BB #44: Striking Things

BrainFireIt’s been ages since I posted any Brain Bubbles! That’s not for lack of my brain bubbling so much as various other “real world” (ha!) sharp pin bubble-popping things intruding. I thought it was high time I returned to effervescence!

There are some older bubbles queued up — they’ll surface eventually — but I was recently struck by a couple of brain bubbles recently (to the point of serious bemusement in one case and serious amusement in other).

Not feeling like a long post, so instead you get a pair of tiny bubbles!

warning-1I was recently struck by the oxymoronic (emphasis on moronic) movie/TV warning of “mild violence” along with another warning about “brief nudity.”

What, pray tell, is “mild violence” exactly?

Wiktionary defines violence as:

  1. Extreme force.
  2. Action which causes destruction, pain, or suffering.
  3. Widespread fighting.
  4. (figuratively) Injustice, wrong.
  5. (obsolete) Ravishment; rape; violation.

So… “mild extreme force”? How is “mild action which causes destruction, pain, or suffering” even possible? How about “mild widespread fighting”? The concept of “mild injustice, wrong” seems incoherent. (Don’t even get me started on the idea of “mild rape” even if that definition is obsolete.)

I’ve written many times here about the violence that we casually swim in nearly every time we turn on the TV or watch a movie. I’ve written before about a culture that has so lost its way — so lost its moral compass — that the constant, daily violence we absorb is just a form of mild background noise.


But, hey, no problem for your 13-year-olds and up!

All this talk of gun control is pointless until we solve the real problem: That we are so emotionally immature as a species that we think violence is a form of entertainment. In the process we’ve become so desensitized to it that we don’t even realize how far down this road we’ve come.

Seriously. Count the number of deaths you see in a week of TV. Just consider the death and destruction that goes on in any “blockbuster” movie.

It’s a major cultural problem.


Same level of caution involving “sci-Fi action” and “brief historical smoking” (the smoking thing really shows what complete wankers we are… we’re equating smoking with violence and sex).

And the sickening thing — the deeply, horrifying, revolting thing — is that, bloody brains splattered all over the wall? No problemo. Naked people? Oh, no, think of the children (and easily alarmed adults).

Human skin, sex, life… bad! Shooting (clothed!) people… fine.

When I say how much I generally speaking hate people, it’s shit like this I’m referring to.


It's his fault. He started it!

And mom and dad.

On a much lighter, more esoteric, note, I was also recently struck (but not in a violent way) by how much Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative matches the infamous quote handed down to us by our mothers and fathers:

“If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”

Never realized our parents were so into fundamental philosophical outlooks!

(For those who never got into Kant, the Categorical Imperative is a way of parsing specific actions as being either moral or immoral. One formulation of it, in Kant’s words, goes like this:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

In other words, consider just what would happen if everyone did it.)

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

26 responses to “BB #44: Striking Things

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    What’s interesting about violence, is that it’s considered milder if you show it without the characters experiencing realistic consequences of that violence. So, a bunch of bad guys getting mowed down by the hero and instantly falling dead? Fine. (Think stormtroopers in Star Wars.) One guy who has both bad and good qualities getting shot, bleeding all over the place, and crying and suffering as he dies = mature subject warnings to the audience about the level of violence. (Think of the medic’s death in Saving Private Ryan.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      That’s a really good point! Cartoon violence versus realistic violence, and we have a long, long history of (literal) cartoon violence (e.g. Wiley Coyote and Tom & Jerry and many others). I wonder if that’s where it all started in media.

      When you come right down to it, violence in storytelling has really been there all along (e.g. Oedipus and the real Grimms’ Fairytales). The thing is, the written word is one thing, and cartoons are one thing, but the level of realism in movies and TV today is a whole other level. There is also that historically, a lot of the actual violence was off-stage or off-screen.

      There is also the matter of proportion and perspective. I love Asian martial arts movies, for example, but they’re a tiny part of my storytelling diet. I also love Shakespeare and small, interesting dramas, and lots of other things. For many people those other things are “boring” and their diet is far too high in (mental) nutrition-free crap. Kinda like eating at Micky D’s all the time (which damn near killed Morgan Spurlock).

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I think it takes age for many of us to appreciate non-violent stories. (At least for much of us in the male half of the population.)

