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Peace Unchained: What Influence Do The Films We Celebrate Have On Our Culture?

Yogi Cameron Alborzian book headshotThe Entertainment section of The Huffington Post recently published an article about how actor Jamie Foxx spoke out against violence in films.

“We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence,” said Foxx, “It does.”

With the start of awards season, we are now reflecting as a culture on what we find to be the most valuable films to watch and honor.  Through these various ceremonies, many films will receive not only critical acclaim but a new string of viewers as well. As an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, Foxx’s Django Unchained can be considered an exemplary demonstration of excellence in film. And yet, his statement raises an important question: does watching violent films bring out some form of violence in all of us?

In short, yes.

The Yogic path teaches us that violence takes place not just in the form of physical assault like the film’s gunplay, whip play, and explosions, but by however we inflict harm.  This can be physical violence toward ourselves, such as eating unnatural foods and smoking cigarettes, or it can be mental violence such as having harmful thoughts toward ourselves or others. But it can also be through constant stimulation of our senses through hours in front of the computer, phone call after phone call, and yes, seeing aggressively violent films.

But if unnatural foods, cigarettes, and violent films do us harm, then why do we still seek them out and spend our hard-earned money on them in the process?  No matter how many times we’re told that junk food causes weight gain and cigarettes cause cancer, we still indulge in them. Many people are vehemently attached to their right to own guns even when one has harmed someone they know. Each of these struggles unfold because our senses take in the existence of something—cupcake, cigarette, gun—and our mind tells us that we want it.  The mind constantly seeks control of our surroundings, and we make attempts at that control by gratifying what our mind thinks it wants. But then, when it senses a loss of that control, we begin to feel adverse emotions coming from fear.

We may have just spent an entire evening watching a particularly violent film to entertain ourselves. We see a main character in the movie experience significant trauma at the hand’s of the film’s villain, and then feel a sense of justice when the villain finally meets his end in the final act. Through our senses, we vicariously experience fear of an antagonizing force (what if the bad guy gets him in the end?) and a sense of vengeance in response to that force’s destruction.  By the time we find our way out of the theater, our mind has been swept away by emotions—so much so that they compromise our nervous system and affect our sense of judgment.

Our compromised state then begins to play a role in how we relate to others.  While the movie we just saw may have been make-believe, the fear we felt on the main character’s behalf is not.  A recurrence of this fear comes up when someone cuts us off as we’re leaving the parking lot (what if I can’t make that green light?) or if our partner doesn’t want to be intimate when you get home (what if they don’t think I’m desirable?).  But then, right after that fear shows up—right after the ego feels threatened—what happens?  Violence.  It shows up in nasty thoughts about the person in the parking lot (“I hope that jerk gets hit by a truck”) or confrontational actions toward our partner (“It’s been weeks since we’ve been together, you selfish……..).

What influence do the films we celebrate have on our culture?  If each person allows for violence toward themselves, then they perpetuate their feelings of fear and other products of the ego.  As more and more of those destructive emotions find their way out into the world, tension rises.  The more we gratify our senses—the more violent we are toward ourselves—the more we build on that tension and the greater the likelihood that the tension will become so unbearable that atrocities like the Sandy Hook shootings take place.  Our fear mounts, and we’ll do anything to regain control of the situation—even seek the reassuring touch of a gun.

The Yogic path teaches us that ahimsa—the practice of nonviolence—can begin with something as simple as refraining from eating poorly and reducing the amount of time our senses take in something hurtful and destructive on any given day.  Through this practice, we recognize that violence in films can indeed build on the amount of fear we feel in our lives—and the amount of loss we feel in our hearts.

All of the stimulation that surrounds us can’t ever deliver contentment and peace.  The only thing that can is that which we find within ourselves.  When we do, we are using our power for change both as individuals and as a collective.  Today, resolve to live your life nonviolently, so that you can help to see the end of the suffering that happens throughout our world.

Have questions for me? Comments? Please feel free to leave your questions and comments below.

Love,

Yogi Cameron

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  • http://twitter.com/SoyAdriE Adriana Elizabet

    what matters is how we react to those movies. violence born of our answers, let’s give blame the artistic works / film and take responsibility for our actions.

  • Elizabethanna J

    Wonderful message!! Thank-you so much for sharing. Your words really resonate with me and I’m looking forward to implementing more non-violence in my life. Thanks again, best wishes for you!

  • anon

    What are your views about watching or reading the news everyday and the effects it has on people? I am against it personally. 

    • http://twitter.com/yogicameron Yogi Cameron

      Allowing the senses to take in violence regardless of the source (fictional or non-fictional) will still inevitably have an impact on the mind.  In contrast, exposing the senses to balanced imagery will lead to greater peace in the mind.

  • Claire-Marie

    As a HUGE film buff, I have experienced the negative impact violence in movies has on me; I am haunted by the images for weeks, and so I stopped watching violent films and try and control the images I allow into my mind. It amazes me that with all the shootings in the US, most (let’s just say all) big-budget movies that come out of there seem to involve guns and violence.
    My choice sadly, means I will never watch some films by my favourite directors starring my favourite actors (like Spike Lee’s Oldboy) because of the violence in them. I am a follower of Thich Nhat Hanh and his message about non-violence is the same as yours. Thank you for exploring this topic.