Domestic Violence in the Digital World
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Author: Sky Kapoor
Content warning: Discussion of abusive relationships
The world has changed significantly in the hundred-some years since the proliferation of digital media became a sweet new gift to society. If you kidnapped an early 40s civilian from their strawberry box home and handed them a smartphone, chances are you’d spend the evening explaining the concept of Twitter.
After the necessary translations and a few cautious walkthroughs, you’d come to the same conclusion: digital media has infiltrated our way of life.
Humans are skilled at showcasing everything, and our relationships are no exception. While we keep the human race going with biological desires, we also make sure to snap a cute picture for our Instagram story as we do it. Alongside this, media tends to osmose into our pores, forging grey matter in our minds. Maybe, after their initial shock subsided, the civilian would quickly get hooked on social media in the same way that we are.
Based on the ever-increasing content surrounding romantic relationships that we’ve produced, it’s evident that idealization has been ingrained into popular culture. One of the many things we did before we had smartphones was exercise our relationships, or at the very least, attempt to. And it’s understandable for those of us born into the age of the Internet as well. Our entire identities have been carved out online for a gauntlet of judging eyes, but showcasing the highlight reel of our lives has persisted long before that — people want to fit in.
The world has quickly homogenized a ubiquitous image of the “Zoomer”: glued to screens irreverently while letting the world around us fritter away. In light of this hackneyed idea of the modern individual, the growth of digital media brought with it an abundance of information. We’ve been given the means to become more educated on relationship dialogues; surely this would ignite a cultural ability to discern between representation and idealization…
Instead — and our 40s civilian would agree — we tend to overlook things.
While it’s certainly no secret that dysfunctional romantic relationships are a trope of teen media, the representation of these less-than-perfect dynamics is still unsettling. Somewhere along the way, we were possessed to believe that creeping into someone’s room at night to watch them sleep is “romantic.”
So we’re met with an unsettling miscellany of poorly portrayed partnerships in modern media. Screenwriters walk the aforementioned fine line, mimicking Phillipe Petit in their endeavours.
Take the Netflix original You, in which the protagonist manipulates not only his love interests, but the impressionable audience as well, by making grandiose justifications for literal stalking, complex controlling, and even murder — all in the name of “love.”
Take the 2008 tween classic, Twilight, in which Edward watches Bella as she sleeps, controls where she can go and who she can see, and somehow always gets her into extremely dangerous situations. Watching these movies when you’re young and naive? Maybe that seems endearing. Watching them as an adult suddenly brings to light how manipulative these mannerisms really are.
While some of these shows and movies are intentionally creepy, things get blurry when the audience is made to feel sympathy for the perpetrator. And, with candour and retrospect, I’ve noticed these harrowing mannerisms eerily reflected in my own past interactions. In the throes of the worst experiences of my life, I was able to relate to TV romances more than ever. In some of the best ones, I realized just how low the bar had been set — a partner who communicated and trusted me was a rarity.
Observation led me to this conclusion: modern media is oversaturated with casual domestic violence in the same way that a bad smell permeates through off-brand garbage bags from the dollar store. Whether intentional or not, our lenience to these casual representations can get messy. Take the smartphone back from the civilian, and you’ll be virtually accosted by tweets, posts, and videos encouraging these behaviours in the subtlest of ways. A simple 280-character post condemning “vanilla” relationships is a prime example of how we lay the foundations for a generation that can’t get it on without violence. A casual Instagram post about how adorable the relationships in psychological thrillers are is cause for concern. While these aren’t the only facets of relationships that can get fuzzy, our media has a propensity to treat domestic violence as a mecca for those seeking a “perfect” love story.
So, why should you care about the way that relationships are portrayed? Why should it matter to you, as an individual, and to the world? In these instances? In these contexts?
While watching the steady rise of unhealthy dating culture become exacerbated by the Internet, I notice that we’ve been malnourished in more ways than one. We’ve been given numerous representations of violence and unknowingly, the tools to promote them. Television and social media go hand in hand when it comes to spreading unhealthy ideas — one tends to exacerbate the other.
While I have my own personal experiences, I took to the devil itself to get some answers and procured some Instagram story polls to put things into perspective. Hearing the stories of others was reassuring, but it was equally concerning to hear just how many people had gone through some form of abuse and not even realized it until after the fact.
Almost 45 percent of people answered “yes” to having been in an abusive relationship of some type.
Of those people, the majority agreed — they felt nothing like themselves during the relationship.
What could they relate to, though? Netflix originals, fan edits, and tweets — all #relatable. Why is this so common if we all know it’s wrong? I can hypothesize about the motive behind these representations, but truly, there’s countless reasons as to why. Media outlets run on these generational perceptions, eager to please or shock a target audience that they perceive to be increasingly unsatisfied with the world. Feeble attempts at a “twist” on modern love border on abusive, and the media is slowly becoming oversaturated with these tropes. Explicit violations of consent are becoming both normalized and more difficult to discern, and that’s the rotten root of these problems.
Furthermore, one of the many malignant tumours that has grown from the reign of popular culture is the belief that healthy relationships are “boring.” Tweets claiming that they want a partner to “ruin their lives” and “treat them like shit” are funny once in a while, but they’re jokes that enforce unhealthy relationship dynamics, whether we’re aware of it or not. Slowly but surely, jokes morph into controlling messages and calls, and humour blurs with reality.
Despite the negatives that come with it, we can use the proliferation of media to our advantage. With an abundance of knowledge made more accessible, it’s up to us to become the vanguard to redefine relationship rules, lest we become a generation who can’t use their resources. Across a chasm of a few dialogue changes awaits a greener landscape, and rewriting these narratives could be the next insurgency to change our perceptions. And if we come out a little cracked, our splintering facades may fall away to make room for stronger foundations — ones that support and nourish future generations.
Perhaps these patterns won’t change your perceptions in the same way they’ve changed mine. Domestic violence is such a nuanced topic, and while I can’t speak on every aspect, the media is getting better at exacerbating the issue. Regardless of whether it affects you directly, the media is where representation thrives, and ultimately, it exerts a massive influence on our lives.
And representation? It’s simply another avenue of humanity — another chance to feel less lost, to regain our identity. So, why not improve upon it?
After all, we are art. Our media should corroborate that.