A month ago a parent of a preteen asked me if The Dark Knight is excessively violent. I emphatically responded, “not at all”. I rewatched the movie a few days later, a movie I’ve watched many times I was near dumbfounded by how violent the first 10 minutes were- the gun violence, the criminal activity, the language, the betrayal… I have pretty much accepted how desensitised I to violence I had become but I didn’t realise it no longer registered. I thought I was of the “oh that’s not scary, I’m not jumping out of my seat, or covering my eyes” garden variety instead that garden variet had a side effect, instead of being unimpressed by the violence, I just no longer think of it as violent. Looking at it with the eyes of a parent made me much more sensitive to the level and amount of violence throughout the movie.*
I struggle with violence. It’s not that I’m inclined to violence… at least I don’t think so. I had the compulsory and thankfully short-lived physical altercations with you my younger sister
until she got taller and stronger than I was. In primary school, I may or may not have had instigated a few tussles with boys in my class that got them into more trouble, since I ran in tears to teachers. Following pre-adolescence, I cringe in real life when I see people get violent, but I almost crave it in my entertainment. Sports, or soap-opera esque sports do not count, those are presented as real. I mean for the cinema experience I tend to enjoy violence. I can’t handle the romantic comedies, or anything too real which leaves out drama, so give me the action and I’ll take it in most forms- straight up, with comedy, thriller or maybe even some suspense.
But this is a problem. Why? B/c clearly I am allowing myself to be co-opted by the glorification of violence in media that makes us less likely to notice, be affected by, and respond to violence that we experience. witness, participate in and practice in our every day lives.
One of the few Independence celebrations I attended in Trinidad, was the Military Tattoo Exhibition. This may have been my first mistake, but was baffled me was how many children there were. It was clearly a family, and child friendly event. The marching displays, the bands… those were fine. However, the tactical displays- the reenactment of the “jokey bad boys” in the hills or on the block who had to be “dealt with”. Who were advanced upon with such care and precision. The dramatic portrayal of the “jokey badman” being tear gassed, shot, hurt and killed was met with delightful screams by the thousands of children present. This is a problem.
As far as I am concerned it’s not enough that the “good” guys won. We know enough about police corruption, policing of the poor and working class worldwide to know that often it is never quite as clear cut as the good and bad. But far more troubling than that is the fact that those same screams of delight come when adolescents watch movies where the “bad guys” win and outsmart whatever the law enforcement may be. We may think we’re glorifying law and order, but in fact the true focus, the true glow is around the violence and winning, regardless of what side you’re on… and I’d argue, what methods you use.
Whether our boys and girls look at officers jumping out of helicopters and think, “that bad!”, or they play Call of Duty and boast about their body count or beg their parents, older siblings and cousins to carry them to a movie they should be seeing, or stay up past everyone in the house to watch it even though they are not supposed to, imitate mobster characters they see on tv, or real-life dons they see on the block they are becoming more and more desensitised to the violence every day.
We/they are more likely to:
- look at a song like this and say it’s just a song as opposed to recognise the violence both implicit and explicit in it
- not be alarmed when we see a man assaulting a woman on the street**, or we might be taken back but never think to call the police
- ignore our neighbour excessively beating their children on a continuous basis, b/c that’s private business
- hear about police violence in our region and turn the dial without a second thought
- watch the wreckage and debris in other parts of the world as the results of violence and dismiss it as life in “those parts”
- be quiet.
I am not advocating censorship, I’m not saying ban the music, ban the video games, ban the movies etc. I am however advocating critical engagement. We need to encourage ourselves and our children not just to recognise that it’s make beleive, but were it to be believed, it would have real effects on people’s lives. We need to talk about the fact that it is violent, what the messages are behind the violence, why we think they are so, and why we are so complicit with them. These are not easy conversations that I propose but they are certainly necessary and continuous ones. We can no longer afford to see violence and dismiss it so quickly.
Shout out to all the people taking action out there:
* Reason #452 not to have children: Too much hard work
** Please don’t tell me they were fighting, he was hitting, she was cowering.