This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Does Violence in Entertainment Contribute to Violence in Society?

Colby Marshall 
     Colby Marshall is no stranger to controversial topics and that being said, she is an ideal candidate to stand in for our Monday controversy post on Tossing It Out.   Her new book, The Trade, deals with a topic that's sure to stir some discussion.  Thank you, Colby, for taking over for me today.

Violence and the Entertainment Media

Columbine High School; Virginia Tech; Fort Hood; Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Sandy Hook Elementary School; Boston, Massachusetts; Santa Monica College…

These are only some of the biggest mass killings related to guns and explosives in the United States in the past few years.

When my debut thriller, Chain of Command, released a month before its scheduled release date last year on December 8, 2012, little did I know that in only a few days, a gunman would walk into an elementary school in Connecticut and fatally shoot twenty school children and six adult staff members. I happily celebrated my release, posting my book’s cover image all over social media and blog posts, reveling in the fact that real, live humans were finally reading my book.

Then, six days later on December 14, families were torn apart by a senseless act of violence, and I sat looking at my new book, its cover proudly showcasing the assassination scene the book’s premise is built on.  But suddenly, the target caught in the crosshairs on my novel’s cover didn’t seem as perfect as it had a few days before.  For the next several days, I asked myself some hard questions about violence in entertainment, and if it was possible that I could be contributing to a problem sweeping across our nation, even if only indirectly. That week I had a tearful discussion with my editor, terrified everyone would suddenly hate me and my book and everything it stood for. I told her how scared I was of being a part of some unidentifiable problem, because when I wrote about such things, it was purely for entertainment and not because I think gun violence is good or to be encouraged.  I was a brand new mother. What if some kid out there was reading my material and thinking this was a good route to take to solve problems? What if my kid read my book and thought that? Grab a gun, and you’ll be okay…

My editor said something to me that has resonated with me since then, and it launched me into some deep thought, and ultimately, resolution about my feelings surrounding violence in entertainment.

She said, “Books don't cause tragedies, they simply reflect life.”

My new book, The Trade, is about a serial killer who cuts infants out of the bellies of pregnant women before ultimately killing the mothers, then sells the babies on the black market. Before the shooting in Connecticut, I was worried about what audiences would think about this premise. Pregnancies are considered sacred in many cultures, and people shy away from stories involving children in danger. If ever The Trade got published, would readers stay far, far away?

But now, after my editor’s words to me following the shooting in Connecticut, I don’t worry about it as much.  I will always wonder if it’s possible that violence in entertainment contributes to violence in society, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized violence in books and movies shows up there because it happens in real life—not the other way around.

The killers in my books, like evil people in real life, don’t care if society thinks their crimes are heinous and unacceptable. The malevolent might discriminate amongst victims based on age or their family history, but the reality is, most don’t. Children were present during the Boston Marathon bombings, and a mother of two as well as a six-year-old little girl were amongst the Aurora shooting victims.

But surely children being killed isn’t entertainment to us…right? What does it say about us that we read, write, and watch these sorts of things? It’s a question I asked so many times, and finally, one day, I found my answer.

We do it because it gives us control over the outcome.

I write stories about bad, bad guys who often have no conscience and commit twisted crimes, but for every bad guy, there’s a good guy fighting back, which brings up a whole new question: since often my heroes or heroines fight back with weapons—sometimes guns—does that mean I support citizens snapping up guns to use any time they deem appropriate?

Honestly, I don’t know. I know in the books it feels right, but at the same time, I do have control over the characters, their actions, their aim, and their training. When you can control the thoughts surrounding when a weapon is fired and the person who is firing it, arming someone is infallible. They can only hit those you choose, their minds will be sound if you deem them so, they are safe while firing as long as you keep them that way, and they will only endanger others through their actions if you decide they will. Real people aren’t quite as fail-safe or predictable.

Then again, if I ever come face to face with one of the characters in one of my books, I’d sure feel better if a gun was between the two of us…as long as I was the one holding it.

Do you think violence in entertainment plays a part in the upswing of mass killings in our country? Do you think arming good characters versus arming good people in real life is the same or different?  Why?


Stolen lives…

Reporter McKenzie McClendon is on the trail of her next hot story, tracking a sadistic serial killer known as The Cradle Robber. This brutal murderer preys on pregnant women, slicing their infants from their wombs, leaving the helpless women to die while he disappears with their babies.

The trade of innocents…

Jonas Cleary is out of options. McKenzie, his former sweetheart, is his last hope. Jonas believes his slain wife was The Cradle Robber’s first victim and that his son is still alive, lost in the underground world of the black market baby trade, where ruthless people are happy to prey on the desperation of those willing to pay any price to have a child, and infants are just another commodity.

Before another one dies…

Aided by former Navy SEAL Noah Hutchins and a clever FBI data specialist, McKenzie races to unravel the web of lies, drawing dangerously closer to the ruthless, brilliant surgeon at the heart of the maze. With a child’s future hanging in the balance, the lives of five people careen toward a terrifying collision. It’s up to McKenzie to discover which key will unlock the puzzle, and which will get her killed.

