Concern & Hysteria: Where's the line?

I have had a number of conversations recently about violence in films, and the more respectfully rational conversations have brought up a particular stream of thought in my mind. It seems that violence in film, theatre, the arts in general, can be required. I mean to say that storylines, points within a plot, or even just an honest portrayal of history, can result in necessary artistic violence. To imagine, say a film about the Holocaust, without any death, destruction, gas chambers, would result in basically a strange history of slightly grumpy people with harsh opinions and some others just disappearing as if by magic. The truth is often more awful, horrific and violent than we can (or want to) imagine, especially when looking at particular political regimes or events.

This does not mean that I think everyone should watch or enjoy violence in films. This is where it becomes tricky: I have a concern that high intensity violence is not something those beneath a certain age should be watching. I also have a strong belief in freedom of expression, particularly in the Arts. This belief is often pushed and pulled a lot especially when artists decide to get someone to shoot them and call it art; they may be free to do so but that doesn’t mean I’ll respect it, I very much see it as stupid and pointless.

When a friend of mine wrote about violence in horror films specifically (go read – he’s a great writer!) there was one point I wanted to question. He had mentioned that the “won’t somebody think of the children!” cry had been said about the Beatles and so was often more hysteria than any actual knowledge or understanding of the films. My issue with this was the desensitization of violence in films has broadly increased, we have become more tolerant to violence and possibly even enticed by it (a huge number of views searched out the YouTube video of Saddam Hussein’s death, for example). If we have become more tolerant of something that probably means that it’s more violent than we would have expected for the rating.

When I saw Woman in Black, although I enjoyed it, I strongly questioned the rating. It was a 12, which meant two young boys were allowed to see it without question and entered shortly after Bear and myself. They did not seem like they quite coped by the end (I’m pretty sure Bear barely coped!) and yet by having a 12 rating their parents probably thought it would be fine for them.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

I remember watching Sleepy Hollows as a child before I was meant to. It’s rating was 15 in 1999 on release and now I’m not even sure it would get a 12. I was scared, but now it would probably make me giggle. The most violence in it is a little bit of blood and a fake-looking head rolling about the floor. In comparison Woman in Black was traumatic. This desensitization is something that needs some attention, particularly when it comes to children, but it’s a very fine line to walk.

Angry mobs protesting and banning certain films/art without having watched or seen it, only for the protection of children, is mere hysteria and often ignorant at that. Concern is different and should be listened to. I think the difference is honest analysis (as Page Boy points out and often does himself well).

For example, when studying in St Andrews a production of Jerry Springer: The Musical was put on. There were death threats sent to actors, musicians and the crew, there was a constant stream of abuse from all sides, there was often a number of “christian” people protesting outside and giving out tracts. I am a Christian and I did not like any of this (and for clarity, by this I mean the actions of the “christians” and abuse given) and I went to see it. I’ve got to admit I did not enjoy it despite the fantastic skill of all involved. I just wasn’t that bothered about any of it, and to be fair a few moments were horrific in the baby-being-abused way. I think I voiced some concern about art using the shock factor to make money, and the abuse but otherwise I’m pretty sure that not one Christian would walk out of that show having lost their faith, and if it was blaspheming I’ve seen worse (in fact if I include the protesters outside – I’ve definitely seen worse!).

The difference also came to light in a conversation about a year ago with a friend who had decided to give up playing violent video games. Despite debating with me over them 6 months before, he had come to the conclusion that actually he felt himself becoming more corrupted by them, so had personally decided not to anymore. I think he also stopped going to films which glorified violence as the right/honorable/good answer to problems. He felt like his weakness was not being helped by what media he was feeding himself.

I wouldn’t ban all violent films, games, art, ever. I don’t think that helps and I’m not willing to censor people. I would however question the motives of the artists and creators, as well as those watching. As violent films seem to be transforming into violence-for-violence sake films, I’d ask what kind of mind dreams them up, and who enjoys them. Quentin Tarantino recently said that violence was fun because we all dream of doing those things, those primal things. I find that disturbing. I personally don’t dream of hurting or killing people. Nor do I enjoy watching someone be harmed or killed. The idea that he simply provides the fantasy, implies that we need to watch it otherwise we’d all do it. I disagree and don’t find that a decent motivation for violence in film.

Cry Freedom

Instead, I would recommend such films as Cry Freedom or Last King of Scotland or even The Mission because despite a large amount of violence, they speak of truth and that is the motivation and the lesson behind it all. Of course I’d still show concern about showing young innocent minds films like that – it could still spring nightmares and I wouldn’t want to cause that in a child – but that’s where violence makes sense. It makes sense when telling a story, when pointing to truth, when describing events that we may never have heard of otherwise.

We can show concern whilst still respecting the work produced. It becomes hysterical when we’ve only heard rumours and start declaring the world is suddenly all bad. It’s not all bad, there is a strong amount of good, and if anything that’s what films should be pointing to, whilst including violence, or not.

So continue to explore the arts, create, view and peruse. Continue to question and ask yourself whether the rating should be higher or lower. Analyse the story and motivations. Explore the world of art. Then you can judge whether you yourself should be watching it. Be concerned but question and grow.

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