Thursday, March 22, 2007

300 Versus TV: What kind of violence is it OK to glorify?

For the hubby's birthday, I bought a three month digital cable deal for him so he could get crazy with March Madness. It's been a Mad March and well worth the obscene price the cable companies charge to flip a switch in the ether somewhere. What a racket. But I digress.

So we've spent the last month getting reacquainted with pop culture. I've become a big fan of Melinda and Blake on American Idol. The kids have enjoyed the Little Einsteins show on Disney. And of course, there is ESPN and basketball--like a new drug for an old addict. But there is a nasty side of TV, too and it seems to me it just gets nastier and nastier. Just last night, while flipping through the channels, this is what I saw:

  • A serial arsonist who got off on watching people burn alive, and the burning was shown in graphic detail--three different times
  • A Joseph Mengele like Jewish identical twin serial killer who branded his victims and carried out experiments on them who then gets caught by a victim's mother who is stopped before she bull-whips him to death while tied to the front of his car
  • A mother and father who held their daughter down and stabbed her to death for dating a boy
  • A daughter who stabbed her mother to death for not believing her, "You never listen to me!"
  • A foreign bride agency who killed a bride who "didn't work out" and whose bones were buried in some weird Chinese ritual (this was the least weird story believe it or not)
  • A father who killed his daughter's high school friend with whom he was having an affair and gets found out when his daughter takes the police to the crime scene after admitting taking the dead body and burying it in a cemetery because she didn't want to be found out for prostituting herself for money and booze.
The shows were various crime shows: CSI, CSI Miami, Law & Order: SVU, and a host of copy-cat shows. All of them had inane dialogue, attention to minute details that were graphic and explicit in their crime scene depictions. They were gruesome. All the shows displayed this forensic-science-is-magic quality where the criminals get nabbed by the tiniest of details; the magic clue that gives them away.

Humans possess a morbid fascination with the psychological pathology that drives abusive murderous actions. Just yesterday Drudge had a story about a sadistic English woman who tortured (and not in the supposed Gitmo flush-the-Koran-down-the-toilet context--real, horrendous, malicious nastiness) her three foster children. Evidently, she didn't think they'd grow up and tell anyone of her vile behavior. She fits the picture of evil--central casting couldn't have done better. She is real. And disturbing. And well, terrifying. She makes everyone wonder: who else seems normal but is psycho behind the veneer? It's one thing to marvel at, it's another thing to indulge in the sick voyeurism over and over. It's bound to change a person and not for the better.

While the TV shows leave no doubt about who the villain is, the overall message of these shows glorifies not only the heroes but the criminals, too. And that is my problem. These shows enable the criminals. Bad guys watch these shows and figure out ways around the system, but more than that get educated in weird, bizarre and awful ways to hurt, maim and murder their fellow man. And I just can't bear to think of a child watching these shows, yet you and I both know that they do. With bedtimes of 11 o'clock (you wouldn't believe how many kids around here stay up that late on school nights, no less) and TVs and computers in their bedrooms, kids can switch between violence and porn depending on their morbid fascination.

Being away from TV for years increases my sensitivity to the images and ideas, I guess. I've never had much of a stomach for gratuitous violence. In college, twenty years ago, I dragged my husband-to-be out of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Lionheart, I think the name was, and the first scene was some guy getting set on fire. That was Rated "R" then, I think. And now similar images are on TV all the time? How does Hollywood get away with this garbage?

There is no question in my mind that shows like this, aggressive violent music, and all the other garbage filling the airways hardens the culture. In fact, I find the critics outrage at 300 humorous after spending some time watching the bilge that passes for adult TV entertainment. Critics worry that a fantastical period piece glorifies violence and a war culture. Are they kidding? What is glorified day in, day out and comes into American's homes (at least with an R rated movie a kid has to convince a parent to take them to it) makes 300 seem like a cartoon--which it kind of is. Meanwhile, these crime shows glorify the sick, the twisted, the lurking beast in men (and women). The ubiquity of these messages make it seem like America is filled to the brim with psychopathic killers--held barely at bay with cutting edge technology and gritty crime fighters.

But wait, that's just the message Hollywood wants to send. America portrayed as an immoral cess-pool, the stink reeking underneath the shiny veneer of civilization. Given the wrong upbringing, the wrong trigger, the wrong situation, Americans are all brutish beasts--just like the so-called "terrorists".

So long as America is portrayed like a big bunch of freaks (see Little Miss Sunshine here and here), the critics are fine. Don't make America look like self-sacrificing, willing-to-die-for-a-big-idea bunch of strong-spined winners, though. That would be gratuitous violence and distorting the truth.


Chalmers said...

Amen sister. Funny thing is, you are only getting half of the story. I should bring down my Xbox this week end and we can go by the Blockbuster and rent a couple of the most popular games... Then you can be in the driver's seat (literally) of your own violent mayhem.

Anonymous said...

The difference is that 300 is Mythical Heroic Violence, NOT arch-the-eyebrow-and-make-suitably-ironic-quip Nihilism ultraviolence.

Islam has a heroic mythology and Mythical Heroes, from Mohammed to every suicide bomber.

What Mythic Heroes do we have these days? Besides Anna Nicole? Brittney Spears? PARIS HILTON?