America’s Culture of Violence : A Well Thought Out Scream by James Riordan
Everyone knows that television and movies are more violent than ever. I was flipping through the TV channels last night around 11 p.m. and there were only two stations that did not have violent images on them, but perhaps even worse, there were seven of the dozen channels I looked at that were showing a scene where a gun was being pointed at someone. As someone who occasionally has a go at writing a screenplay, I understand some of this from a Hollywood perspective. It is just that not easy to shock people anymore. Movie audiences have seen everything – every possible form of violence directed in every possible situation. The only way to shake a viewer up or summon up the slightest fear of your villain is to have him do something virtually unspeakable. Horror movies have to keep topping each other (The Saw, Jeepers Creepers, Split, etc) with horror and mystery/crime movies have to be far darker than they used to be to even approach the film noir stage (Pulp Fiction, Gone Baby Gone, Mulholland Drive).
Even our sports are more violent. People watch NASCAR for the crashes and hockey for the fights. MMA and UFC have out bloodied Boxing. Though the NFL is investigating concussions, they happen nearly every game and the most violent hits are the highlights watched over and over. Bull riding is as dangerous as sports can get and don’t forget about those Lacrosse brawls and huge stadium fights in Soccer.
The most violence exposed to the youngest minds are clearly video games. For most play station and x-box players, the more blood, the better. Game like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are extremely violent. There are also games like Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, a role-playing video game released in April 2005. The game recreates the 1999 Columbine High School shootings near Littleton, Colorado. Players assume the roles of gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and act out the massacre, with flashbacks relating parts of Harris and Klebold’s past experiences. The game begins on the day of the shootings and follows Harris and Klebold after their suicides to fictional adventures in perdition. The game also features security camera footage of Harris and Klebold in the Columbine school cafeteria during the massacre. Another extremely violent game is Postal. Postal 2 is a black comedy first-person shooter video game by Running With Scissors, and it is the sequel to the 1997 game Postal. Both are intentionally highly controversial due to high levels of violence and stereotyping. Unlike its predecessor, Postal 2 is played completely in first-person based on the Unreal Engine 2. Scenes of the game can be seen in the music video of The Black Eyed Peas single “Where Is the Love?” In 2004, New Zealand banned Postal 2 due to “gross, abhorrent content” and Australia banned the game a year later due to “excessive abhorrent content”. On May 1, 2007, Malaysia banned the game outright due to “very high impact violence & offensive depictions of cruelty”. The game was also banned in Germany and temporarily banned for sale in Sweden, however it was later legally made available worldwide through GOG.com in 2009 and Desura in 2012, and was successfully greenlit on Steam later that year.
Originally scheduled for North American and European release in July, the game was suspended by Rockstar’s parent company Take-Two Interactive when it was refused classification in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and given an Adults Only (AO) rating in the United States. As Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony Computer Entertainment do not allow AO titles on their systems, this effectively (if not technically) would have banned the game in the US as well. In response to these ratings problems, Rockstar censored the game, blurring the screen during the game’s executions and removing the scoring system, where players were awarded for particularly brutal killings. This edited version was rated M in the US by the ESRB and was released, but the BBFC still refused to classify the edited version for UK release. Rockstar appealed their decision, and ultimately, the Video Appeals Committee voted that the game could be released with an 18 certificate.
Hotline Miami is set in 1989 Miami and the plot consists of two protagonists, Jacket and Biker, who have been receiving phone calls instructing them to commit massacres against the local Russian Mafia. The game blends top down perspective with stealth, extreme violence and surreal storytelling, along with a soundtrack and visuals influenced by 1980s culture. The game itself was influenced in part by Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 neo-noir crime film Drive, as well as the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys. Other extremely violent videogames inclue Manhunt, Soldier if Fortune and Death Race 2000.
Despite the great amount of violence in television, movies, sports and videogames, perhaps our culture’s great exposure to violence comes through the news itself. While the actual images shown are usually not graphic the intensity high drama of the programs are very impressionable. When there is a mass shooting the continual coverage makes a powerful impact. The old newspaper expression, If it bleeds, it leads! Is certainly proven daily not only by our newspaper headline but by the focus of the television news as well. The days of objective reporting dies with William R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Just watch the daily teasers for the nightly news. There’s always a huge threat about to happen. The news media loved it when a story can be serialized such as a desperate father grabbing his kids from their mother in Maine and racing with them in his car all the way to California. Every night people are tuning in for the next installment. A hostage situation is even better. The news loves extreme violence most of all because the rating soar. And the rating sour for the same reason there is so much violence in movies, sports and video games. America loves violence. We sit behind out television, movie and computer screens just like the crowds that filled the Roman Coliseum waiting on baited breath for the next spectacle.
Perhaps the saddest part is that there are so many lost and lonely souls out there who can’t wait to provide it for them.