It wasn’t until doing my dissertation at University that I even got into the idea of writing. I’m a slow burner at some things and as I meet other potential writers there appears to be a pattern of those who wish to write non stop from about the age of -1. ‘Oh I was born to write, I have about a thousand stories somewhere in the fabled archives. Fair enough, congratulations I say. I used to have lots of ideas, well I mean I still get ideas but I tend to stream line them into the Version series of books. Oh the fever induced crazy dreams that can never be translated into a story. I once had a dream I sailed a galleon ship into a filing cabinet drawer and had to sign out my shift within a small wooden cabin. There was the one where I played tennis with King Kong who ruined the game by taking a giant crap on the court. I was a trapeze artist in a black and white film and flew out of the tent when someone, the other trapeze dude failed to catch me. But enough of that, what about the dissertation.
Any one who did a media or literature or just say degree course will know about that big essay at the end. Research and prove your stuff. In hind sight I realise that I picked the done to death subject of violence in fiction/films and so on. Does violence cause violence in reality from say youngsters watching, I don’t know, Pokemon or ninja turtles? Well I wouldn’t think that many people would confuse fiction with reality and start thinking they are say the Terminator and start hunting down people they thought were the leader of the resistance of the future. But as much as it was an uninspired subject that the lecture staff rolled their eyes at and automatically gave me a third before I’d even started, it didn’t matter because I was doing it for me. Now I’m not sure what ideas I had regarding doing the whole college thing. I ended up on a business course, completed it realising I wasn’t the Dragons Den type and went onto the whole, well I like films, I could do that right?
I grew up in the 80’s. Out and about collecting garbage pale stickers. The likes of Airwolf and Knight rider were on tv and I’m pretty sure that I lived in America. ‘Where’s kit mother?’ ‘He’s in America dearest’ Are we in America?’ My seven year old is backwards! Yes I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn how to tell the time or know the months of the year until I was probably about fifteen. But still, the thoughts of those days conjure up memories of simplicity. Hasselhoff was cool and Airwolf was understandable on the premise that it had a fast helicopter that fired rockets. But things change and seeing it now you realise that Airwolf was quite dark and from a murky complex world of the cold war and that Michael Knight really must have struggled to get into that low riding Trans am. David! the shows director would say ‘you need to cut that microphone bonce you call a hair cut, you can’t get in the car’ Knees up to the chest, head pressed against the roof and away he went in the super car with a well spoken AI. But it makes me recall and makes me realise that as a child I wasn’t sure what I was watching just as even now when watching the world around me in terms of narrative, do I actually know what I am watching?
The first realisation as though the penny had dropped a hundred years too late, was that the violent narrative within any of the films or cartoons we are watching are usually within a certain context. The context of violence is probably the most important aspect in justifying violence within a film for example. Take the horror films of late. The Human millipede or what ever it was, and I never saw it, but it did come on the telly for several minutes the other night where people were by attached to each other arse to mouth; is there any need?! What’s the point there then. Well because it is mindless torture or mindless violence without reason or at least without reasons that make any sane sense it becomes horror.
Sly Stallone writes or has written a lot of his films. Now the First Blood adventure was based on a book which Stallone did not write. This may account for the complex nature of the character in the first movie (I am being generous there) where a Vietnam veteran is suffering from Post traumatic stress or what they used to call shell shock. Tragic gone tonto story where in the book, John Rambo is killed at the end. Obviously for the movie and for there to be four sequels we can’t have that can we. Note that by the fifth instalment we get the whole Stallone treatment of absolutely making sure that violence is justified. Christian Aid workers dropped off in war torn jungle…check. Bad ass militia raping civilians and burning villages…check. Leader of the army perpetrating evil deeds also being a peodophile…oh dear..check. Indeed I can imagine the script meetings now. I want the audience to hate this villain more than Darth Vader, more than the emperor. More than the Emperor out of star wars?! Dude that guy shot lightning out his hands and tried to fry Luke Sky walker and laughed his ass off!
Any way. You can see the point being that if you set up a scenario where simply the audience says ‘that guy has got to die!’ It is always playing on an audiences sense of right and wrong, that sort of narrative device that might actually have been stripped away from us in our own reality since the likes of the war on terror began. Two sides simple narrative of right and wrong have steadily been going out the window as the western world fights terror with more terror for quite obscure reasons. I chose Rambo as an illustration in order to simplify a point. Especially when in Rambo three at the end it states that the film is dedicated to the valiant freedom fighters known as the Taliban. A major Irony then when considering recent years of western occupation. The Russians occupy Afghanistan =bad…The west do it= good. Thus the real world narrative is way to complicated to even say good or bad right and wrong it may seem. Pick an ally and then re-establish them as an evil force when it suits.
