Saturday, March 06, 2004

Violence: Good / Sex: Bad

At least that's the case Jonah Goldberg tries to make on the National Review's blog the Corner:
One major difference between movie violence and movie sex is that sex is usually employed to demean traditional notions of morality while movie violence is more often used to re-enforce it.
Is this a startling insight into some sort of muddled thinking of the far right? Goldberg makes no attempt to verify this nonsense. Where are any examples of this preponderance of films proving the notion that movie violence in movies "more often" reinforces "traditional notions of morality"?

I'd argue that violence is seldom used to reinforce any sort of morality in the movies. Most of the time it's used in a sensationalist fashion simply to shock and titillate.

Think of any ten movies out at a given time. How many of those show violence to reinforce traditional values? We have a superprofundity of movies like the Scream franchise, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, Kill Bill I and II, Bad Boys II or one-offs like Cabin Fever or even the silly Club Dread--films within which violence occurs purely to titillate. Now, you can argue that there's a place for the movies in our culture, but you simply can't argue that they reinforce any sort of moral values--unless you moral values revolve around senseless slaughter intended to shock people out of their narcotized existences. Those may be extreme examples, so consider even more mainstream movies with perhaps less violence: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Indiana Jones movies (Just because Indy's fighting Nazis doesn't mean Spielberg set out to reinforce traditional notions of morality. He clearly set out to entertain. Period.) Fun stuff, right? Then there’s patently silly tripe like Gothika and Twisted. None of these make any pretence of reinforcing traditional morals.

Is Goldberg thinking of movies like Monster, Cold Mountain or The Passion of the Christ? I can't guess what's in his head, so let's use those three as examples, since the directors likely intended for the violence to make a point, instead of simply titillating. Monster is a relatively sympathetic portrayal of a serial killer that, though humanistic, would likely disturb many with conservative, traditional values (and likely wouldn't have had much of an audience in the United States a few decades ago). Many Christians might argue that The Passion of the Christ is a farrago of despicably sensational violence. Perhaps most folks would agree that the violence in Cold Mountain, though intense, befits a realistic portrayal of the Civil war and its attendant horrors: let's not white wash history. So, arguably, most folks might agree that one movie out of those three uses violence effectively. In the case of the other two movies, people with traditional versus progressive backgrounds may the violence disturbing and unjustified, depending on which movie they watch. For the sake of argument, though, let's pretend all three of these movies use violence to support someone’s idea of good morals (traditional or not): Films like these are in the distinct minority. Goldberg's case for violence is indefensible.

Perhaps Goldberg’s argument is better explained as an attempt to justify his own personal proclivities. Earlier the same day, Goldberg also used the blog's space to highlight this rather disturbing video game--you're a yeti and you get to club penguins to death.

Goldberg's comment: "Not pretty, but fun."

Perhaps, Jonah, the violence in movies isn't reflecting anyone's traditional morals; perhaps you just have an unfortunate fascination with it.

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