There is no question that violent entertainments shape popular attitudes toward violence. But do they really make the culture as a whole more violent? Can they work to make it less violent? This article considers shortcomings of conventional scholarly approaches to these questions. It outlines an alternative “ecological“ approach and tests it by examining two movies that treat violence in strikingly different fashions: The Dark Knight (2008) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It tests empirically whether and how Saving Private Ryan actually changes college students' attitudes toward violence, and summarizes the best current psychological models of the causal connection between violent thoughts and violent behavior. The article concludes that while violent movies do indeed prompt violent ideas and impulses, these are not necessarily antisocial and can, in fact, be prosocial. The critical factor is not what they show or how they show it; it is how they are used.
The impetus for this special issue of Projections was personal, not just academic.
I am deeply, religiously committed to nonviolence. I have three sons
and a daughter that I have tried to raise to share this commitment. Yet I really
relish the occasional violent entertainment and I have been fairly free in sharing
this pleasure with my children. This has led to considerable moral anxiety.