Pornography is usually seen as having to do with titillation or sexual excitement. However, broadly defined, pornography encompasses anything obscene, and I find truly obscene both the real violence and the images of fantasy violence with which we are increasingly inundated.
I came across the term “pornography of violence” in a newspaper op-ed column around 15 or 20 years ago. At that time the idea that violent imagery stirred very perverse feelings in some people had the ring of truth. I started to write a my own op-ed piece on the topic but never finished it. However, over the years I’ve incorporated that thought into several of the books I’ve written. I’ve also blogged about this before in posts about censorship (see the “The Tipping Point” and “Redux – The Tipping Point”).
The pornography of violence rears its ugly visage in a variety of genres: magazines and books, fictional movies and television shows, “reality” shows such as Jerry Springer and Maury Povich, cop shows, mixed martial arts and the ‘roided up goon show that is professional ‘rasslin.
The reality cop shows feature beatings, shootouts and car chases that end badly, and the advent of phone cameras have provided a motherlode of violent videos uploaded to YouTube. It seems that nothing is sacred when it comes to displaying and broadcasting the pain of others.
In the magazine rack at my local supermarket I counted 14 magazines about firearms–everything from the latest in assault rifles to collectible Lugers and Colt 6-shooters. Their covers were adorned with plenty of gleaming hardware and intriguing titles. It was easy to imagine some NRA gun nut practically getting an erection while perusing the mags devoted to their addiction. An April Newsweek article about gun control was titled “2,405 Shootings Since Tucson” It’s a truly appalling statistic when one contemplates the amount of gun violence in this country in a mere two months.
Another example: The history or military section of mega-bookstores like Barnes & Noble offer a motherlode of books with violent themes. I have seen big glossy coffee table style books on everything from the Kalishnikov (AK-47) assault rifle to WW II military aircraft and Nazi panzers. An appallingly large number of these have covers adorned with swastikas, images of Hitler or other Nazi references. These books offer a strange counterpoint to the usual coffee table type books on artists like Monet or van Gogh.
Violence and thematic revenge is the staple of hundreds of television shows and thousands of movies. These range from the rather bloodless John Wayne, Randoph Scott westerns and war movies that came out during and after WW II to the contemporary hip, kinky, sado-masochistic flicks like Kill Bill. Somewhere in the mid-1960s there was a change. I first recall being shocked by the realistic shooting and blood in Bonnie and Clyde. This was followed by the graphic violence in the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns and Sam Peckinpah movies like The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs. Four decades later society and myself have both become so hardened that there is pretty much no cinematic violence which shocks. But violence continues to flourish and, if possible, grow even more titillating–think the various permutations of Saw.
Back in the 1950s and 60s I grew up watching boxing on television. The Friday Night Fights on our little 17-inch black and white RCAs and Zeniths was a staple in my extended family’s various households. Though there was occasional blood and vicious TKOs boxing then was so stylized it was practically an art form. Today we have the strange spectacle of tattooed combatants locked in an odd death grip one on top of the other trying to beat each others brains out with bare fists. I find the fervor that MMA arouses in young males truly appalling. It reminds one of the gladiatorial spectacles that were an entertainment staple of the masses in the last days of the Roman Empire.
I think we have crossed over some sacred boundary of compassion–and certainly good taste. In all this provocative visual excess we are probing the depths of the lowest common denominator as far as free speech is concerned. I’m sure some psychobabble experts would say it’s all just a relatively harmless discharge–sublimated anger. But it’s not; it is sick and it is addictive. See Ephesians 4:18-19.
I don’t have any answers. I’m just commenting on what I see. I don’t see anything hopeful in all this real and fantasy pornographic violence unless it somehow presages the return of Jesus.