THE TRADE is currently available

on Amazon here:

Directly from the publisher with free worldwide shipping:

Coming Soon on Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Sony, Kobo, and other major e-readers.
To learn more about Colby Marshall and her books, visit her website:
Watch the official book trailer for The Trade here:
Follow Colby on Twitter here:

Colby Marshall

BIO:  Writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, Colby has a tendency to turn every hobby she has into a job, thus ensuring that she is a perpetual workaholic.  In addition to her 9,502 jobs, she is a proud member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.  She is actively involved in local theatres as a choreographer as well as sometimes indulges her prima donna side by taking the stage as an actress.  She lives in Georgia with her family, two mutts, and an array of cats that, if she were a bit older, would qualify her immediately for crazy cat lady status.  Her debut thriller, Chain of Command is now available, as well as the second book in her McKenzie McClendon series, The Trade.

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  1. Great and thought provoking post Colby, I don't know how to feel about it to be honest but one thing I feel like is that violence in media is sometimes unfairly used to blame people for things when it's really nothing to do with it. Thanks for dropping in to write for us today, your book sounds incredible to me!

  2. I think it is more of a reflection of society. Real life violence is far more tragic and twisted. Can entertainment feed on it and perpetuate violence? Yeah, I think it does that as well.

  3. This was an excellent post Lee,
    I'm sure violence on screen do spur real life crime.


  4. I believe violence on screen or in vid games tends to inure people to violence and reality particularly as they know the actors weren't really dead. The same thing will happen in schools, the kids will get up again once its all over won't they? I think that is what the mind set tends towards.

  5. I have to agree with Colby. I think there has always been violence in movies and books. The difference is in the amount of blood the camera shows nowadays compared to years ago.
    Politicians are all about gun regulation while they're cutting funding to programs to treat mental disorders. They're trying to treat symptoms instead of the real problem.

  6. There was no TV when Cain killed Able, so violence exists sans media. But I believe sick people can get motivated by other's acts of violence.

  7. I think most crime fiction/mysteries/thrillers etc. are a type of morality play. Good vs. evil and, in the end, good wins.

    I am concerned, though, about the movies and video games that saturate our young people. The constant bombardment of violent images de-sensitizes them to the horrible reality of violence which can lead to tragic consequences.

  8. This post was quite thought provoking. I think society needs to take responsibility and stop blaming entertainment. There's lot of countries with similar entertainment and much less violence. Congrats Colby on your book.

  9. Back when Sandy Hook happened there was a lot of discussion about Contributing Factors. Movies and Video Games were both Discussion Points. I don't think books were ever really even considered because it is the visual aspect that is at work here. Between the movies and the video games, an expert in the field (someone in the military who trains soldiers to go into battle) said that there was one video game that kids were playing that was virtually no different than what the military used to train their soldiers. That took me aback. The difference between that game and the rest was that it felt like you killing another person. The game is designed to train a person to kill another person and it being marketed to our kids (as a game). And we wonder why they are desensitized.

    If the military is using it prep/train soldiers to kill the enemy, I strongly think that our kids shouldn't be playing with it. This military trainer (whose name I once knew, but it has been too long now) saw the direct correlation between the two. So do I. That game needs to be recalled. Parents need to understand that a game isn't always just a game.

  10. Lee-

    No offense meant to your readers with a differing view, but I think that saying "there has always been violence" is a bit of a cop out.

    True, there was no TV when Cain killed Abel, which means that killing was not cabled into every home and shown in gory, graphic technicolor with Dolby Surround Sound.

    When The Wild Bunch was released in the late sixties, the violence was so controversial that I believe there was talk of an "X" rating.

    Ten years later, Scarface was being bandied about for it's violence, which was far more graphic (remember the chainsaw in the shower scene?).

    Nowadays, that kind of violence is shown on prime time TV.

    Do all of you really believe that there is no connection?

    I think that writers and directors have used the "reflection of life" argument to push the envelope, and there is no question that the envelope has been pushed.

    Are the writers and directors to blame? I still believe that people need to be accountable for their own behavior.

    But I absolutely believe that there is a link between the cheapening of life due to film violence and the cheapening of morality due to film sexuality and the acceleration of the decay in our society.

    Add that to the lack of involvement by parents in their children's lives, and the erosion of any kind of moral guidance (or any other kind of guidance) in our schools, and you get what we've got.

    A generation that was raised on Resident Evil games.

    Society is to blame, as one reader pointed out.

    And WE are society.

    When you point your finger
    cos your plan fell through
    You got three more fingers
    pointing back at you

    -Dire Straits "Solid Rock"

  11. The truth is that we just don't know. We know, from studies, that there is a correlation, but we don't know if there is a causation. The distinction is important.

  12. As a history teacher I know that all societies have been riddled with unspeakable acts from the beginning of time and many of these societies were illiterate, so what was the cause then? In addition, technology overtime has made each society more adept with killing. It is just our want for answers and our need to blame therefore we try to locate scapegoats.
    This doesn't mean I am a huge fan of blood and guts or everyone owning a gun but in the end it comes down to knowing right from wrong and a television show, movie or book isn't going to change one's values/morals. If one lacks those essential values they just lack them and it is beyond frustrating for the rest of us to understand.

