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August 2000

Movie violence: Hollywood may have it wrong

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University expert says the film industry may be turning out violent movies on the basis of a mistaken belief that viewers enjoy it, or would not go see films without it.

"The available data just doesn't bear that out," says Glenn Sparks, a Purdue professor of communication who is internationally recognized for his research into the effects of mass media. "There is plenty of evidence that violence is not the highest-rated commodity among movie-goers, but you'd never know that based on what's showing any given week at the local cineplex."

Sparks and his wife Cheri Sparks, who holds a doctorate from Purdue's Department of Psychological Sciences, recently collaborated on an essay titled "Violence, Mayhem, and Horror" for the new book "Media Entertainment: The Psychology of its Appeal."

The couple reviewed existing research on the subject, took a critical look at public consumption data from the motion picture industry and examined the reasons why some people are attracted to violent images.

"We know that in some cases, violent action is attractive to a segment of viewers because of its novelty," Glenn Sparks says. "It's something you just don't see in everyday life. But some violent films are big with audiences for reasons that have very little to do with the blood and gore."

As an example, the couple cites the Oscar-nominated film "Pulp Fiction," which Cheri Sparks enjoyed immensely for its dark humor and clever dialogue. But Glenn Sparks found the violence depicted in the film too brutal to allow him to appreciate other elements of the story.

"The few existing research studies that have attempted to compare similar productions with or without violence tend to show that the violent versions are not necessarily enjoyed more than the non-violent versions," Glenn Sparks explains.

"Our personal experience with 'Pulp Fiction' seems to bear this out," adds Cheri Sparks. "Glenn would have found the film much more appealing with some of the violence edited out, and I would probably have enjoyed it just as much without it."

Both Glenn and Cheri Sparks see a need for additional experimental research into the role violence plays in the appeal of mass media entertainment.

"There's a lot of public discussion right now about how violent entertainment affects attitudes and may be related to aggressive behavior," Cheri Sparks says. "It could be very helpful to establish the precise role that violence plays in the enjoyment of media entertainment when considering these broader societal issues."

The book containing their essay can be ordered from the Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. Web site at http://www.erlbaum.com.

CONTACTS: Glenn G. Sparks, (765) 494-3316 or (765) 494-3012; gsparks@purdue.edu; Cheri Sparks, (765) 496-3694; cheris@ecn.purdue.edu


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