when hearing of tragedies on television, or in newspapers, we are automatically less shocked by such events?

These war films and video games, along with films and games of any genre for that matter, fall into the process called ‘mediation’. What mediation refers to is the fact that when we see things depicted on a screen, such as the raid on Osama Bin Laden that is depicted in the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ for instance, we are not actually seeing the raid itself taking place; but rather, we are viewing a projection of a recording, of a re-creation of a supposedly historical event. Essentially, war itself has become a process of mediation, and perception is a factor in all aspects of it.

If one were unable to see who they were assigned to kill, naturally it would become much easier to pull the trigger. This is the case with how we are receiving war and depictions of disaster in our homes, and may be a significant factor in the desensitisation of society to such events. When watching films, playing video games, or even viewing news reports of war and disaster, we are not seeing it firsthand, but merely observing through a lens that has been provided for us. We may feel sympathy, and we may be genuinely upset by events we see through television; but we will never be able to completely understand or lose the will to normally function in our everyday lives as a result. We will most likely continue with our days as normal, as we are incapable of fully understanding such disasters, because we only ever receive a depiction of such events.

So, perhaps it is this sense of familiarity associated with war, or the sub-conscious knowledge that nothing we see from our homes is ‘the real deal’, that is the reason we are much more desensitised to such occurrences than the people of the Vietnam era were. Regardless of how you feel towards war, there is no denying that there has been a significant shift in public opinion towards such events.

As harsh as it may sound, if it doesn’t affect us, we don’t care so much.