        That said, I’ve personally never outgrown the need for a story to move. It doesn’t necessarily need to move violently. It can be a steady stream of revelations, or moves and counter moves between the protagonist and antagonist, or just repeated try-fail cycles, as long as things are happening.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I think you’re probably right about the appreciation thing. A guy I once knew had a saying I’ve always thought was right on the money. With regard to men, “If it goes very fast, flies, explodes, makes a loud noise, or catches fire… it’s cool!” (Which perhaps explains some of the popularity of NASCAR. And guns.) One thing that strikes me about that quote here is its lack of mentioning hitting or shooting other people (although it can obviously be implicit).

        It may have a little to do with how much our culture is steeped in violence. It’s not true in my case — my appreciation for simple drama, comedy, and intellectual conflict goes as far back as I can remember (my appreciation of Shakespeare goes back to high school, for e.g.). So it does have at least a little to do with upbringing and exposure. At the same time, anyone who’s ever been around little kids knows boys and girls do come at life a bit differently. I’ve always suspected there is both nature and nurture there.

        That said, my appreciation for serious action has always been high, too. For me, it’s been a matter of my appreciation of violent action has declined as I’ve begun to consider the implications and connection with how we behave in society. Watching massive destruction and lots of incidental deaths — just for fun — puts me off. (As a counter-example, I saw Fury recently and liked it. Lotta death… lotta death… but we’re talking WWII (biggest mass murder event in human history bar none) and a fairly engaging story.)

        Many years ago Roger Ebert wrote that he was completely over big-budget action thrillers. He really only liked the smaller more interesting moview that had something to say. At the time I hadn’t advanced that far, but over the last few years I’ve found all that CGI action stuff very, very dull unless there is a good story behind it. (Guardians of the Galaxy is a good example of an action-packed high-CGI movie with a great (and comical) story.)

        “I’ve personally never outgrown the need for a story to move.”

        Heh. First time I read that I interpreted “move” as “move emotionally” which shows my bias in storytelling. 😀

        I know what you mean; the whole point of a story is that it’s a narrative flow. I’ve seen some stuff that’s almost poetry- or painting-like in not having much movement (more “slice of life” or “images of the mind”), but I usually find them “interesting” (in the non-sarcastic sense) rather than “enjoyable”.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On Ebert, I think one of the dangers of being a movie critic is that you see a *lot* of movies. Over time your personal tastes are going to evolve in ways that are different from the general population’s. The good critics (and Ebert was one of the best of course) have a sense of what types of movies people in general will like and make their recommendations according to that scale, rather than just their personal preferences.

        On story poetry / painting, there appear to be a lot of these in the short story form, which was part of the frustration that lead to my post the other day on story questions and answers. Once in a while I do encounter one of these stories I do like, but they’re few and far between. At this point, my spidey sense kicks in after about 250-500 words into those stories and warns me to skip to the next story, sensing that if I read the full thing it would leave me frustrated.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ebert was the only film critic I ever really got into. As you say, he was very good at understanding what people in general liked (much more so than Gene Siskel who I always saw as more high-brow). At the same time, it was pretty clear what Ebert really thought about the film. He often used phrases like, “if you like that sort of thing” (clearly implying he didn’t and didn’t really think you should, either).

        What made Ebert so good in my eyes was how much effort he put into training his readers in the art of film appreciation and criticism. I learned a great deal from him about film, and that’s on top of having been a film major in college. There is also that I came to realize his taste in film and mine were very closely aligned, so I could trust his opinion about a film (although I tended to read his reviews after seeing the film).

        The funny thing is that Ebert considered himself a science fiction fan, but the one area we frequently didn’t see eye-to-eye? Science fiction films. XD

        On the other hand, Ebert’s raving about Dark City is what brought it to my attention, and he was right. One of the best SF films at the time and still one of the best of breed.

        Short stories do seem a venue for different, even experimental, storytelling. The comparison to poetry or painting (or songs) shows, I think, why. Those sorts of… what’s a good phrase… “single impression efforts” (not a great phrase, but perhaps it will serve) just don’t work in a longer narrative. You end up with Finnegans Wake or Gravity’s Rainbow — books almost no one reads unless they have to (or are driven to it somehow).

        But a painting, poem, song, or short story, can be almost anything. One of my biggest asks when it comes to art is: “Show me something new.” That may be, in part, why I’m more tolerant with regard to such works. (And as I mentioned with weird foods, there are some forms I actually really like. I consider 2001 one of my favorites because it’s a visual tone poem. Which, linking this back to Roger Ebert, is something he never seemed to understand. There is a narrative there, but good luck figuring out what the hell it is without reading the book!)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        There’s definitely a sentiment that you’re allowed to be more experimental with short stories. To some degree, I think that’s true. But it means that a lot of short stories are wretched, boring, or incoherent, if not all three.

