Violence: The Spectre of 2012

By Moon, Sarah | Harvard International Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Violence: The Spectre of 2012


Moon, Sarah, Harvard International Review


As we progress through 2013, the casualties of the past year continue to pile up. The 23-year-old gang-rape victim from Delhi just passed away, and a public official is a victim of the violence-protesting riots. The historic Israel-Palestine conflict escalated this year, and with it, the Israeli and Palestinian deaths piled up: in the November 2012 bombings by Israel, nearly 200 Palestinian casualties were reported. In the Syrian civil war, the number of casualties approaches 50,000. Drug violence in Mexico, Kenya invaded Somalia, rebel violence in DR Congo and especially shocking for Americans, the Sandy Hook shooting ... If the names of the victims of international violence in 2012 were carefully compiled, it could easily till a book.

If there is a time to reflect on this year and its violence, its becoming part of our past is as good a time as any. In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker discusses the statistically proven decline of violence. In his book, Pinker cites pieces of evidence such as steeply declining murder rates as people become more civilized; transitioning from "simple, cooperative" hunter-gatherer lifestyles to the modern world. Though the number of victims of violence may be down, the affect that global violence has on our lives is much more acute.

Some of the violent events we saw this last year were particularly gruesome purely in practice. Yet, when considering how violence and its affect on us has changed through time, another factor which is perhaps less discussed is important. Namely, the method by which it is portrayed to us is also very significant in affecting not only our perception of it, but perhaps, more broadly, how we respond emotionally and physically. 2012 provided a great deal of evidence for examining the impact of a wide range of both types of violence, and also many examples of the methods by which these acts are portrayed.

This violence was pushed upon us from every angle by the media, in every different medium including journalism, film, talk shows, and sometimes art. We can recall being subjected to countless photos of dead children in Syria, a 14-minute trailer of a film deemed anti-Islamic that has been awarded responsibility for outbreaks of violence in Libya and Egypt, countless articles, television and radio conversations, opeds, blog posts, and memes.

Thinking about how violence is portrayed, and the nuance associated with it are important, because it gives us insight into how the impact various methods of portrayal have on our behavior vary. Doing so may not have any direct impact in preventing or moderating an act of violence, but this is important beyond just a curiosity-satisfying exercise. If considered carefully, and then applied, perhaps thinking more carefully about not only the violence itself, but also what message the media is attempting to relay can result in action bringing long-term, indirect impacts to the world. These, although difficult to quantify, we know to be significant. …

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