In films ostensibly about the “good guys” defeating the “bad guys,” a recent study finds that the difference between the two might be blurrier than we think.
Early in November, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new research at the 2018 National Conference & Exhibition.
The study found that violent acts committed by protagonists in superhero flicks and other popular film genres significantly outnumbered those committed by the villains.
The researchers discovered that the protagonists of Hollywood films committed an average of 23 acts of violence per hour, compared to 18 violent acts per hour for the antagonists.
They also observed a glaring gender divide when it comes to cinematic violence. The male characters in the films studied committed nearly five times as many acts of violence (on average, 34 per hour), than female characters, who on average engaged in only seven violent acts per hour.
So, what do we make of these findings? Should we call for a different approach to superhero storytelling? What are the potential consequences if we don’t?
Robert Olympia, a professor at Penn State College of Medicine, said, “Children and adolescents see the superheroes as ‘good guys,’ and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behaviors and acts of violence.”
Olympia warned of “the potential dangers that may occur when children attempt to emulate these perceived heroes.”
Weighing in on the issue, John N. Muller, the study’s principal investigator, warned against passive viewing.
“By taking an active role in their children’s media consumption by co-viewing and actively mediating,” he said, “parents help their children develop critical thinking and internally regulated values.”
Of course, there are hidden dangers and risks present in any kind of media representation.
In an ideal world, responsible filmmakers will deeply consider the impact of their narrative on American culture and moviegoers.
Responsible viewers, for their part, will resist the urge to passively, unquestioningly absorb the movies they go to see.