        Actually, remembering something I read the other day from one of the SF magazine editors, I think editors have the same burden as movie critics. They look at so much stuff, their tastes are bound to be different than the typical reader. To be successful, they have to have a sense of what their customers will like.

        The editor I’m thinking about mentioned that they were looking for stuff they hadn’t seen before. Thing is, they’ve probably seen a lot. And a lot of what is the same ole thing for them is going to be new and novel for a lot of their readership. But maybe that’s why college interns are usually the ones working the sludge piles.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “But it means that a lot of short stories are wretched, boring, or incoherent, if not all three.”

        Speaking as a reader, that’s definitely a bummer. Speaking as an artist, that experimentation is a great and wonderful thing! It’s almost like scientific exploration of theories… “Welp, now we know that doesn’t work!”

        I’m sure you’re right about editors having broad experiential horizons. It may be reviewers and editors get into those fields because of a special love and interest that makes them a little exceptional from the gitgo.

        “The editor I’m thinking about mentioned that they were looking for stuff they hadn’t seen before.”

        Sure! A new interpretation is where really great art comes from. In some sense, the old saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” applies to all art — all of it is some sort of retread. The skill of an artist lies in finding just a bit of new spin to make the work interesting.

        Which I imagine creates a second conflict in addition to the one you mention regarding highly experienced reviewers versus less experienced public. Many people like retreads — they find them comforting!

        Hence all the remakes, sometimes of movies that aren’t even that old. (Also, why movie trailers tend to give away the plot of the movie. Studios have found that the general public doesn’t like too much surprise.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m actually starting to get pretty fatigued with all the remakes. As you’ve observed before, there’s a wealth of novels out there which haven’t been adapted yet. There’s probably some segments of the population who find them comforting (at least unless the remake changes it in a way they find distasteful). But I think a stronger factor is that producers see remakes as having a certain built-in audience, which comes with a perception of reduced risk.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Indeed. That might even be another way of saying the same thing… the reason for that built in audience is the comfort so many find from well-plowed ground. (Robert Frost even kinda points to this in one of my all-time favorite poems, The Road Not Taken.)

  • rung2diotimasladder

    “Brief Historical Smoking”…LOL! Agreed about “wankers”.

    Personally, I’m not terribly concerned about children watching violence so much as children watching junk. If the violence is justified (necessary for the story) I have no problem with it. Of course, there are limits to that when it comes to children.

    On Kant, I’ve always thought the categorical imperative was a glorified version of the golden rule. I think your example is more precise. The absurdity of everyone jumping off a bridge brings to the fore the logical aspect of the “universal law.” It also establishes morality outside of the empirical world of causality (in other words, we don’t look to examples in the world in establishing moral law). Bravo on pointing out Kant for kids.

    (But isn’t that photo Rousseau? I could’ve sworn Kant had a bigger head.) 🙂

    On the jumping off a bridge line, I used to reply, “Is there water below the bridge? What kind of bridge are we talking about? This could be fun.”

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I did a search by image, and you’re absolutely right! That’s Rousseau. You have a good eye! He must have turned up in a Google Image search for “Kant” and I just grabbed a portrait from those results. (I reused that image from a previous blog post (possibly used it more than once), and I was thinking I’d have to go back and find those other uses and correct them all… but then I thought I’d leave it as a metaphor for the imprecision of life. And, no, I’m sure that’s not a rationalization intended to get me out of doing that work.)

      The thing about violence being justified to the story… I agree but with some reservations. I recently watched Fury, a WWII movie about a tank crew. Lots of close up violent death, but that story can’t be told otherwise. The violence is historical and real. And there is no glorification of the violence, which I think is important.

      Contrast that with a completely made up story filled with violent action. There’s no necessity there other than the desire to create a violent story. Those are more problematic for me.

      The bottom line I really think has to do with how diverse your media input is and how much understanding you have about it (education, once again, proves to be a key factor). A real problem is the difference between books and movies — the latter is highly immersive and highly realistic. A written description is one thing; an accurate visual image is another.

