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Entertained By Violence

11 December 2008 No Comment

When I first started out on my quest for a nonviolent lifestyle, I remember one of my friends told me, “It’s never going to work. Life would be boring without violence.”

Talk about a provocation!

Of course, I disagreed. Violence isn’t entertaining, is it? Surely there must be other ways to keep entertained than violence?

It’s easy to blame news reporters, film producers, computer game makers, arms industry, government. It’s common to argue that it’s in our nature – that we just need to look at our history. I’ve even heard someone argue that it was the fault of the Romans for inventing gladiatorial contests.

I don’t find it helpful to point the finger of blame. This just passes the responsibility onto someone else. So I’ll leave it to others to preach to us how harmful it all is, the impact on our children, on our society, how things are worse than they used to be and who needs to change their evil ways in order to make it all better!

What I’m more interested in is the part I play, the responsibility I have and why it is that violence attracts me.

I’d like to say I abhor and avoid violence in all forms, but that would be a lie.

The last movie I saw was about a vigilante hero taking on cruel, psychopathic killers (’Batman – The Dark Knight’). Not exactly a film promoting peace, harmony and love. I follow Prison Break … where the hero is an escaped convict who held up a bank at gunpoint and where torture, beatings and death are almost in every episode. I sometimes enjoy watching two men beating each other about the head with their fists (it’s called ‘boxing’) and I have been known to pick up a large gun and blast the heads off hordes of manically crazed zombies (pick any of a multitude of computer games). And for sure, if there’s an accident on the street I’m drawn to see what’s going on.

This stuff is really hard to admit. If I want to choose nonviolence as a lifestyle then I need to know what it is about violence that so attracts me.

There are three key attractors for me:

1 Empathic connection with the fictional

When I see violence I feel an exhilaration, a thrill. Often I care for the characters in front of me on the screen. I know they are usually actors and the situations are fictional, but the hands of a good team of film makers can turn the fake into the real. I’m an empathic creature and when I see characters I care about laughing or suffering, enjoying life or in danger then I connect with them and experience part of what they experience. I feel my humanity through theirs.

2 My own mortality

Seeing others in pain or dying reminds me of my own mortality. Not so long ago (and still in many parts of the world) death was treated as a natural part of life and I wouldn’t have been shielded from death as I am today. On-screen death, even though often horribly perverted for the sake of entertainment, is the only access I have to it and it draws me in. I want to understand death and celebrate it as part of living.

3 Imagination

In many forms of entertainment I imagine myself in the situations portrayed. I can picture the created on-screen world becoming my own reality. If I opened my front door to a horde of blood thirsty zombies then my guess is that I would pee in my underpants!

Fear is one of the most effective wake up jolts I know. Fear, pure primal fear.

All my senses are heightened, my heart beats faster and I feel alive! Violent entertainment is one way to get these things. It’s easily accessible and all around me.

I’m convinced, though, there are other ways.

I would prefer to be in empathic connection with real people I care about (not actors playing a role on the screen). I would rather confront my own mortality face to face (not in the second hand images chosen by someone else). I want to find joyful ways to feel alive (other than by fear).

Until I integrate these other approaches into my life I’m doomed to be entertained by violence.

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