Back on track then it would appear that we are all suckers to accepting violence as long as we know the rules that justify it within our own perceptions of right and wrong. We call it natural order, as sort of justice which at its very heart is a violent primitive principle. In social experiments with monkeys it has been noted that violent behaviour of one monkey bashing another monkey from one taking too many nuts out of the bowl or get upset when one receives more bananas than themselves when being handed out; the principle of justice is a universal thing. Remember in sesame street when Burt and Ernie are sharing out sweets. ‘One for you, two for me’ Simple instincts of fairness raise their ugly heads and such a thing can be used by writers to steer our very minds into accepting that Rambo kills and kills and kills without mercy. What about altruism? What about these soldiers having families at home or the fact that they were forcefully conscripted into the said militia in the first place. Start thinking in that way and the whole narrative falls apart and Rambo becomes a force of horror rather than heroism.
So far gone is our convenient understanding of accepting certain behaviours in fact that in reality we no longer question invading other countries while the supposed other side straps bombs to their chest or fly commercial air craft into large buildings. Back and forth things escalate, but as long as either side believe what they are doing is justified using the context of narrative whether true or contrived, every body seems to be satisfied enough to carry on with their daily lives. Of course this isn’t to mention the disconnection from such violence in terms of hyper reality. But before going down that avenue we can also look at the main conclusion of that ye old dissertation from about fifteen years ago.
Surrogacy! The best possible answer I could come up with in the essay ‘Is violence justified in film and fiction’ was to go down the sacrifice avenue. I can’t remember the books or who I referenced, I mean back in the day writing ten thousand words seemed like being asked to climb Mount Everest on a space hopper. I was seriously a bad boy, throwing names and books in my bibliography at the end like confetti at a wedding. That’ll do, yes I shall put him, her, that book and that book. The lecturers would be like yea right! you read thirty books for this. The fact I had read maybe three was quite evident in the end product. But you live and learn and find that eventually you read books for fun and good grief, enjoy learning, coughs ah hem… But one of the few books I actually read was on violence in the form of sacrifice being a surrogate for the masses in order to quench their blood lust and stop them all hacking each other to pieces in a traffic jam. Oddly enough the book went into public hangings and be-headings, children, witches and virgins being burnt at stakes or sliced to pieces on an alter. But again this is just one idea and considering the recent affairs regarding ISIS and a downed pilot being burned to death in a cage, I’m thinking there are a number of reasons for these activities. For example in this instance it was most likely for the purpose of propaganda to send the message of triumph or to amp up potential followers to join the cause. The sacrifice to illustrate ISIS as meaning business and that they might yet be winners. Winners of what exactly still remains to be seen. And what exactly countries or ideologies are still spilling so much blood over needs to be looked at in much greater detail than what the news can ever provide. So what are we saying? Play call of duty and kill simulated enemies and it stops a person from suddenly having a violent fit in reality? Or do we go with the media that at times says the opposite where violence in media causes violence; sound like a good news story to you? Oh that shooting in that school was due to video nasties and video games and also Marilyn Manson! The issue of real life violence is down to human nature that is quite simple but appears to elude the mainstream patterns of thought.
What I think is peculiar is that we all appear to accept the concept of violence as being bad and are told to behave within society (in most civilised societies at least) and still accept the terms of war and death whether of our own countrymen or the other side whoever that might be. I think of day time tv and all the charity adverts. Not a bad thing I’m sure. Starving children, domestic violence against children or the neglect of pets or the poor state of affairs regarding an earth quake or tsunami. Pretty miserable stuff, but when I see an advert for the people in Nepal for instance where many have died and continue to suffer I do wonder where the adverts are for those in the likes of Iraq where they were bombed into the stone age. Did they get massive assistance from their invaders? Was there some sort of major operation to give them charity when the dust had settled and they had no infrastructure of water or food etc. Keeping this in mind, it must be remembered that economic sanctions were being held against the country for many years during the period Saddam Hussein held power. He had invaded a country so I guess we all said to hell with the people that starve and die through a lack of money and food. No adverts for charity to that country then. Similar seems to be happening with Russia now. Well, they invaded a country too or we at least we think they did. But mainly and without being completely certain of all of the facts. Did we not invade Iraq just as they were about to start selling oil in Euros rather than Dollars?
Drifting off point there for a moment then there could be more of an idea about what violent movies or fictional narratives tell us about the state of play in the world. I’m not positive I know what I am talking about here, but there seems to be some idea that the ideas of justifying violence performed by our film or other fictional heroes reinforce our minds to accept brutality around the world. Of course that is a very loose idea that sits among a matrix of answers. Either way, as we are told to behave, our superiors further up the chain have no problem in causing mayhem and chaos and then justifying their actions with a narrative that is nice and simple for simple folk to absorb and agree with, while relying on patriotism as the final shield between the people waking up and questioning our reasons for committing mass murder.