      I’ve noticed how, if I shun TV and movies for a while (like weeks), watching them again affects my mood — it amps me up! I think we’re only beginning to understand how media affects us.

      Or we were… it’s funny how you don’t hear much about that anymore. Almost like we’ve given up and just decided to accept it. (People used to love public executions, throwing people to the lions, or a good stake burning… we’ve always been a pretty blood-thirsty species.)

      Categorical Imperative = Golden Rule. Yeah, I can see that. I’ve found Kant’s absolute approach leaves a lot to be desired in terms of navigating through the real world, but the C.I. does work very well in my experience for parsing individual specific actions as moral or non-moral. It’s conflicting actions that get a lot harder to work out.

      As for the bridge: LOL! You sound like the same sort of hugely annoying logical smart(-ass) child that I was. XD

      Speaking of jumping off bridges, I wonder if you wouldn’t love Craig Ferguson’s (yes, that Craig Ferguson) novel, Between the Bridge and the River. Best non-SF fiction I’ve read in a long, long time. The title comes from the (Catholic) idea that a suicide (by jumping off a bridge) might repent after jumping, ask for forgiveness, and be forgiven before hitting the river.

      The novel hooks you with one of the best opening lines I can recall: “Cloven hoofed creatures passed this way.” It then takes you on an extremely interesting and engaging ride that explores the moral life arcs of two individuals. One who starts low and ends high, while the other starts high and ends low.

      I’ve read it twice (or three times?) and will surely read it again.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I don’t blame you for not wanting to change the photos. Besides, who wants this on their blog post?:

        “I’ve noticed how, if I shun TV and movies for a while (like weeks), watching them again affects my mood — it amps me up! I think we’re only beginning to understand how media affects us.”

        I know what you mean. When I went through my “Arrow” phase, I found myself jumping off the couch and acting silly (much to my husband’s dismay, since I tended to use him as a target for my karate chops.)

        On violence, personally, I can’t take much of it. I don’t mind if most of it is off-camera or implied, but I really don’t like watching those realistic war movies, even when the violence isn’t gratuitous. If the story is terrific, I’ll just turn my head during those scenes.

        But then there’s the gratuitous violence. I’ve never understood the desire to see such things, but I guess it’s there and, as you point out, it’s been there for a long time.

        On Kant: yeah, the C.I. I find to be a lofty endeavor which I admire, but ultimately I don’t find much use in it.

        That novel’s title is terrific! I love that starting point…I’m already sucked in. I may have to check that out once I get back to doing things again.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The novel was a hell of an eye-opener regarding Ferguson who I’d seen as Drew’s clownish boss on The Drew Carey Show and as the clownish host of late night TV. The guy is highly intelligent and extremely perceptive. If you read his autobiography, American on Purpose, you begin to see why he has so much depth. Quite the life he’s had.

        You went through an Arrow phase? Did you like it at first and grow tired of it? I’ve only seen a few episodes. But you reminded me how, back in 1977, when I saw Star Wars the night it opened, I drove home totally playing TIE-fighter pilot (in my head) on the L.A. freeway! 😀

        In that Kant article (very interesting story!), is it the picture or the story you’re pointing towards? (I found myself empathizing with Maria von Herbert.)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I have a friend who’s a Star Wars freak and she’d be giving you a high five right now.

        LOL! I was referring to the Kant photo. I didn’t even read the article. Was it interesting? 🙂 I would’ve just sent you the photo, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that.

        The Arrow phase was back when I still did Zumba. I’d come home pumped up from that, then watch Arrow and get pumped all over again. I never got tired of it, but I think that had a lot to do with watching the protagonist do the workout scene at the beginning of each episode. HOT!

        To be honest, the show was kind of dumb, but I liked that it didn’t aspire to be more. The worst thing is when a show tries to be realistic, yet fails miserably. Like when all the bad guys shoot their guns and miss, but the good guys always hit. (In Arrow, this kind of thing is allowed, even expected.)

        Or conversely, I hate it when failures in fight scenes make no sense. For instance, in Game of Thrones, there’s an episode in which the men of the night’s watch defend the wall and everything they do is annoyingly stupid. Like when they somehow forget to drop a boulder on the giant’s head from the top of the wall (even though they do drop a boulder…on nothing). Then they open the gate to face him one on one instead of shooting arrows at him from a distance…somehow those arrows that were flying everywhere earlier magically disappear and no one thinks to use them at the most crucial moment. You should have heard me yelling at the TV. That was probably the most frustrating battle scene I’ve ever watched.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I have a friend who’s a Star Wars freak and she’d be giving you a high five right now.”

