Do movies about evil spark more evil? (Aka, is the hype about the Joker movie justified?)

Here in Canada, CBC is running discussion on the upcoming Joker movie and how people are worried about it sparking violence. Personally I don’t know if I really understand fictional movies that depict bad guys in a good light. I’m not personally into the horror genre… I view movies as a chance to escape from an already harsh reality, and so when I do, I want something to make me feel better, not worse. Clearly I realize my opinion is not the only one, so I am curious to hear other people’s reasons for liking these sorts of movies, and whether you think there is any justification to the thinking they may inspire others to do evil.

I think in the tech world, we’ve encountered this same question with respect to video games ever since Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Even today with games like Grand Theft Auto.

For my part, having a scientific mind but no research to backup the following, I feel like we should be able to agree that the response to violence in media falls on a spectrum. Operant conditioning exists. At the same time, most typically developed human minds can distinguish between fiction and reality.

For me, I feel like the core of the matter is how many “atypical” minds are developing and a small but growing “Matrix-ification”, where people see themselves as existing in a false reality where other humans don’t matter. From the psycho killers to the “big thinkers,” I’m concerned that human life is being devalued in a way that’s different from ways we’ve seen in the past with genocide and war; and yet, we’re still not free from war or genocide either.

In a less convoluted way, I’ll say it like this: mental health is complex and on the decline. We shouldn’t blame any one scape goat, but the overall topic shouldn’t fail to consider violence in media, either.


Whew boy! There is a topic for discussion for this decade… Maybe “Social Media” is really better considered anti-social media… but not here on these forums, right? :slight_smile:


If anything the continued media coverage of this type of thing is making it worse.

Sounds like 100% marketing hype, plus a movie about the origins of a character which functions much better in the Batman universe as a mysterious figure of menace holds zero interest for me.

Its all hype, that is what the media does, facts don’t matter and they usually leave them out.
100’s of millions of people have seen evil, horror, violent movie’s and also have played these type of games, but yet a very small handful (like one hand) will ever go out on a killing spree, or go do something evil like this. For 1000’s of years there have been worse acts done upon mankind.
No matter what you do you cant stop a crazy person.

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Not for nothing, but in the entire history of literature, the villain is just as if not more often the favorite character as the hero in the story. Think Lucifer in Paradise Lost.


I haven’t seen the movie, but isn’t this the new trend of having the villains as the main characters? because superhero movies are so overdone.
I guess there might be some small section of individuals who are gonna be affected by the visuals and the narratives of this type of movie, and feel like they resonated with the characters, and therefore start acting out or doing copycat things, which is unfortunate.
In general, I guess people just watch it and forget about it, because there are so many movies and tv shows, another one, then another one, your brain just can’t keep up sometimes.
It is a new movie, it has to be hyped up, be in the news cycle, so as to sell more tickets, it’s show business.

We were going to bring a bunch of 16-year-old boys to see it Friday - but now that the power is down maybe that’s off. I’ll let you know if they get weird after seeing it!

UPDATE: OK Lisa and I and four 16-year-olds have front row seats for Joker for Friday night. The theater says no bags, backpacks, weapons, or costumes allowed. Wow.

I have a 12 year old son. Times are different now (I am 47) than when I was a kid. Weapons were freely available when I was a teen in the 1980s - but there were no school shootings. We did not have these problems…

I do not allow my son to play 1st person shooters. And, I generally have watched movies first when he was 10 and 11 before I allowed him to see them at the movie theatre. His mother doesn’t respect those boundaries now that we are divorced, unfortunately. She was even going to allow him to watch Diehard on tv two years ago - I said “no way.”

I am not saying 1st person shooters and violent movies make people go crazy and shoot up places one day. But, I think the normalization of violence at younger and younger ages DOES play a part in that. Have 100 or 1000 kids growing up in that atmosphere, and 1 or 2 that have some mental issues could go off one day, IMHO.

My son comes home all the time and tells me how he “is the only one” at school who can’t play a specific game or watch a certain movie. But, I feel like I have a job as a parent to do.

Even when he was 10 or 11, he’d tell me how certain friends of his had watched certain movies. Movies that were R, and VERY inappropriate for kids. I guess some parents just don’t care. I won’t let him see shows like that, however.

I think I was in college by the time st person shooters came out - Wolfenstein was the first one I remembered. And, no where near as detailed as what is out there now.

I am in the criminal justice field. I see a lot. I personally think that something must be up with my generation or the generation a couple years before mine… The way we chose to raise our kids. These problems did not exist before. At least not like the do now.

