The daily dose of human unkindness

Violent and shallow – the cultural environment continues to change

Feature films, like theater and literature, once told cognitive and emotional stories that broadened the subjective view. That’s the end of it – with the self-evident further exploitation on television, cinema is also becoming more banal and brutal, it seems.

Life circumstances, especially those in the workplace, and the media are two major drivers of social change. This is underpinned by technical developments that slowly, but in the long run, violently change everyday life. All three create a change that transforms people largely unnoticed, but permanently and quite irreversibly. Hardly anyone can imagine a world without cars, television or cell phones for more than a few seconds.

Media change

Of course, the media are changing the way people think and feel. Newspapers played their part in the (from today’s perspective) insane jubilation of the majority at the outbreak of the first world war. Just as radio, film and television helped expand north america’s cultural hegemony in europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Or, in the 1980s and 1990s, by naivety, ingenuity and renunciation of own critical thinking, they made a nice foundation for neoliberalism.

Advertising – which used to be called advertising and propaganda – works quite reliably by repeating emotional messages to many people. The political elite has been doing this for thousands of years and psychology has been doing it for decades, keyword: learning curve. It is even possible to persuade people to have preferences for non-existent things, as the hoba experiment shows quite nicely.

Of course, language shapes our perception of reality and subsequently our perception of reality itself, quite unnoticed. This goes far, far deeper than language gender fans want to make us believe. And this does not only concern verbal speech, but all forms of communication, also those, where one wants to impress others by means of bought things, with prestige consumption.


Despite tablets, smartphones and game consoles, and despite the fact that it’s vacation time, germans currently watch an average of around three and a quarter hours of television, and the tech-savvy teenagers even watch a little more.1 half of the population already has two or more tv sets at home, and the trend is rising.2

Now people see with this "window on the world" the majority of these are not philosophical quartets, documentaries about distant countries or history lessons, but more or less entertaining junk, which is not new. Commercials, shows, soaps, scripted reality formats, simplified short news bulletins, wacky documentaries, and repeated feature films from the cinema.

Und bei diesen fernseh-kinofilmen zeigt sich eine neuere entwicklung: sie strotzen vor eindimensionaler gewalt und flachen, starbesetzten akteurdarstellungen. A typical example of this is the highly acclaimed film from 2005, which was recently shown again on television3 "mr. Mrs. Smith".

There is a childless couple living their luxurious life pettily, no one knows how the other earns money, emptiness reigns, equality too; the attractiveness of the other has been cursed, even the consumed marriage counseling does not help anymore. Yes, that’s the way it is today, the viewer says to himself, it’s a pity i don’t have such a nice house. However, the hidden profession, both of them are paid killers, then suddenly sets them on each other. One must kill the other, mercilessly scrapping one’s own house in the process. Only when they realize that they are both going to die do they manage to find something like love again. Then dozens of killers are slaughtered without hesitation, set on both of them. A star-packed, primitive, doubled-up first-person shooter story that drips into tv rooms as action comedy.

"Violence is on the rise.."

Many of these tv action movies are similarly empty – a beginning is marked by the james bond movies – and flatly constructed, always about action, i.E. Mainly about the slaughter of people who have become banal, commodity-shaped objects. Once you have killed the enemies, the others say: you did a great job and with mocking laughter it goes on. "Violence is on the rise in blockbusters…70 percent since 2010 – were tagged with "violence", writes walt hickey in an article about blockbusters in cinema and television.4 violence has exploded in recent years. Characters of the acting persons and emotional depth do not exist. Not any more, because that once existed in hollywood, too.

Film, like theater or literature, used to be a form of confrontation with reality, a window to new possibilities of action that could expand the few forms of movement and sensations one had learned oneself. Alternatives that go beyond the primitive stages of human interaction, beyond frustration or slamming.

Instead, a flattening spiral in terms of cognitive reflection and emotional engagement has set in in film as well (empathy dries up in the "generation i" dries up). In individual cases, a violent action film similar to a killer game may serve as a momentarily useful outlet for urges, but if this becomes a permanent reality in the media, it has an impact on people and reality. Violence, brutality and superficiality then become a media-mediated matter-of-factness. The first step is that people get used to it, similar to how they got used to more and more and more intrusive advertising. The next step is that they see this (half-consciously) as a viable behavioral option: that’s just the way reality is. In addition, today’s constant communicative overload and the acceleration of temporal structures5 are in any case eroding people’s reflexive and emotional abilities.

Much of what is understood as entertainment today, including many movies on television, contradicts the universal commandment of human dignity. Such media consumer goods are not art or political opinion, but part of a media money-making machine – actually this would have been a topic for the media authorities for a long time.

How inhumane such entertainment content is, however, is of only limited interest to today’s social actors. And to an educational policy that would be able to change something here, i.E. To lift media and people above commercial platitude – at the end of the 19th century up to the interwar period. Social democratic parties and trade unions have long since renounced the idea of successful institutionalized workers’ education, which existed from the end of the 19th century until the interwar period. Today, rational social education has largely ceased to exist.