Catharsis through Violence in Media

When people think of violence, we usually think of the drunken brawls that we hear about on the news, see in sports games, or on a larger scale, terrorism. Violence does, however, have its place as a positive outlet in a controlled environment and it does so through the process of catharsis, which can be described according to David Garrick (1998) as a purgation of fear among other negative emotions, through the redirection of such feelings towards an external source.  It can help them through the process of grieving the loss of people close to them; reconcile indecent treatment to themselves by others, and a variety of other scenarios.

One of the mediums through which an audience can experience catharsis is music, both in a purely listening environment, and in the physical environment of a concert. This is undertaken in a variety of ways depending on the genre of music. In the case of fast-paced electronic music, it is through the act of raving, however in the case of heavy metal, it is through participation in mosh pits, circle pits, and walls of death. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a wall of death, then this might give you an idea of one of the most extreme examples.

To further demonstrate the violence of the music, here are some lyrics from Exodus’ single Toxic Waltz, from their 1989 album Fabulous Disaster:

Everybody’s doin’ the toxic waltz
Kick your friend in the head and have a ball
Come on and do the toxic waltz
And slam your partner against the wall
Everybody’s doin’ the toxic waltz
Good friendly violent fun in store for all
Get up off your ass and toxic waltz
If you hit the floor you can always crawl!

Back in the 80s, the kinds of violence depicted in these lyrics were a slightly exaggerated form of what occurred in a classic mosh pit, however since then, a certain etiquette has been developed that has deterred the downfalls of such extreme violence. This has been in large part due to regulations such as the “Guidelines for safer moshing environments” outlined by the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Health, as well as the growing population and diversity of people that enjoy this form of music.

As a result of the development of this etiquette and imposed guidelines, researchers have found that the likelihood of severe injury resulting in hospital treatment has shrunk to as low as seven people out of ten thousand according to data collected from a music venue between 2011 and 2014 (Milsten, A., Tennyson, J., & Weisberg, S., 2017).

Another form of media that audiences can consume to undergo this purgatory experience is film and television, where the audience redirects their emotion through the experiences of the characters in the story. The benefit to this form of cathartic experience is that film inherently allows for stronger supplementary storytelling and therefore does a better job of contextualising the violence within. Violence in science fiction or fantasy stories is often coupled with noble intent in so much as they are utilising violence for the cause of some greater good. This makes it easier for younger audiences to determine the right and wrong circumstances for violence. One of the most famous of the superhero tropes is that with great power comes great responsibility. These stories tell of people protecting their homeland and fighting to save loved ones, and the cathartic experience comes from the protagonist achieving this noble goal by beating their foe. Of course, some of the concern surrounding violent media and the imitation of violent role models comes from the fact that not all protagonists have a strong moral compass, and as such can be vague for a younger audience to interpret.

This becomes largely problematic in the case of horror movies, where a young person may consider a monster or a villain “cool” and therefore exhibit certain personality traits in an attempt to imitate their idol, as Vine (2005) suggests. On the other hand, horror movies are usually less focused on any individual character and are generally more focused around the feeling of fear that either the characters exude, or that the movie imparts on the viewer directly. Sachs (n.d.) explains that the form of catharsis that is delivered in films comes from a build-up of emotion as the characters realise the trouble they’re in, before a release when either the protagonist or sometimes antagonist prevails. This is in direct contrast to the constant release of anger that moshing provides, though the flow of the experience does run parallel to the ritual of a wall of death. What film lacks, however, is interactivity, which leads us to our next subject, violence in video games.

We’ve all seen the news stories like these associating school shootings and random acts of violence to video games, much in the same way that Marilyn Manson was accused of provoking the Columbine shootings. Such concern is bred out of the same thing that makes the cathartic experience of video games so powerful, which is their interactivity. While players don’t necessarily exert themselves physically, it could be argued that the mental experience of purging of emotion from getting a kill in a computer game is just as visceral as participating in a mosh pit to different kinds of people.

Because this action is repeated so frequently in computer games, it worries professionals that players lose empathy for those around them, and therefore are less cautious or inhibited when it comes to their physical expression of violence. What these stories don’t take into account however, is that while playing computer games can desensitize the audience to violent acts, unless that player already has extremely hateful and violent tendencies, they have no reason or motivation to want to carry these acts out themselves. In such a case, it is my opinion that the people with such attitude problems would be committing these crimes regardless of whether they played computer games. It is not as simple as monkey see, monkey do, and ultimately it is more favourable for these people to have a virtual punching bag than to be committing an even higher quantity of violent acts in the real world.

Overall, I believe that by having these controlled environments such as a concert, cinema, or a computer game, millions of people such as the ones in this picture, the ones in the wall of death, and the people at home playing on their computers are reaping the positive benefits of catharsis, and are in turn making the world a much safer place to live in.



Enes Duzgun. (2013, October 7). Link between teen killers and violent video games [Video File]. Retrieved from

GameSpot. (2012, November 19). Violence in Video Games – The What If Machine [Video file].

Garrick, D. (1998). Constructing “Cathartic Moments” in Theatrical Drama: An Ancient Theory of Drama Meets the New Psychotherapy. New England Theatre Journal, 9, 99-125. Retrieved from

Government of Western Australia, Department of Health. Guidelines for safer moshing environments. Retrieved from

Eloy Barretto. (2011, July 22). EXODUS – Extreme wall of Death / Wacken Metal Festival 2010 [Video file]. Retrieved from

Milsten, A., Tennyson, J., & Weisberg, S. (2017). Retrospective Analysis of Mosh-Pit-Related Injuries. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 32(6), 636-641. doi:10.1017/S1049023X17006689

Sachs, J. (n.d.). Aristotle: Poetics. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Vine, I. (2005). The dangerous psycho-logic of media ‘effects’. In M. Barker & J. Petley (Eds.), Ill Effects: The Media Violence Debate (pp. 106-122). New York: Routledge

Wilcha, C. (Writer/Director). (2002). MTV News [Television series episode]. In C. Wilcher (Writer/Director), The Social History of the Mosh Pit. United States: MTV.