While researching the experiences of young combatants in violent conflict, I found that parallels with movies were often brought up and felt as meaningful. People who took part in real life operations, gun battles, or assassinations, compared themselves with action movies heroes. The idea of carrying weapons and fighting in a war could be initially an attractive and exciting one. This attitude towards violence is perhaps not so different from that of children playing war in countries where its dangers might feel far away. What makes violence attractive?

The representation of violence is central in the entertainment industry, we see it all the time. While consuming products of popular culture, in a way, the violence we and our kids are exposed to becomes part of our everyday life.

Movies tell us a lot about violence. They tell us about what violent acts are good, acceptable and even ‘sexy’. They show us spectacular weapons and fighting moves. Violence represented is linked to categories of morality, the fight of good vs evil, the qualities of heroes and villains. They tell us about who is the evil other, the bad guys who need to be killed. Monsters and human threats might be represented in very similar terms, in ways perhaps not so different from the discourses that we may hear about the need to start a war in the context of real world politics. Frequently, popular culture includes scenes about decisions on whether and how to start a war to stop a threat. This does not happen only in movies on war and terrorism or historical dramas, but even in fantasy, action, and family movies in general. Also, in popular culture, violence is also related to social and political structures that frame fiction as well as our reality, for example, relationships of gender, race, class, and power.

This project explores the question of why violence is sexy in popular culture through a systematic method of Critical Discourse Analysis. Some of the dimensions that we look at are:

  • Sequences of violence: we examine each sequence of violence, whether against people or other creatures. It could be any kind of violence, from killing to verbal violence. We examine the act, the agent and the victim, the meaning and emotions it evokes, the group dynamics it involves, and much more.
  • Moral categories of good vs evil and how they are associated with violent acts.
  • Relationships of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, class. The point here is not just to see how many people from an underrepresented social group appear in a movie or show, but to see how represented. What do they do? What role do they play? What is their relationship with the other characters?
  • Discourses on power & politics.
  • Group dynamics and leadership qualities.
  • Socio-sentiment: what kind of empathy is displayed? Is it towards a narrow group or the society at large?
  • The overall message about peace and violence.

Through this project we aim at building up tools and resources for the public to help developing critical skills while consuming products of popular culture. Peace reviews of movies and TV shows will be available on the Peace Critic blog. The blog will also provide peace education resources for parents and educators to teach and critically reflect together on peace-related themes through movies and shows for the younger public.

We rely on your support to keep this project going. We need resources to expand the project and work on more movies, TV shows, videos and more. Drop us a line to suggest movies or other products of popular culture you would like to be peace reviewed. Thanks!