Last Thursday, I went to bed thinking, “after work tomorrow I’ll put on ‘The Boondock Saints’ and do some packing.” Then, the unthinkable happened. My brain refused to comprehend, how could anyone, ever, pick up a gun, point it at children, and pull the trigger? And I got to thinking, but this tragedy happens every day. People, even children, die as a result of violence, and we mostly don’t hear about it, because they’re often from a low socio-economic stratum that the media and all us middle-class people can’t be bothered with. Why? Why does this kind of thing happen, ever, much less every single day?
After work on Friday, I couldn’t bring myself to watch anything violent. I thought, even if it is one of my favorite movies, “Boondock Saints” is one of those things people mean when they say our culture glorifies violence.
Yes, I have a taste for movies that are gory and for songs that talk about violent revolution. But I’m not especially proud of this about myself. It’s not something I would want to pass on to the kids I’ll never have. Violence may appeal to me in a way, but it’s not something I want to remain in the world.
Because when we’re immersed in violent media, in military metaphors, in a huge subculture devoted to killing animals, and our constant glorification of the actual military, it’s easier for violence to happen when it shouldn’t. I’m not saying we ought to blame all violence and crime on movies or video games. That’s foolishness. I want to go through life not even hurting an animal much less a person, yet I listen to Eminem and I watch action movies with high body counts. There’s not necessarily a direct causal relationship. But we’re taught, from day 1, that sometimes it’s okay to kill people and it’s always okay to kill animals. That some peoples’ jobs are to kill other people and that that’s a heroic job to have. That people with guns who aren’t afraid to commit violence are tough and manly.
Where do the lines blur? When two kids spend their days imagining blowing the heads off bad guys, when does one kid realize those bad guys are human beings whose death is tragic as all death is, and the other kid start thinking blowing heads off anybody they don’t like is okay?
I wish we lived in a world where ending a person’s life was never seen as okay. Where the military wasn’t seen as heroic, but as a necessary evil which we ought to work towards decreasing as much as possible. Where even killing someone in the last extremity of self-defense would leave our hearts broken, though we know there was literally no other choice. That’s a world in which tragedies would be much fewer and further between, and wouldn’t be swallowed up by the next thing to come across our TV screens.
Most of my beloved violent movies and music are, I think, called for in this world we live in. They’re about revolt against this harmful world system, or about doing justice against those who destroy others’ lives. They’re not about just shooting shit up for no reason (okay, so maybe some of that Eminem stuff is. Like I said, this isn’t the thing I’m most proud of about myself). We live in a violent world and sometimes those who live by the sword must die by it as well. But where does it stop? If we use violence to overthrow the institutions that fill our lives with violence and coercion, where will it end? When we no longer need violence as a cultural narrative, will we have the courage to lay it down? Or will we let our need to be shocked and titillated, our hobbies, our comfort zone, outweigh the lives of each day’s victims?