This post first appeared here on July 22, 2012.
For decades, European and Australian friends have told me that Americans are far too prudish. Why, for example, do American films and TV shows generally shy away from showing nudity, even in moral contexts, but routinely show the most brutal and destructive violence imaginable? Surely the damage done to the souls of young children who watch graphic beheadings greatly outweighs that done by catching a glimpse of a woman’s bottom?
For years, I grinned and nodded and rolled my eyes, but I believe the threshold of outrageous absurdity has been reached for some time now. Maybe my buddies have a point. Not necessarily about prudishness or nudity, but about the violence. Almost exactly four years ago, when the Dark Knight Batman movie featuring the Joker debuted, a British movie critic named Jenny McCartney penned an essay in The Telegraph about the movie, criticizing Hollywood’s obsession with darkness. I think that essay is especially interesting now, in light of the recent events in Aurora Colorado. That event coincided with the release of another Batman movie, but its ties to the Joker character, and hence the first movie, are significant. Ms. McCartney’s complaint was not so much the existence of violence in films, but the apparent acceleration in the level of violence with each generation. She recalls children being scared by the “Child Catcher” in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a child. Then, about the Dark Knight, she says:
But the greatest surprise of all – even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic – has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.
I recommend that you read her whole article in the Telegraph by going here. It’s excellent and very well reasoned, I think.
However, do I recommend more censorship of violence in films or legislation to prevent violence in real life? Hardly. Such things are probably pointless, or even worse, counterproductive. Besides, I rather approve of action movies, especially the ones, like the recent Batman movies, that champion conservative values, which is rare enough in Hollywood. Books and movies showing the triumph of Good over Evil are an essential element in the care and feeding of our youth, as the Treasure Island stories and cowboy movies were in earlier times.
But, like Jenny McCartney, I think that the genre is now showing a twisted dysfunctionality that reflects the diseased nature of our culture. How else can you characterize a place like our country, where people are flocking to see movies that show the reality of the need to fight violence with violence, while at the very same time, our political and media elites are browbeating us into legislating guns out of existence, which would leave us utterly at the mercy of tyrannical violence? Is this not a disconnect? Are we not approaching a great big bloody showdown in the war of ideas? How much longer can peace remain without even the slightest hint of unity in philosophy? Our culture is sick, sick enough to require violent emergency surgery. And I have a suspicion that if that surgery ever comes and is successful, and freedom flourishes as a result, and tyranny is suppressed once again, that the people will have not the stomach nor the need for such extreme violence in their films. At least for a while.