        Heh… she’d likely end up hating me once she knew what I actually thought about Star Wars. o_O

        “I was referring to the Kant photo. I didn’t even read the article. Was it interesting?”

        Kind of. It was about a woman whose lover commited suicide. She was distraught and seeking advice from Kant (whom she regarded highly). His reply was a little… cold. She replied saying, essentially, I get the theory, but it’s not helping. I want to die. Help me!

        He never replied. She ended up committing suicide.

        “I think [watching ‘Arrow’] had a lot to do with watching the protagonist…”

        Yo entiendo! I don’t watch Rizzoli & Isles faithfully because I think it’s a great cop show! XD

        “Like when all the bad guys shoot their guns and miss, but the good guys always hit.”

        Everyone knows that evil has really, really bad aim! XD

        Only when you have the might of right on your side is your aim true!

        “Or conversely, I hate it when failures in fight scenes make no sense.”

        Ah, yes. This is the general error of “necessity of script” rather than necessity of character or situation. I hate that, too. Drives me crazy when characters do stupid out-of-character things just because the script needs them to. Lazy writing.

        Part of it is that most viewers are even more lazy, so writers get away with crap like that. A lot of storytelling is becoming downright iconic, by which I mean stories throw around icons (the “nasty boss”, for e.g.) without providing any depth or character. It’s like watching a puppet show for kids sometimes.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        On Kant: That story is just so…Kantian. It reminds me of the Nazi example that everyone brings up to show how the Categorical Imperative fails. I wonder if I’d seek Kant’s advice on such matters. The theoretical has powerful effects on my psyche. If Kant could actually convince me he was right, I’d probably find it helpful. I could be wrong, but I think most of the time when people say they get something in theory, but then they behave as if they don’t believe it, they really don’t believe what they say they do. They just don’t know how to argue for their innermost convictions or are afraid of letting those convictions become known. But maybe I’m wrong.

        “Part of it is that most viewers are even more lazy, so writers get away with crap like that.”

        I’m afraid you may be right. There are a lot of shows and movies lately that edit in such a way that you can’t follow the plot. At first I thought I was just an idiot, but after talking to some people, I realized that I’m not the only one losing the plot. And the funny thing is, a lot of people don’t even care! They’re just bamboozled by the images.

        “A lot of storytelling is becoming downright iconic, by which I mean stories throw around icons (the “nasty boss”, for e.g.) without providing any depth or character. It’s like watching a puppet show for kids sometimes.”

        I know what you mean. I find this especially in romantic comedies. It’s not that I’m an unromantic person (although I am) but I can’t stand is when two people are thrown together and we’re told that they’re madly in love with each other, but nothing in their characters makes sense of that. That happens all too frequently outside of the romantic comedy genre too. It’s not that hard to show two people who are compatible and share common interests! Puppet show indeed.

        On the other hand, I don’t mind it when a story makes use of archetypes. That can be really cleverly done. But flat characters are never acceptable.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “The theoretical has powerful effects on my psyche.”

        I can relate to that!

        “…I think most of the time when people say they get something in theory, but then they behave as if they don’t believe it…”

        Ha! Good point! You’re right… people do seem to say “in theory” in a way that gives a sense of “I don’t believe a word of it!”

        The topic of innermost convictions is an interesting one. As you may know, in the USA, about 75% of people surveyed said they believed in the physical reality of angels. Many also believe in the reality of ghosts (my sister believes in both).

        Those people live in a world that says they’re wrong. It’s hard for me to imagine the cognitive dissonance or mental distancing required. As you say, the theoretical aspects of life have a strong impact on me.

        And then there are those who see scientists as politicians and believe science is as political and money-driven as politics. Many climate change deniers fall into that, as do the 9/11 conspiracy asshats.

        They talk about scientists adhering to “mainstream” policy without realizing that every scientist’s wet dream is discovering something new, especially something that proves old science wrong.

        Gah!! I live in a world of ignorant idiots, and I really, really hate it!

        “There are a lot of shows and movies lately that edit in such a way that you can’t follow the plot.”

        Ha, yes! Even the scripts are sometimes incoherent given any analysis at all. As you say, many don’t care. This was brought home to me a few years ago in an online discussion about movies where one young wag proclaimed that all he wanted was noise and action on the screen.

