Τρίτη, 30 Νοεμβρίου 2010

9. THE USES OF VIOLENCE by Titos Christodoulou

Violence is endemic in the film industry and on TV – but its uses are inherently political

by Titos Christodoulou 


Henry Fonda acting as a desperado pistolero. He has just intercepted and is robbing a train, somewhere in the wide plains of the Far West. In front of him stands an innocent farmer, trembling with fear. He is wearing braces, to hold his worn out trousers over a torn white shirt. “Do not kill me, please do not kill me”, pleads the shaking farmer. “I have six kids to feed, I have nothing to make it worthwhile for you to kill me!” Fonda appears to have softened on the poor farmer’s pleading. He turns, as if to leave, and then, with an air of disnissiveness, and with no further ado, he shoots the hapless farmer with three (or was it more) bullets. He then blows the smoke off the smoking gun and explains, nonchalantly: “I do not trust men who do not trust their trousers”.

The entire cinema theatre erupts in loud laughter. An innocent, unarmed, helpless man, a father of six was just killed. Just for the fun of it. Six children were left orphans, lamenting a murdered father, probably facing now a future in poverty, abuse and starvation. Just for the fun of it. And the cinema audience thoroughly enjoys and shares in this fun, arising from an utterly gratuitous, but so ‘hilarious’ a murder, a vacuus crime serving the entertainment goals of a typical western film. All for the fun of it.

Violence, of course, is a legitimate dramatic and artistic tool, both in film and in the theatre, particularly as it serves the dramatic aim of portraying its tragic consequences and how, those affected by them, cope with its guesome reality. Greek drama is soaked in violence and blood as a call to engage in a highly informed process of self examination, to cast a deep look beyond the abyss, in the darkers recesses of the human soul. It is a highly didactic process, inviting us to fathom who are we and how precarious our existence is, always at the brink of the abyss and the precipice of the tragic fall, to come to terms with how (moral) risk inheres in the very fabric of our self and existence. The Iliad, the Odyssey, the Oresteia, the Theban plays or the bacchae, as well as subsequent high drama on stage and in literature, like the Divina Comedia or the Shakespearean drama, have served mankind by showing ourselves to ouselves – in all our wretchedness and, at the same time, moral magnificence. Like Medusa in the mirror, we may be petrified in seeing the reflection of our ugliest selves and, yet, we are helped to to delve deeper in our moral make-up and the causes of our Fall, at the very peak of our presumed glory.

But there was no real drama here. Only fun. The audience was not allowed any time or given any theatrical platform to contemplate the tragic aftermath or the rupture in our value system that this cold blood murder represented. The gruesome act of gratuitous violence was shown as momentary incident, sanitised from the lasting evil it has caused. The audience was invited to savour in the murderous ac utterly protected from ita moral and philosophical toll and toil.

This should come as no surprise to us. Our entire modern culture is based on ignoring the consequences of our actions and way of life, whether it is the upshot of the environmental desrruction, of smoking and drinking, the alarming rate of divources, neglecting the elders or the swelling numbers of the poor and hungry in the thirld world or nearer to us, of consuming ad infinitum in a finite olanet. And of our ;smart’ bombs, expediently dropped from a ‘safe’ height, thus safeguarding and sanitising the pilot and the eager spectators, on the TV screens later, from any disconcerting glimpse of the lasting evil the bomb has ‘smartly’ caused, the blooded and devastating effects on the ground. With the cold innocence of a computerr game, a morally indifferent camera only depicts the target as a ‘pin-point’ surgical strike. Surgical strikes, surgically cleaned and sanitised. Enjoy the srike, ignore the stricken! Now, in for some more points on our “computer” game!

Thus, it is not the depiction of violence that is dangerous, either in film or on our TV sets, replenished as they are with violence. It is not the alleged fact that watching violence incites violence that should draw our reflective attention. In ancient drama the pity and fear arising from narratives of violence and blood were inended to foster man’s emancipation from an inescapable fate that shreds the realm of reason to throw the fallen man into the jaws of impending doom, the looming horrid chaos. The spectacle of violence can be portrayed instructively, if moral significance is what is sought by its depiction, if this is what is expected to be gained from such horride narratives of violence. And here, as elsewhere, in our increasingly monopolised world of the spectacle, it is who is telling the story and for what purpose that we should focus on.

Do not search for the emancipating, cathartic effect of the pit or fear on our TV sets or the bloc-buster wide screen and the awe of the tetraphonics. Fear, yes. But it is debilitating, not emancipating fear. It is fear leading to passivity, insecurity and vulnearability, not fear delivering us from the irrational by inviting us to self-control and the rational crafting of a common and, at the same time, individual future, in the free exercise of virtuously deliberating citizenry. Nothing here of the empowering thrust of the democrating teaching that the ancient drama was, enlightening man on the shared foundational values of the ‘polis’ and the ‘dike’ emerging from the pre-political times of blood and (divine or human) vengeance. Our TV screes throw us back into a world that induces fear, that makes us feel incapable of protecting ourselves, through common action and through our political organising against the vicissitudes of outrageous forture. Here comes back to devour us a world we are increasingly alienated from, either as authors of our individual and common destiny or as rational evaluators of the ends and purposes we are daily called upon to serve.

It may well be that the sponsors of TV programmes do not want to associate their advertised products with horrific images that TV screens are often almost prone to broadcast in a competitive search, as it were, for the impressionable and, sickly, alluring. Or, to the contrary, they may seek that bigger slice of the audience pie that blood and awe delivers. Protective ‘bars’ like the symbolic nine-o’clock threshold may be erected by the regulators, ofen only to add the prohibitive labelling value to the violent film. For, it may also be that political expedience of the hegemonic ‘willed’ coersion requires that we experience the awsome – almost godly – effectiveness of their legitimated force, at its most extreme, the outmost effectiveness of their advanced weaponry while not inbibing at the same time the nauseating depravity of their inherent savagery. Thus, the explosion casts its threatening meaning in a transient and momentary impression, a flash of its sight and sound, while de-coupled from the persistent images of blood and the scars of the dead and the maimed. Impressions that cumulate in distinct and clear ideas, as the empricists would say.

In Greek drama, the stories told about the world help us from the deepest horrors of the world we live in. They help us come to rational terms with it, precisely by saving our moral worth in the face of the dark forces of risk and inevitability. Yet, if the telling of the stories is controlled by powers pursuing some uncontrollable and unchecked purposes, our concept of the world is also controlled. So is, at the same time, our potential to act on it, to make a difference, to effect a change, to bring it closer to or moral needs, to humanise it.

Thu upshot of all this violence on our TV is then to immobilise our political initiative and moral resolve into passivity. Our fear and alarm is deflected into helpless dependence and subservience to our political ‘saviours’, be it the warriors against terrorism and rogue states or a government of law and order that legitimates iself by trading its impotence to offer security in a globalised, deregulated world for the pretence of an anxious care for our safety. There goes the feeling of security emanating from an agreed political agenda catering for rhe risks of life in the present and the future, safeguarding some reasonably stable expectations in job security, health care, dignified pension. Here comes the ‘protection’ procured by legions of policemen, ‘registers’ protecting us and our children from insistently advertised’ dangers from all sorts of social deviance. Ubiquitous are now the surveillance cameras, constantly cruising police cars, even traffic wardens, safeguarding our ‘safe journey’ if not through life, at least on the road. A well policed road.

The real danger from all this violence infesting our TV and cinema is not the incitement of violence. It is rather the inducement of passivity, withdrawal and an overwhelming feeling of unspecified fear. And all this packaged as entertainment. We are titillated into submission.

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