The first time I ever got oral surgery, the dentist gave me a shot that made the world spin and go away. When I woke up, there was my blood splattered on the dentist’s shirt and my cheek felt like a thick layer of blubber that wasn’t mine. I had no idea it even hurt until hours later.
Now I realize after being operated on by media, society is left with the effects of desensitization, shot with not anesthesia, but rather, a normalized sense of detachment.
In the study titled “Comfortably Numb: Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media on Helping Others” conducted by Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson, researchers found that “If film is a drug, then violent film content might make people ‘comfortably numb’’ (borrowing the words of Pink Floyd). Specifically, exposure to blood and gore in the media might make people numb to the pain and suffering of others—a process called desensitization. … caus[ing] people to be less helpful to those in need.”
In their two experiments, they found that after participants were exposed to violent video games and violent movies, and then to someone with an injury, participants took longer to help.
Likewise, constant exposure to war and other horrific events in the news may be desensitizing us more than causing awareness. A quote attributed to Joseph Stalin states, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Realistically, there is no way a five-minute news broadcast can personalize the amount of deaths that are happening every day. Fifty-five thousand deaths sounds horrific, but to us, it is a number we can forget within minutes.
The number does not tell us the story of each life that had been stolen in the tumult of war and by the next day, there will be more news on the latest act of terrorism or the latest casualty. We eventually become so surrounded by bad news and figures that we just figure “that’s the way things are.” While it is important for us to be aware of our world, it can hardly be argued that this constant exposure is leaving as great of an impact on us as we would have hoped.
Although I used to agree with comments on news articles about things such as the latest internet trend argue that the war in Syria or the most recent tragedy was not receiving due coverage, I now see that the idea that all news should be set aside for raising awareness of the latest act of terrorism has its flaws. In small doses, reports and images of tragedies have the power to raise awareness and inspire help. Too much, however, may just cause the opposite effect.