Wed | Dec 1, 2021

Alfred Dawes | Why the sick fascination with murder porn?

Published:Sunday | March 21, 2021 | 12:28 AM

We have all seen the pictures and videos. Poor souls murdered or killed in gruesome accidents become the subject of videos widely shared over social media. Videos and pictures are often accompanied by voice notes or pictures telling the backstory of who they were and how they ended up like that. WhatsApp groups are inundated with these horrific forwarded messages and Facebook posts draw thousands of likes and shares.

The reaction is usually disgust, anger, outrage and fear of what is happening in the country. All negative emotions that one would typically try to avoid. Yet as soon as the media is viewed, they are sent on like a macabre chain letter to the next set of friends who would share the same visceral response.

There is a sick fascination with horrific deaths. The more brutal the slaying, the more popular the videos. Of particular import are ones in which the victims are hacked to death or exit wounds blow off pieces of the victims’ anatomy. Videographers jostle for the best angles and add ‘sympathetic’ commentary and the classic ‘mmhmmmm’ as they record the gore. There is hardly a popular video that doesn’t show multiple phones recording the scene, evidence of the popularity of the paparazzi culture. It is an indictment on how far we have sunk as a society in that we would rather create content out of the misery of the dying throes of our own people than lend a helping hand. The viewing of these videos is both a symptom and a cause of the warped minds that tolerate the sick society in which we live.

Pornography has been around from the dawn of history. Sumerian, Egyptian and Greek art depict graphic representations of human sexuality. Porn has transformed as new media of representation are invented. As films were invented, some of the very first productions were silent pornos. The porn industry is so influential that it is believed that the triumphs of VCR over Betamax and later Blue-ray over HDDVD were due to the industry choosing those formats for their films. With the development of the Internet, pornography found a fertile home and its consumption has grown to dizzying heights. Porn sites receive hundreds of billions of visits every year, and as much as we don’t speak about it, Jamaicans have tripled their porn searches on Google over the last 15 years.

DRUG ADDICTION

Pornography is not as harmless as one would believe. Repeated consumption of porn is akin to a drug addiction because of the similar chemical changes it induces in the brain. And as with any addiction, there are long-term changes whether chemical or psychological. In fact, porn causes so much tolerance to be built up that content makers have to constantly find more and more ‘hardcore’ films to keep their audience high. Dysfunctional relationships and warped senses of what is considered normal sexual intercourse leading to abuse are only some of the consequences of high levels of porn consumption. One particularly disturbing finding is that the same brain cells that fire while watching porn are the same cells that fire when the viewed actions are performed. This means that the rise in aggressive sex and sexual violence may be explained by the aggressor subconsciously trying to achieve the same high by acting out what he saw in the videos. Even worse is that porn has been linked to changes in the part of the brain that governs self-control and morals.

NORMALISE VIOLENT BEHAVIOUR

If these consequences of watching porn have so many serious implications on sexuality and violence, what will unhinged consumption of murder porn do to our brains and our society? Some studies show that there is a correlation between the consumption of violent media content and real-life violent behaviour. The parts of the brain that suppress aggressive behaviour become less active after watching violent clips. This may lead to persons less likely to control their aggression and react disproportionately to adverse incidents.

This result of viewing violence in real life has already been borne out in not only studies but in society, where persons from violent neighbourhoods are more likely to normalise violent behaviour and react more aggressively than those who have less experience with violence. Sadly, these changes to their brains can be passed on to their children in a form of epigenetic preprogramming.

It, therefore, means that the more violence one sees in real life and on social media, the less likely their brains are capable of controlling their own aggression. It also means that the constant sharing of violent images not only desensitises us to the impact of violence around us but also leaves us craving more graphic murder porn images. Measure your muted outrage when you hear of the separate incidents of murder of four people versus the shock and outrage you experience with the hacking to death of one. Which videos are more likely to reach your phone?

We are like sexually frustrated teenagers gorging on fetish porn every time we consume murder porn on our phones and like them, our minds are being primed for the consumption of even more graphic content, and scarily, uninhibited interpersonal violence. So the next time you view murder porn, think about the mental state of who sent it to you and, even more important, with whom you want to share such neurologically damaging content. If you don’t, then you may not just be a part of the problem why murder porn is shared, but why that content was able to be created in the first place.

- Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and adawes@ilapmedical.com.