Why Do We Glorify Public Displays of Violence?
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are names familiar to those who watched with rapt attention as two well trained athletes pummeled the heck out of each other. The high-profile boxing match took place on August 26th in Las Vegas as the 40-year-old Mayweather came out of retirement to go head to head and fist to fist with 29-year-old mixed martial artist McGregor. By all accounts they were mismatched, but the audience and promotors didn’t care. They were eager for entertainment and financial windfall. Mayweather was rumored to have gathered in over $100 million for his performance and McGregor netted over $30 million. No chump change for these two.
Boxing has a long and storied history, harkening back to ancient Greece and Rome. It was often done for the entertainment of the elite. Sometimes the matches were held to the death and the victor was granted freedom from captivity. Over the centuries, it became a sport, with rules and safety equipment, rather than the bare-handed brawl of its origins. Some engaged in it for the athleticism. My father, who was a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy, was such a one. He reveled in the dance of it and I sense, the workouts that kept him in shape, rather than the impact of gloved fist to the body parts of an opponent. I watched him punch a speed bag, but never another person.
He was the one who jumped rope with my sister and me, more often than our mother. It was the kind with the weighted wooden handles. He would also, in his later years, use the hand grips to strengthen those muscles. I recall a few times when my sister and I were young and we would go at it verbally, he laced up the gloves, strapped on the head gear and gave us mouth guards to use and had us go at it physically under his watchful eye to be sure neither of us was injured. More play than anything else, we never made contact other than glove to glove, swatting away at each other and laughing. I often say that it is a good thing I am a pacifist, or I could have developed a mean right hook. A few years ago, at my son’s suggestion, I took a few kick boxing lessons but couldn’t coordinate kicks and punches simultaneously.
Can anyone explain why we glorify people hitting each other in a public venue and pay them big bucks to do it? According to Brad Bushman professor of communications and psychology at Ohio State University, what draws people to it is that it provides them with “a chance to experience taboo — events that they can’t experience in their own lives — or see things they don’t see in their typical life.”
Another concept that comes into play is the extension of violence outside the ring. As has been noted, Mayweather has faced domestic violence charges. Like many in aggressive sports, he may have been pre-disposed to forceful behavior or once revved up, may not have had the willingness to shut it off.
An additional take on the topic is that if fewer people paid to watch this type of event, its popularity would diminish.
Attorney and sports analyst Exavier Pope raised these questions: “Well, we don’t really have the science behind what boxing does. You know, we had Muhammad Ali — he had Parkinson’s, and then he died. We don’t know how boxing really affected Muhammad Ali. His brain was never submitted for [Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy] testing. What if Joe Frazier had CTE? What if George Forman has CTE? What if the thing that caused Mike Tyson to bite Evander Holyfield’s ear was CTE? What if Conor McGregor has CTE? How many concussions have these guys had?”
When queried on the subject, people’s responses included:
“I just don’t fathom being paid big bucks to beat someone up. We discourage our kids from fighting, why glorify adults?”
“Testosterone. People being under the influence of it,” followed by, “Except how do we explain some otherwise very feminine women taking up boxing in recent years (which probably 1st became nationally/internationally noticed when Laila Ali followed in her father’s footsteps) — I don’t think Testosterone is responsible for these ladies becoming pugilists…has to be something else at play here!”
“I often asked this very question and have never received an intelligent answer as to “WHY”…. barbaric is the first word that comes to my mind.”
“Perhaps it’s the excitement. Perhaps some people live vicariously through these boxers. Maybe people wish that their jobs and lives weren’t so dull but interesting. You remember Muhammad Ali: People use to pay to see him. His first fight against Joe Frazier (Mon. March 8, 1971) at Madison Sq. Garden was a huge event.”
“Yes, it’s pretty sick and crazy. The thing is, lots of men (and some women) are addicted to adrenaline, and thus watching violent activities provide a major hit. It’s irrational, but there are biochemical reasons.”
“Think of the gladiators in Roman times. Pacify the masses.”
“Remember the model for our government where ancient Romans stole the ideals of ancient Greece and before them the Mycenaeans and Minoans and distorted it to violence and dictatorship. Hello America, applauding the basest parts of human nature and allowing public discrimination and bullying as a spectator sport. We are on our way to a great fall brought on by greed and corruption, ask how that went for the ancient Romans.”
“For whatever reasons, it allows folks to get that aggression out in a ritualized way instead of randomly on nonconsenting people, so therefore (even though, like you I will never “get it”) I think overall it’s a necessary thing. If we could get world leaders to box each other to prove their might instead of bombing and killing innocent residents of enemy nations, I would probably prefer that to war.”
“I think it’s really two questions:
- Why would someone do it?
- Why would someone watch it?
I have no real answer for either.”
“It’s the primordial jelly in our brain — Unfortunately we are not that evolved yet.”
“I could not agree more. Also, Mayweather is a several times over domestic violence offender. Last big fight he had I challenged people on FB to take the money they would spend on PPV (Pay Per View) and donate it to women’s abuse shelter in their area. I took a picture of my receipt of the money I donated to SAVE in Oakland CA to show them I gave that amount too. Should have done similar for this fight.”
Weinstein, E. (2018). Why Do We Glorify Public Displays of Violence?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-do-we-glorify-public-displays-of-violence/