I have mixed emotions about October.
There is much to love in this first full month of Fall. Autumn’s beauty bursting forth, summer’s heat waves cooled by northerly breezes, Fall Festivals abound, the World Series caps a long baseball season, college football is in full swing, and stores are full of Halloween candy, costumes and the colors of the season.
It’s an Octoberfest on a multitude of levels.
But, it’s also a month when spine-tingling entertainment either on the big screen or small one, tends to be described by words such as violent, bloody, frightening, horror or evil. As leaves begin to fall, the green grass withers and daylight is noticeably shorter, movies take on a decidedly darker hue this time of year. Am I the only one to notice that the violence and gore seem to increase with each passing year, especially onscreen each October?
I remember as a 9-year-old in the late 50’s going to see a triple feature at the local theater. The Blob, starring a then relatively unknown actor named Steve McQueen, was followed by The Fly and climaxed with The Thing. That was over 50 years ago, and I still recall scenes from those movies……and those flicks are tame by today’s standard fare.
Glenn Sparks, professor of Communication at Purdue University, believes people are drawn to violent films for the thrill of it all, sort of like bungee jumping without leaving your theater seat. He writes, “When people watch horrific images, their heartbeat increases as much as 15 beats a minute, their palms sweat, their skin temperature drops several degrees, their muscles tense and their blood pressure spikes.”(1)
Glenn Walters stated in the Journal of Media Psychology that “People seem to enjoy the violence in horror movies when it is directed against those they believe are deserving of such treatment.” (2) Or maybe the author Stephen King is right when he states that we are all just mentally ill, “We’re flat out nut cases with repressed homicidal feelings of our own.” (3)
Lest you think I see October as a totally lost month, I don’t really have a problem with kids dressing up once a year and “trick or treating” themselves to enough sugar to keep the dentistry profession in business. Hey, my grandkids look cute in their firemen uniforms and cheerleader costumes (even if it is a red and black UGA outfit). October is also the National Awareness Month for such noble issues as Breast Cancer, Infertility, Dental Hygiene, Domestic Violence, and Spina Bifida. And for us sport junkies, the last week of October is the only time during the year that the four major professional sports leagues (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) schedule games.
Yet despite these admirable October events, I enter this month with the caution light on high alert.
Years ago, my late wife and I went to see the movie Braveheart starring Mel Gibson. Stunned at the violence depicted in the battle scenes, she left vowing never to subject herself to such images again. She noted that one sure sign of a violent movie was the number of dead people in the first five minutes. If that number exceeded 1, she was walking out. Her response should not have surprised me. Years earlier when she would accompany me to Pro-Life presentations, she would always avert her eyes when pictures of aborted fetuses were shown. Occasionally, she would even step out of the room. I knew she did not have a queasy stomach; she was a Nurse, and the sight of blood didn’t bother her. She later explained it to me this way. “I never want to grow accustomed or become desensitized to seeing gratuitous violence, evil or depravity. It should bother me. It should always bother me. I never want to see such things without it bothering me.” Her comments gave me pause. I had to wonder – had I grown too accustomed to bungee jumping from a theater seat?
Well, it’s October again and time to celebrate the change of seasons, to savor an exciting sports season, and take in a festival or two. But could it also be a time when we re-calibrate what we tolerate and honestly assess how insensitive (or should I say numb) we have become to the ever-expanding use of gratuitous violence in films?
So let us proceed with caution this October. Allow this month to serve a higher purpose, a reminder that it may be time for us to be, well, for us to be bothered. And if such sights do not bother us, we should ask ourselves why they don’t.
I pray none of us grow too accustomed to bungee jumping from our theater seats.