Monday, March 17, 2008

Violence and Watching (2)

Gabriel McKee in Religion Dispatches:

"Liberal viewers who oppose the death penalty, for instance, still expect the black hats to get killed in the final shootout. As much as we contend that no one deserves to die, we all throw our personal ethics out the window when we enter a movie theater. We’re all hangin’ judges."

Indeed. I'm a committed pacifist, but I watch Big Love wishing Bill would just solve his problems by killing his father and most of the male members of the Grant family. And that's not even a terribly overtly violent show: think of how I watch Deadwood, Rome, The Sopranos, Dexter.

The problem isn't, I think, whether a nonviolent person can enjoy violent entertainment; after all, in a film no actual people are killed. The problem comes when television and film reflect a particular narrative to us, a narrative that tells us violence solves problems. Too many people imbibe this fictional narrative of what McKee calls "redemptive violence," which may lead them away from the conclusion that in the real world violence causes deeper problems, and toward the conclusion that violence is an effective and moral way to solve problems. But it is neither.

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