Thursday, April 22, 2010

Violence and Stories

I've pondered whether, and how, to write this, but that was taking way too long. This is a blog, after all, so I've decided I can get away with slightly meandering prose and incomplete

I'm not sure when a movie review became a springboard for social commentary (maybe when movies themselves stopped being the springboards) but A. O. Scott in the New York Times last week takes aim -- I think -- at violence in movies. Or maybe it's depictions of violence. Or maybe it's when children are doing it, or being subjected to it. It's a little hard to tell: if I were critiquing the article I'd advise the writer either to write more and fulfill the promise of the premise, or less so we don't get our hopes up.

In any case, here's my issue. There are some truly valid points raised here: inuring audiences to graphic depictions of violence; the message for children when they see their heroes committing violent acts, or subjected to them.

And the article, to Scott's credit, does throw one lifeline out of the quicksand of its own rhetoric: "It is, of course, the acts themselves that are cruel."

I know movies and books should be, at times, an escape from a cruel world, or a mundane one. I know we all, and especially children, are impressionable creatures. I know it's irresponsible to wantonly expose people to the message that casual violence is acceptable.

But casual violence exists. Random cruelty exists. Anyone who complains that it's unreasonable to show the torment of children -- or, and the author seems undecided on whether this is worse -- children committing acts of violent or vengeful cruelty -- should make that case to a room of child soldiers or traumatized war orphans -- pick your continent, pick your skin color, pick your century.

My point is that although I am opposed to shock for shock's sake (and shlock for shlock's), I find it reprehensible -- cowardly -- to pretend that any of us is somehow immune to cruelty.

The world has light and it has darkness; inexplicable cruelty and loss, and surprising joy; unfairness as well as delight unlooked-for. I guess what I'm advocating is balance: don't anesthetize us, but don't traumatize us either.

As far as movies go: watch them or don't watch them as you choose. But if you're opposed to violence and cruelty, perhaps a place to start is where those exist in the world, rather than in the stylized depictions of them.


Barbara said...

While I don't believe in being anesthetized or making all our lives look like movies on the Hallmark channel, I do believe that in these very troubled and violent times with atrocities that our minds can barely comprehend--man's total inhumanity to man--that we all seek personal heroes, morality, and a sense that somewhere and sometime, there is goodness in the world that more than balances out the violence. We need to feel we can all cope and make a better place, not always be reminded about how awful and "real" the world is. I wasn't crazy about the witch threatening to burn Hansel and Gretel in her oven and eating the children.

Kenneth said...

M and I are going to see "Kick-Ass" this weekend, so I'll be better able to assess A.O. Scott's plaintive bleats afterward.

You're right that "casual violence exists". Some would posit a corollary to that, which is that "considered and deliberate violence is sometimes necessary". Mainly to protect against that selfsame casual violence. What age is too young to learn that particular lesson? Good people may differ. Some children were and probably still are taught never to hit first, but always to hit back and to endeavor to be the one who hits last. And that ethos, consistently and judiciously applied, can stand one in good stead in a chaotic world.

Not that I think "Kick-Ass" is the vehicle to teach kids that or any other lesson.

S R Wood said...

Maybe kids learning from movies alone is part of the problem, since a 2-hour live-action cartoon can't really express the nuances of good and evil that many of us will have to face.

But a book can! Or so I hope.

p.s. I thought the witch threatening to eat the children was totally awesome. What's the point of a witch who doesn't eat children?

Doesn't mean I'm not still scared to walk down a dark hallway.

Barbara said...

And does that witch with long bony fingers still live under your bed??