Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Message of Violence in Books and Movies

Last night my husband and I streamed a Netflix movie: Shooter, a 2007 American conspiracy thriller film directed by Antoine Fuqua based on the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter. The film starred Mark Wahlberg (who I still think of as Marky Mark and envision him in his Calvin Kleins), and as you might expect judging from Wahlberg’s other movies, this one was chockfull of killing and action-related special effects.

The movie had a strong cast, intriguing plot, clever dialog, and a well-written script, yet as the film sped on, I became increasingly discussed with it. Why you asked? The body count.

Wahlberg’s character is a macho hero (no surprise) who is framed by government agents in an assassination conspiracy. Wahlberg goes on the run, trying to uncover the plot against him, and while he runs, he must kill and kill and kill to keep moving toward his target. The closer he gets to the bad guys, the higher the body count. He kills nearly fifty people in this two-hour film and still finds time to woo the leading lady.

The message put forth by this film and all others like it is simple: it is perfectly acceptable, even noble, to kill—or at least do violence against—as many people as needed, as long as you have some thread of moral justification. If someone plots against you or harms you, kill them, and you’ll be a hero, eradicating the world of bad people.

This is a strong message that is drummed into people, young and old, over and over in every action movie and countless books. It is a dangerous message, yet the masses eat it up. They love that thrill of violence, that feeling of justification.

But the masses are not too thrilled when a student steals his father’s rifle and shoots the teachers and other students who bullied him. But yet, according to the Hollywood rules of engagement, he was perfectly justified. He was merely defending himself from the bad people who hurt him. He had moral justification.

Or what about the employee who is fired and robbed of his pension after slaving at his company for twenty years? Why should we be surprise when he puts a bullet in his boss’s brain, or detonates a bomb in the boardroom? You get the picture?

Or what about starting two wars, where hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed in order to bring a few hundred people to justice for toppling the World Trade Centers.

Violence, on a local or a global level, starts with this message we all see several times each day, that as long as you have moral justification, you can hurt or kill as many people as necessary. It’s simply the wrong message if we are to advance as a species.  

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