The other strange thing about fiction and real world violence is the state of play when referring to hyper reality as I mentioned earlier. Our minds are geared up to perceive reality in a way that we are most connected in the now rather than something that is being transmitted from either miles away or from another more recent development in the form of computer/video games. Movies act the same way in that we dismiss it as obviously unreal, but there may be side effects (most normal people would anyway and whatever you feel while watching a movie or reading a book is not permanent with any real consequences; it is safe, the hyper compared to true reality). There are a number of ways at looking at this. I recall reading articles in the newspaper about school kids committing suicide because of cyber bullying. I couldn’t grasp the concept at all. How many people are on my face book page as friends. I don’t care! How many followers on twitter? I don’t care! So us older folk that might have grown up hanging around street corners kicking a ball or necking cider and fondling up the opposite sex whenever the opportunity arose, kind of find it hard to get upset when someone says or does something on a social media site. People have at times argued with me and got angry on a site and I can’t help but wonder what kind of crazy age are we in when someone you cannot see or hear or even truly know says something that gets us fuming or so upset as to thoughts of ending it all. On the other hand if someone posted a picture of me eating a large pie with it all down my top as often happens, I might take umbrage or see the funny side depending on mood and so on.
The other side of that coin is how we might watch the news. Desensitised to all the atrocities perhaps or at least most of us might be unmoved enough to kick off massively for certain things. We got upset when the cartoonists got shot for the offensive (to some) depiction of Mohamed. We care about the Nepal quake enough to donate, but what are we really thinking when we see guided missiles blow up a building and then learn there was a school next door? What do we think of the Gaza strip when they get bombed to rubble by Israel? Whose fault is it? What is going on? If we can’t find any sense of justice or it isn’t in our back yard our brains dismiss it within about sixty seconds quick fix what are we having for dinner darling moment. But back to fictional narratives, it appears that our systems of belief regarding the nature of violence is reinforced by the said violent narrative and simultaneously the violence loses its value because it is unreal. This is a strange thing to think about. You know right and wrong and take that sensibility to the cinema where the depiction is either thrilling or horrific all through similar terms of violence. The hero beheads someone and it is thrilling. The villain keeps winning and is an unstoppable decapitator (name for a new movie?) and it becomes horrific. But does this sense of acceptance of violence in the movie nullify our response to violence heard of (not experienced first hand by the way) in reality?
It’s a bit like this. You watch a soap opera and everyone is having an affair. Does it mean that when you learn about someone having an affair within your circle of friends shock you any more? Does it devalue the aspect of being unfaithful? If it happens to you, regardless it’s going to be horrible either way. But gorging on violence may not make a person violent but might make them cynical as though it happens all the time and to be expected. Harry Callahan in the movie Dirty Harry kills a man at the end because the villain murders teenage girls and then kidnaps a bus full of school kids. Harry shoots him dead and then throws away his badge in contempt while the audience agrees at his choice of actions regarding breaking the law because the villain is so evil. I wonder if this set of reasoning in terms of accepting murder or mass murder is the same when few complain as advanced fighter jets kill and destroy hundreds of thousands of lives because a few commit an act that kills three thousand that is depicted as being evil (well, I mean such a thing was evil obviously). Regardless of this, the Hero usually gets a back story and while the villain is other and has not depth or justifying reasons; I find that within the real world narrative is difficult to accept. I sense that stories of a violent nature simply reflect what is already hard wired into our very being and that it depends on what ideology you grew up with on how predominant the acceptance of violence from whichever context is. As I grow older I can’t help but become uncomfortable at hero’s in fiction as they go on a killing spree (yes I have characters in my books do such things in order to explore the context of it). It is neither a surrogate of violence or the best part of the escapism, but regardless it still seems justified if the villains are always committing worse crimes than the hero; just add women and children to the firing line if in doubt.
I write violence in my books as I say. In fact the main stem of the narratives underlying structure is questioning the futility of such a thing within the universe. In an ideal world such a thing would not exist and it was interesting to see the analogy that the character Chris Kyle ( based on the real person of course) dad says that there are wolves and sheep dogs and that the dogs protect the sheep from the wolves. A sort of justifying a peaceful man capable of violence into being violent against the wrong doers. The whole film is an old school portrayal of heroism from Clint Eastwood as Chris is tormented on more than one occasion for being faced with killing children. Those bad people are always using women and children to do a man’s work! I suppose when you’re invaded by one of the most advanced armies in the world that spends billions on its arms budget annually, say more than the whole of Europe combined probably, it becomes a need for the indigenous population to place all hands on deck. Of course it isn’t Chris Kyle’s fault he went to war for surreptitious purposes that en mass we all simply accepted as is, which in fact he is portrayed as a decent bloke and most likely was.
In the end I wonder whether our primitive response of excitement to violence within the correct context of good vs bad is being manipulated, so that good people who are capable of being sheep dogs as such, are being utilized for a narrative that is either too complex or simply made up, in order that it is as a motivating factor to get such people on board. We may be going even further now by recruiting video game champions to fly our drones or at least incorporate them into improving the interface systems of machines that are frequently used to search and destroy. But it’s quite all right because the world of fiction could be telling us that there is a justifying factor in violence. It isn’t bad violence as long as you use it against those who are bad…