        Gah!! I live… (etc.)

        “I can’t stand is when two people are thrown together and we’re told that they’re madly in love with each other, but nothing in their characters makes sense of that.”

        Oh, my, yes! They’re madly in love… because the script says so. My Exhibit #1 there is Padmé and Anakin in those other movies. Talk about a relationship that not only had no chemistry, but actually seemed to have negative chemistry. Anakin was an unlovable dick!

        (Did I ever share with you comedian Brian Posehn’s dead-on-the-money take on those other movies? He said it was like waking up in the middle of the night to discover your beloved uncle has sneaked into your room and put his penis on your face. It really expresses the sense of violation those other movies created in us. My theory is no one had the guts to tell the Great George that he was creating utter crap.)

        “I don’t mind it when a story makes use of archetypes.”

        Oh, heavens, no! Archetypes are fine. As always, per the “nothing new under the sun” and “only seven basic plots” rules, the whole trick is finding a new way — or at least an interesting way — of spinning the same old stuff.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I wasted all my energy replying to you on the Plato/math issue chez Mike…pffffrrrtt….

        But no, you never shared with me Brian’s take. I definitely wouldn’t want my uncle’s penis in my face, though! 🙂

        On the ghosts and angels, I hope those people live in a world that says they’re wrong, but sometimes you talk to these people and they swear up and down that they experience ghosts and angels. At that point there’s not much you can say except, “You wanna give me some of whatever you’re on?”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yes, a long and very good reply, I thought. Brava! (And thanks for stepping up to the plate!)

        My sister is convinced she’s seen my mother’s ghost. As you say, there’s nothing you can say (and it’s not like there’s actual tangible proof she’s wrong, but the odds… [shrug]). You just can’t get past what people “know” (and it’s one reason I elevate reason so much over experience and “heart” — reason is a lot harder to fool).

  • ~ Sadie ~

    I so agree, WS – the de-sensitivity of our culture is frightening. Kids five years old have been exposed to more sex and violence than I had been at the age of 16. But for some reason, I don’t think that’s all there is to it . . .there’s a lack of empathy & compassion, a sense of humanity that seems to be vanishing from our culture. Great piece, by the way 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks! I very much agree our culture has changed: better technology, worse behavior. People often protest that “it was ever thus — people haven’t changed” and they’re right. People are the same as they’ve been for many thousands of years, but the world — society and culture — has obviously changed considerably (it’s a lot more crowded, for one thing).

      One thing I notice in younger people is that their conceptual vocabulary (as well as their actual vocabulary — there may be a connection there) seems like a nearly empty cupboard to me. A few chipped cups and cheap dishes. And I seem to be seeing signs of declining senses of excellence and precision in this “it’s all good” world.

  • Steve Morris

    So my take on the violence/action thing is that boys (and men) enjoy action. They like the feeling of doing something to fix a problem. In movies this generally boils down to some hero taking physical action to prevent a bad guy doing harm.

    So the first thing to note is that a moral imperative drives the narrative.

    Second, the result of the violence is less important to most viewers than the action. Hence cartoon-like violence. Hence little boys playing guns. They are becoming heroes.

    The real-world outcome of violence (blood, gore, human suffering) is a moral grey area, difficult for children and immature men to relate to, but which is perhaps the aspect that thinking adults such as yourself focus on.

    I would say that the act of violence and its outcome are two separate things. I fully understand that separating actions from their consequences is immature thinking, but that’s my point. Kids and teenagers don’t/can’t make the connection, unless they’re particularly mature. It’s something they hopefully grow into. Some people never do. You see them on the Jerry Springer Show.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think we’re largely on the same page here. I do agree action tends to be more in the male purview, but it’s by no means exclusive. I know quite a few action-oriented women. (In fact, I know some rather violent and blood-thirsty women!)

      “So the first thing to note is that a moral imperative drives the narrative.”

      But often becomes an excuse for gratuitous violence. There has been an ethic in modern storytelling that it’s okay for the good guys to torture the bad guys to get vital information. But those involved in the real world aspects of that understand that it only really works in scripts.

      So there is a moral imperative acting as an excuse for a blood-thirsty story. Worse, it leads people to believe torture works. It lead, in fact, my frequently idiotic country to, not just support but, practice the idea.

      “Hence little boys playing guns. They are becoming heroes.”

