A brief excursus on violence

I'd like to associate myself with these remarks on Game of Thrones, a television show I am now being semi-reluctantly dragged through after having read the books a few years ago and found them not particularly interesting. Primarily, I agree that the violence and sex are almost wholly gratuitous, and designed to stimulate the prurient interest with little or no redeeming artistic value. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the show's treatment of sexual violence, discussed at length in the article, which regularly crosses the line into horrifying depictions of rape while lacking any didactic framework. If you doubt the strength of that claim, the lengths to which the show's creators and writers went to justify the Cersei-Jaime rape scene as eventually consensual should settle the issue.

I've never had much interest in visual depictions of violence. When I was younger, this was primarily for aesthetic-emotional reasons--it provokes no reaction in me I wish to have.* Now, it's a consequence of having spent most of the last decade studying the various historical instances in which people commit violence against each other. From that, I have learned that the capacity of average people to ignore or overlook the reality and consequences of violence is nearly unlimited, at least in part because the average person, put into the right circumstances, is willing to commit acts of violence for ideology, or even unspecified reasons. Which is to say that it seems to me that all depictions of violence are, by definition, prurient, and must prove themselves to be the opposite, if their motives are indeed good. (I think of Shoah, able to depict the totalizing brutality of the Holocaust without showing or reenacting any of it, because of its justified certainty that we have the capacity to imagine the horror without the assistance of images.)

Satire or commentary on violence is incredibly difficult to pull off; the evident examples--RoboCop, for one--themselves walk the line. If you find the violence of Murphy's near death 'funny' or 'awesome,' then the movie explicitly associates you with the bad guys, for whom such violence is weightless. But even here the excessiveness of the violence has the edge of people including it in the movie because they think it looks cool. It's difficult to walk only and always on the correct side of the line.

* Nick Hornby's most insightful moment comes when writing about a review of the band Suicide that referred to one of their songs as "like a shot to the head." As a young person, he found that to be a selling point, but with some reflection, he wonders how that could possibly be read as an endorsement, and allows himself to imagine how someone who returned from the Battle of the Somme would interpret it.
But then, one of the ur-stories in the Troester family mythos is of my great uncle, who fought in WWII, and once found himself at a VFW listening to a man bragging about all the Nazis he had killed. My great uncle told him to shut up: "if you'd actually killed a man, you wouldn't talk about it like that."

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