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Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Movie Madness

Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Movie Madness

Dear Dr. V,

I’ve been dating this guy for several months. For the most part, so far so good. He’s well-mannered, smart, funny and the chemistry is there. In light of all that this feels silly, but what’s bothering me are the kinds of movies he likes to watch. He’s really into dark, disturbing stuff. Pretty much every DVD in his movie collection is something that I’ve gone out of my way to avoid seeing. The more obscure stuff that I haven’t heard of I asked him about, and when he told me about it I was disturbed from just hearing about it. Am I being a prude? He doesn’t seem like any of this stuff affects him in how we interact with each other, but it bothers me that there’s a part of him that enjoys watching this kind of messed up stuff. He doesn’t expect me to watch them with him, we see normal movies when we go out. I’m not sure what, if anything, I should do. What do you think?


Dear Barbara,

I certainly hear where you’re coming from on this one. Speaking for myself, I know that I have a few friends who are big fans of horror films, and I don’t mean just monster movies or even goofy slasher flicks, I mean the real, hardcore psychological stuff that gets in your head and stays there long after the movie’s over. For me personally, I don’t really enjoy hanging around with that kind of muck taking up space in my head.  Especially since becoming a parent, I’ve noticed my tolerance for on-screen violence and malice has dropped considerably; even films I enjoyed before becoming a Mom are now on my personal “no-fly list.”

We’ll zero in on your situation and what you can do about it shortly, but I want to take a moment to examine what I find to be a rather disturbing trend in horror films. Before I say anything else, please know that I would never want to be a censor, nor do I think we should restrict artistic expression. However, I can’t help but wonder why it is that, as a culture, we seem to be attracted more and more towards drawn out, graphic depictions of torture and brutality. Again, I realize that not everyone has the same tastes, and my fellow parents and I have a responsibility to monitor our kids’ media diets, but the trend still bothers me. It’s been postulated in the past that whatever kind of horror fiction is the most popular at any given time in a society reflects the communal fears of that society. The classic example would be the allegorical connection made between the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the fear of a secret Communist infiltration and takeover. So perhaps films like Hostel and the Saw series tap into our own collective fear and guilt over our budding reputation as a nation of torturers.

Even so, the scenes of torture and sadism in those films (and the countless direct-to-video knock-offs they’ve inspired) seem to be celebrated, rather than reviled. It’s what the sales pitch of the whole film is: “Some really awful things happen in these 90 minutes, Enjoy!” Perhaps we have become inured to suffering and violence from years of “If It Bleeds, It Leads” journalism, and the deluge of actual atrocity imagery available on the Internet. Or, potentially most disturbing of all, it is possible that repeated exposure to such deliberately extreme imagery, (“Torture-Porn”, as the sub-genre’s been dubbed) is actually inculcating and feeding appetites that were hopefully not existent, or at least dormant.

Which brings us to you and your boyfriend. Judging from what you say, I think it is highly unlikely you are dating a maniacal torturer. In all likelihood he’s just being a guy, the adult equivalent of a ten-year-old boy poking at road kill with a stick. As I recommend for just about any and every relationship concern or problem, address this directly in conversation. There’s no need to be confrontational or aggressive about it. Rather, honestly and openly express your curiosity about his penchant for these extreme movies. His reply may end up explaining quite a bit for you and setting your mind at ease. If you’re not satisfied with what he’s told you, don’t be afraid to probe deeper. Don’t let yourself be too timid to ask that most dreaded question, “How does it make you feel?” In fact, now that I think about it, getting an honest response to that question might resolve the situation for you one way or another, as the feeling he gets from these films is something he is seeking out again and again; hence his large collection of movies you’ll never see.

The only real red-flag for me here is that, on some level, being able to stomach so much sadism, brutality and violence, even if it is fictional, speaks to a possible lack of sensitivity, perhaps even an empathy deficit. You were concerned that you might be a “prude”, if being sensitive to human suffering makes one prudish than I will proudly join you in the ranks (To answer your question, no, I don’t think you’re being naïve or unreasonable).

If after a few discussions, you still feel troubled, then you may want to reconsider the future of this relationship. As I’m sure you know, several months in is a long time in some ways, yet only a heartbeat in others.  You may in fact be getting some painless insight into this man’s emotional limitations now in a way that does not directly affect you. Better now, in this way, then as opposed to a little further down the road, when it could potentially be your feelings, distress or anxiety that are being ignored or discounted. Listen carefully, pay attention and trust your instincts. If, in your heart of hearts, you cannot be comfortable with this, it may be time to move on.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

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