      But which is first, chicken or egg? Is the testosterone that fuels these things in the first place, or that these things create role model images? (Both, most likely.) I’ve heard parents speak of how, despite their best efforts to steer them differently, their little boys and girls act like… well, little boys and girls.

      Per Maslow, death is one of the three top ideas that concern us (it never ceases to astonish me that sex didn’t make the top three). I suspect the way violence enthralls us is linked to our fascination with, and curiosity about, death. Public executions attracted large (mixed gender) crowds.

      “The real-world outcome of violence (blood, gore, human suffering) is a moral grey area, difficult for children and immature men to relate to,…”

      Is that, perhaps, because we shield them from those realities? I suspect that children and young adults who live in more violent contexts (say war-torn countries or primitive societies) have a more urgent and real grasp of the realities.

      You can certainly see how children raised amid cartoon pretend violence would be disconnected from its consequences.

      “Kids and teenagers don’t/can’t make the connection, unless they’re particularly mature.”

      Or are educated about by life or teachers. Which is exactly why I so highly value education.

      You’re pointing towards what is a dual problem here, maybe. On the one hand we disconnect from the realities of violence in ways that do separate action from consequence. But on the other hand, we steep ourselves in that pretend violence so much we come to see it as viable.

      Probably not a good combination.

      • Steve Morris

        I think it’s important to keep the distinction between action and violence. For a boy, playing at being a soldier isn’t different to playing an astronaut or a fireman or a racing car driver. For small boys, soldiers seem to live exciting lives. I don’t think that inflicting harm on others is the attraction.

        The torture angle is just one more example of lazy script-writing it seems. Moral ambiguity isn’t a topic that Hollywood handles well.

        Disconnecting from the effects of violence is certainly a problem in adults. I have no idea how to solve that.

        I am by no means an expert on this, but I gather that children raised in violent situations (either domestic violence or war zones) often become violent adults. So I doubt that exposing them to the consequences of violence makes them better able to handle it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “For a boy, playing at being a soldier isn’t different to playing an astronaut or a fireman or a racing car driver.”

        Indeed, but I’m not sure that’s the whole story. One involves guns, one involves space, one involves fire, and one involves fast cars. For kids who are drawn to those things, the tools or domains involved are often part of the equation.

        (Again… not just boys. I dated a gal whose life-long dream was to be a race car driver.)

        As a kid, I didn’t have a great interest in fire or guns (parental influence, no doubt), so never played fireman (that I can recall) and rarely soldier (usually only when playing with others who insisted on that kind of game).

        I was a science (and science fiction) nut from the beginning, so my play tended to involve those areas.

        “The torture angle is just one more example of lazy script-writing it seems.”

        To some extent, but it also involves a point of view. A belief that torture works. If you had no such belief, you’d not likely include it in your story (other than as a fail).

        “Moral ambiguity isn’t a topic that Hollywood handles well.”

        Not mainstream Hollywood, not usually, no. But once you get off the popular highway of mindless empty crap (which is actually all some people want), you find artists exploring that territory in great detail. (I’ve written about some of those kinds of movies here. I love those kinds of movies!)

        And this really is a big part of the problem to my eyes. The entertainment people pick. Our ancient love of public executions obtains to this day. We love conflict and blood and death. We love excitement and thrills. Sometimes we even love being terrified (in a safe and controlled way).

        Which is all fine. I love those things, too. I love McDonald’s french fries as well, but I’m not going to eat them all the time. That would be… stupid. And bad for me.

        But the overall public has shown over and over again: Gimme more fries!!

        “I am by no means an expert on this, but I gather that children raised in violent situations (either domestic violence or war zones) often become violent adults.”

        I can’t speak to “often” but, for example, there is a clearly established line between children of abusive parents and those children growning up to be abusive.

        It works the other way, too. In general, it seems we often grow up either following in, or explicitly rejecting, what we learned from our parents.

        The key is education and experience. Growing up seeing the consequences of violence, and understanding what’s going on, is what leads to a horror of it. To an extent, that education can be nothing more than experience in other things, other values.

        A complete life experience leads to perspective. This is why I’m such a big propoant of a Liberal Arts education and why I often refer to the screwed up state of the world as, in part, due to the “Death of a Liberal Arts Education” (something I’ve been complaining about for 40 years, now).

        I live in a world in which far too many people seem to have incredibly restricted experience (to the point of abysmal ignorance) combined with an inability to think clearly or critically.

        Drives. Me. Crazy. 😡

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