Friday, August 29, 2008

Violence in the Media: What Should Our Response Be?

Hey friends,
I just realized, it's been quite a while since my last post. Summer sure left in a hurry! Over the last month or so I've had the privilege of going on a surf trip with some friends, attending the Clash with Mikey, and starting a new life as a community college student. At times it's been hectic and busy. But seeing as I have the whole Labor Day weekend ahead of me I thought I'd sit down and write a post about something that's been on my heart for quite a while: the issue of violence in the American media.
God first brought the issue to my thoughts through a series of talks I had with my father about movies. My views on acceptable and unacceptable entertainment differ with his in some areas, and violence is one of them. I'm perfectly alright with watching a movie that contains graphic violence...if it has a worthwhile message. The violence in movies like "Saving Private Ryan" and "We Were Soldiers" doesn't bother me if I consider the lessons that can be learned from viewing these types of films. My dad pointed out that the Lord hates the one who loves violence....and the fact that it's simulated bloodshed makes no difference to him. He cited Psalm 11:5: "The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence."
At the time I didn't really heed his words, but while at the Clash, the Lord brought the issue to my attention yet again....this time in a rather unexpected way. I was listening to my friend's iPod, and he recommended trying the song "Vicarious" by the prog-metal band Tool. He told me it was a convicting and rather frightening song. I gave it a try. I'll reprint the lyrics for you here. Read carefully, as the words are written in a kind of odd style.


Eye on the TV
Cause tragedy thrills me
Whatever flavor
It happens to be

"Killed by the husband"
"Drowned by the ocean"
"Shot by his own son"
"She used a poison in his tea
and kissed him goodbye"
That's my kind of story.
It's no fun 'til someone dies

Don't look at me like
I am a monster
Frown out your one face
But with the other
Stare like a junkie
Into the TV
Stare like a zombie
While the mother holds her child,
Watches him die

Pleas to the sky crying,
"Why, oh why?!"

Cause I need to watch things die
From a distance
Vicariously, I
Live while the whole world dies
You all need it too - don't lie.

Why can't we just admit it?
Why can't we just admit,
We won't give pause until the blood is flowin'
Neither the brave nor bold
Will write us a story. So,
We won't give pause until the blood is flowin'

I need to watch things die
From a good safe distance
Vicariously, I
Live while the whole world dies
You all feel the same so
Why can't we

Just admit it

Blood like rain, come down
Drum on grave and ground

Part vampire
Part warrior
Carnivore and voyeur
Still have the transmittal
Synch to the death rattle...

La, la, la, la, la, la,la-lie (x4)

Credulous at best your desire to believe in
Angels in the hearts of men
Pull your head on out
You Hippies and give a listen
Shouldn't have to say it all again

The universe is hostile
So impersonal
Devour to survive
So it is, so it's always been ...

We all feed on tragedy
It's like blood to a vampire

Vicariously, I
Live while the whole world dies
Much better you than I.

It's convicting, isn't it? Viciously sarcastic, the song showed me some of my true fascination with violence. And I felt compelled to rethink some of my presuppositions on the issue.
I'm still undecided, and I thought I'd ask your input. What place does violence hold in our media? Is it an effective deterrent to real-life bloodshed, or does it glamorize it? Does graphic violence in entertainment desensitize us to the sufferings of our fellow man? Does a so-called "anti-violence" message justify the use of violence to pound the message through (as exemplified in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers)? More importantly, does simulated bloodshed actually cause violence? Is the day coming when real, visceral bloodshed will take the place of reality TV, sending us back to the days of the gladiators in Rome? And is it hypocritical to take an anti-violence stance in the world today but enjoy movies that contain depictions of it? Please let me know your thoughts!

God Bless,


Grace Caroline said...

hmmm... I mean watching things that I know are true I don't prefer to watch, but when it's all for the effect I'm kinda undecided too. like Saving Private Ryan I didn't finish 1st b/c my parents didn't think I should see it and 2nd b/c Seeing people die breaks my heart.
And ya... the media does glamorize it and make it seem not so bad that someone is killed by a gun... I mean think of whos effected by that?! the family...

John Murphy said...

1. Yes, it is hypocritical to be anti-violence and enjoy movies that depict violence.

2. I will go back to a chapel speaker I had in 8th grade and a discussion we had of rock music. His basic theme was that the music was a medium for the message. So it was not so important what the music was (rock, blues, metal, etc.) it was the message that was important. Always ask yourself, "what's the message here" when analyzing art, movies, etc. etc.

3. It is one thing to view violence (or read about it for that matter), it is another thing to love it (to my way of thinking). I frankly came away from Saving Private Ryan (with a gut ache for one thing) and an indelible impression that war was literally the closest thing to hell on the face of this earth and should only be used as the last and only hope. In that instance, I think SPR was good.

I will get to No Country For Old Men, but I have to sign off because my computer is running out of battery power.

John Murphy said...

Okay, back to my comments. I would distinguish between violence for it's own sake (like the Roman gladiators and Natural Born Killers - both of which I deplore) and violence which is making a social statement as I believe Cormac McCarthy was in "No Country For Old Men." The movie was particularly violent and bloody, but then we live in a violent and bloody age - thus the title, NCFOM, to my way of thinking. I believe that kind of violence is for the individual follower of Christ to decide where they stand.

A life awash in violence certainly does desensitize one to concern for the human soul, but then our entire culture of death (abortion, infanticide) does the same thing. I think we are stuck in a culture of violence whether we want to be there or not (one of the themes of NCFOM, and I would argue, one of the reasons it's valuable for SOME - but not all - Christ-followers to assimilate and analyze).

Just my opinion.