I think the urge to give a kid everything they want by the current generation… Plus, sitting and playing violent games all day, every day, along with some other factors, CAN play a part in this with kids now going crazy and doing such violent things. Schools themselves have also changed as well. No one respects teachers anymore, and discipline is a ticket given to a kid by the school police officer.

There are a lot of things that contribute. But in the meantime, I will be the fairly strict father - even if my son is not happy about that…

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It’s interesting to me how many parents in the criminal justice and mental health fields have a different take on this subject vs. the culture at large. For example, when Georgia Dow is on TWiT, she’s always reminding people about the mental health effects of social media, gaming, and other tech, as she sees the results every day in her practice. (Others continue to argue the point with her, but I’ll take the professional’s perspective, thank you.) I wish more people had this kind of informed understanding. We’re far too glib about de-sensitization to violence, cruelty, and other antisocial behaviour.

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Even before that. The original Grand Theft Auto (the top downer) was blamed for violence, as were arcade games and computer games in the 80s, like Mortal Combat.

Susceptible people will always find a catalyst, whether it is a book, a film, a game, somebody else (look at Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men). Heck Catcher in the Rye has been linked to multiple serial killers.

Is watching the Joker or similar films worse than watching violent YouTube videos? No.

Do we need these dark films? No. Do they cause normal people to become violent? No. Should we ban them? No.

If you are going to do that, then ban all books, films, computer games and anything else that can stimulate.

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Totally and most parents seem to push it off on the schools and teachers these days. I brought the kid into the world, my work is done, now you are on!

I think you might be going almost to the other extreme, but not by much.

I’ve always thought that each generation, or even each years, behind mine was more violent. I grew up in the 70s and 80s. My brother is 2 years younger than me, but he was always much more violent than me - heck, I’m over 50 and I’ve never actually hit anybody! I was almost scared of the classes 2/3 years behind me in school. It was only being a really big guy that I didn’t feel like I was in danger.

And it seems to get worse with each generation - in general. There are still well behaved children and young adults today, just as there were a few violent people my age when I grew up, but the proportions seem to have swapped; at least the violence seems to be higher and more public.

But we also have more news channels, back when I was a kid we had 30 minutes of news in the evening and a late night news magazine, no 24 hour channels, let alone 24 hours news channels or websites. This change has made every little thing “newsworthy” and everybody can get their 5 minutes of fame, if they really want to, because the news and social media sites are desperate for stories and violence sells… It is human nature.


I hear things like this all the time, but I have a hypothesis that it’s not true. Humans are just violent by nature, and always have been. It seems that if anything, things are getting better, not worse. Perhaps people feel safer reporting violence than in the past, so it just seems more prevalent, but the violence is being weeded out of society. I suspect that There are 2 main ways that the change is happening.

The first is that society is learning that violence is wrong and so less violence is being committed. As an example, watch some black and white movies. Eventually you will see something that’s pretty bad, like a dog being kicked or a “hysterical” woman being slapped. It has a very different feeling compared to watching Antman fight a female supervillian.

The other is that because of higher reporting rates, more violent crime is being punished. A couple of examples of violent crime that would not have been reported in the past would be lynchings and other violent crime directed towards black people in the US. Rape and other sex crimes would also have had a much lower report rates in the past. I imagine lots of those types of crime are still not reported, but more than it used to be for sure.

By report rates, I mean reported to the authorities, not mass media. Although it’s both really.

On the other hand:
Mass shootings in America 2019 : 334 (so far)

That is more than 1 shooting per day this year…

I don’t remember seeing that many reported when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

I work in criminal justice, and I take some dispute on that mass shooting number. I do not believe there has been 334 seperate ones of them in 2019. I do not have the best memory, and I am posting on my phone right now… But I have read stories explaining how these numbers are being inflated by groups that want to ban guns.

Yeah it’s hard to believe it’s that many. But it is if you define “mass” as three or more people shot.


As sobering as this chart is, it doesn’t even begin to touch the extent of gun violence in the US. All the people killed in non-mass shootings. All the people who sustain catastrophic, life-altering injuries in shootings. Many, many times the numbers of official mass shooting victims.

In all fairness, it also does not begin to touch on all the times a gun has saved someone. I am a very progun person. Facts get twisted on both sides.

If I have time later, I may look into that number, because I still do not believe it.

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about the guns. Still have major respect for your original post about the way you’re raising your son vis-a-vis video games and monitoring/limiting the kind of violent and anti-social material he consumes. I wish more parents would take an active role in that way rather than simply letting the culture raise their kids for them. (My folks were strict as well, and I’m eternally grateful to them for that…hope your son will be too!)