    Lucy from Lucy's Reality

  13. I can't even imagine thinking such things much less writing about them and expecting others to pay money for them. I agree you have control of the outcome but spreading negative ideas starts with just putting the thoughts out into the universe. I wish you luck.

  14. I agree with what Alex said, that entertainment can feed on violence in real life. Look at which movies and games are popular.

    But does real life feed on entertainment? It depends on your mental state. I also think the easy availability of acquiring weapons is an issue.

  15. I thought the same statement your editor told you, the media reflects violence, it does not create it. Although I do believe there are time some idiot reads or watches something - either in the news or some other fiction - and decides to try it. You just can't predict or stop stupidity.

    I think violence seems more prevalent now than in decades past because it is more often reported in the news, and on reality shows. Shows like DEA, Unsolved Mysteries, Murdered Brides; real cops, real criminals, real crimes. It is sensationalized more in the NEWS media than in games, movies and novels.

    But I don't think the viewed violence causes a good person to go bad. They were going to do whatever some time, they were already committed.

    I write women's fiction: I write about all manner of abusers, substance addiction, and even have a MC who is a nice family type guy - who is a drug runner and assassin. I've taken my character from my real life - clients, friends and family members. Your statement "We do it because it gives us control over the outcome" is exactly why I write in this genre. I get to right the wrongs through a fictional world of my creation. MY RULES, MY JUSTICE.

    I'm also with you on the thoughts of gun control - I wouldn't want to meet up with some of my characters without one. Though I'd probably just shoot myself in the foot, so I hope a real life equivalent of my good guys are around to save me :)

    I'm glad you decided to not worry over your novel's content. I've read books like yours - and will purchase this as it sounds like my kind of horror reading - and it does give me a sense of justice, that the good guys are every bit as strong and smart as the bad guys, and they always get their man.


  16. Books don't cause tragedies, but I think movies do have some sort of impact the way it is picked up and replicated by the young.

  17. Great discussion by all. Thank you, Colby, for setting it in motion. I agree with many points expressed here, but Haddock summed it up for me. The reading audience is usually of a much different mindset whereas a visual audience may not always be a thinking audience and more stimulated to emulate things they see. Few of them will actually do anything that they see, but I think it could be a stimulus for some.

    Thanks Colby!


  18. I'm dropping in to comment today and running a bit late after a nasty bug tore through my family early this week. Thanks to everyone who commented, and to Lee for having me over!

    Yeamie, thanks so much for your omments. I hope you enjoy The Trade if you get a chance to pick it up.

    Alex- Yes, the question about whether or not it perpetuates violence is something in my mind, but I'm not entirely sure of my feelings on that one yet.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Yvonne.

  19. Jo- I do see where kids could become desensitized, but at the same time, it's a hard call for me, since I also think they are smart enough to tell the difference between real and make believe. Tough call.

    Susan, I think you're right that the gore level is different today than in years past.

    Em- Crimes inspired by media are certainly a concern. that said, I think plenty of folks were "creative" enough with crime prior.

  20. LD- I definitely go for a good vs. evil motif in my writing, and most thrillers I have read do as well.

    Sheena- the blame game certainly doesn't help a lot of things.

    Robin, that partiular video game does sound disturbing.

    DiscConnected, I personally don't feel like I use that excuse to push the envelope since many ideas I have come from a true crime story, but I can see where that perception comes from in many things.

  21. Andrew- apt point.

    Lucy, that's exactly the way I feel about it.

    The Desert Rocks- Unfortunately, these things are our reality. The concept for my story stemmed from a news story about a woman in Central Park years ago who was killed for her baby. I made the leap t the baby trade, but unfortunately, the original seed for the story was a real event. That said, I don't consider telling a story to be spreading negative ideas, but we all have different ideas of what genre we like to read, so I'm glad different choices are available.

  22. D.G., weapons availability and mental state certainly play a role.

    Donna- I hope you enjoy the book. I agree that I don't necessarily think crime has changed so much over the years as much as we have more access to news what with internet, social media, etc.

    Haddock, there probably is a visual component to movies that may be different than violence in books. I'm not sure how I feel on this one.

  23. Interesting topic and totally relevant nowadays.

    It does contribute a little bit, especially when it comes to the culture created by shooter video games. But I wouldn't go ahead and blame the entire entertainment indusry for ALL of the shootings and acts of violence that have occurred.
    No matter what, violence is going to be there... as someone said in the movie Clueless, even if you get rid of all the violent shows, people will see violence on the news everyday.

    The biggest factor I think is that people aren't speaking up or going the extra set when something seems to be out of place. The parents of these kids have either not been present or in the case of Newtown, she was afraid of him (therefore failing to act in getting psychatric help) and because of her own history with her ex-husband, guns got in the house AND that was how they bonded. Talk about there being something rotten in Denmark.


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