The Trope of Violence

I can count on one hand the number of times I have walked out of a movie before it ended. A movie must be pretty awful for me to forego the $10 ticket price. A few months ago, however, I left a movie because I was so disturbed by the violence playing out on the screen. Funny Games staring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, a remake of an Austrian film by the same name, is one of the most disturbing pieces of cinematographic abuse ever perpetrated on filmgoers. The film is about a family held hostage and systematically tortured and killed by two tennis-white wearing preppy monsters. It still makes me queasy just thinking about it.
Disturbing as this movie is, it’s just the latest example of America’s obsession with violence. The mere fact that I was one of only three people to leave the movie that night shows just how inured we have become to violence in our culture. While depictions of sex have a more difficult time making the final cut of movies violence is everywhere. The American people who freak out about male frontal nudity have made television shows like Law and Order and CSI top rated programs and flock to bloody horror films.
Kirby Dick’s 2006 documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated explores the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system. His film explores the secretive group of people who rate movies and the disparity between ratings for movies showing heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, and graphic violence. The threat of an NC-17 rating has set up a virtual system of censorship where hetero sex scenes, as long as they are not too graphic, are sometimes allowed, homosexual sex scenes are less frequently allowed unless the sex is between two women while depictions of violence are pretty much given carte blanche. The extremely violent Saw films are routinely edited to avoid NC17 ratings, but they are extremely violent nonetheless. In the current system, sex is dangerous and murder is entertainment.
What sort of sick twisted society do we live in where it’s okay to torture and murder a family, including a young child, on film, but showing two people making love is not?
America has a history of violence. We are devolving to a place where the predominant rhetoric of our culture is violence. But does popular culture reflect the inherent violence in America or does it feed it? The “if it bleeds it leads” approach by the news media has desensitized us to violence. Murder is all around us; therefore we barely flinch when it’s played out on screen. Murder eventually becomes just another plot device. But it’s not.
Until you’ve had violence touch your life in a direct way you cannot understand just how devastating murder is. Just after Valentine’s Day 1999, my brother’s girlfriend was murdered and their home was set on fire to hide the crime. The murderer was never caught. After watching a murder in a movie, one gets up, walks out of the theatre to their car and goes on about their lives. It’s easy to forget when you believe what was depicted on screen was not “real.” But there is no walking away from real violence. It stays with you for many years. Jeanette’s murder and its effects were real and still continue to haunt our family.We have to begin to ask ourselves what sort of society we want to live in. Do we want to live in a culture obsessed with violence? And how do we move beyond our culture of violence? Because watching people being murdered should not be entertainment.


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