Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A defence of violence in media

So I've linked to this on facebook, a rather depressing and infuriating segment from that hallowed font of wisdom, Alan Titchmarsh. Distressingly, despite Tim Ingham's reasoned argument, Peasgood is happy to make some moronic sound bites. Video games, are, of course, as rated as dvds, and as such, should not be in children's hands. Now they will, of course, find their way into the posession of minors, either through adults ignorance of their content, or their approval (more on this later). However, the notion of infantalising media so as to protect children is a disturbing one.

Censorship is a frightening thing. I'm of the opinion that the only content that should potentially be censored is that that is clearly slanderous and misleading, that distorts facts and tells lies. Such media is not defensible, unless it has some artistic context that indicates that such slander is not true (satire comes under this). Art produced illegally- by performing illegal acts, should also be restricted for obvious reasons.

Censoring media for violence or extreme sexual practices (which is something the BBFC does do) is not something I approve of. Who are we protecting with these methods? Yes, children should not see such extreme things, but stopping adults seeing something simply because children shouldn't is, again, absurd. It may be that not many people want to see such extremes, but i'm not sure we have a right to stop those people from seeing it.

A question asked in this video by Titchmarsh is why Tim Ingham enjoys violent content. Ingham hedges a little, and talks about the players place in the narrative. This is probably true, of, say, call of duty. There is a clear plot goal, and you must kill enemies to do so. There is not much (at least in the first modern warfare) reveling in the death of your opponents, instead merely defeating those things that get in your way. The point he missed is that games present challenge- the challenge is to defeat enemies here, by using a simulation of real life combat, and the joy is, of course, in the challenge. Again, no reveling in violence.

So do we never revel in violence in media? Of course we do. In Evil Dead 2, there is a moment in which an absolutely absurd amount of blood pours out of the wall at our hero, Ash. in context it is absolutely hilarious. Just as with the knight in monty python, and the enemies with their limbs in Kill Bill, we are enjoying the violence here, primarily because it is such surreal excess. The vomiting scene in Team America isn't funny because he's vomiting, its funny because he is vomiting a ridiculous amount. A simple joke, but a funny one none the less.

Note that in many ways these jokes are meta jokes on violence- they play with your expectations as to what would happen when something nastily violent happened, and take to extreme levels. In the relief of that tension comes laughter. Such humour depends on an expectation built from media where violence IS taken seriously of course.

Can violence become uncomfortable? Of course it can, but that line is different for everyone. What might be a ridiculous black comedy for some becomes just disturbing for people who find any level of violence unpleasent. Final Destination is very clearly a black comedy- see the scene in the kitchen. The manner of the death is absurd, yet a tiny bit unpleasent along with that- the reactions feel real, despite the absurdity of the situation. For me, that was enough to make me feel put off, but for those with more experience with gore in horror, it was undoubtedly rather amusing. After all, none of this is REAL. We are reminded of this by the filmmaker, who cleverly points out the absurd, either in the situation or in the gore presented, which draws us out of the narrative enough to be sitting beside him, and realise quite what he is saying.

There are, of course, violent films that revel in their violence without giving the audience an excuse to escape. There are no winks at the audience, no attempts at humour. We are simulating someone's death. Taboos are made to be broken, and thats what film makers do. With us being desensitised to violence (watch Clockwork orange again and count how much violence is actually shown. Now watch a more recent violent film), some film makers still want to horrify. Are they reveling in the pain, or forcing us to acknowledge that this pain exists? I don't know, and it probably depends on the watcher.

To decry such expressions as meaningless is dangerous. I don't consider myself the arbiter of taste and decency, and neither should anyone else. If I have a line I don't want to be crossed in films, then I simply will stop watching films in which that line is crossed. Not all forms of entertainment or art are for everyone, and nor should they be, but to decide that ones limits on the acceptable are the same as everyone else's is incredibly dangerous, and exactly what the censors of this society would like you to think.

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At 12:28 pm, Blogger Andy H said...

First; I agree with you totally, I think.

Second; the problem with video game ratings, is that they differ from movie ratings. The biggest annoyance for me is, of course about sex/nudity in games'n'movies, and how they're treated differently. Movies; Titanic? breasts, steamy car-sex, rated 12. Road Trip, full-frontal nudity, lots of sex, 15. As for games; Mass Effect has a sex scene with no flesh on show that you wouldn't see in a PG, Age of Conan has breasts. Both games are 18-rated.

To be fair, both games have lots of violence, but I not nearly enough to deserve an 18-rating in the current market.

At 6:50 pm, Blogger Nicholas said...

Actually, I'd argue that that scene in Team America just isn't funny. It is actually the point where, for me, the movie just got worse and worse from then on.

But to the point - I think there are two things to be said on the subject. 1 - These games are rated, and as Tim says on the link there's more of an issue with parents not understanding than an issue with the system itself.
2 - Has anyone ever considered that people who are ALREADY VIOLENT might be drawn to play violent video games?


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