Watching Hell: Violence On-Screen

I sit there, my heart pounding, my fingers clutching my clothes without realizing they are, as the sound of guns continues, bone cracks, someone screams. 

I hate this. Why the hell are we watching this?! Or better yet, why are we watching hell? 

Too many times I’ve suffered through movies that include violence (movies of course, that are not chosen by me but that some person in my life wanted to watch). Violence ranging from guns, and explosions, to torture and rape, and fists and kicks, and blood, and knives, and swords… and emotional abuse and verbal abuse as well.

I know that violence is part of our lives, Even nature, some people have argued can be violent (if we want to label it like so) but there is a difference between nature-violence and human-violence. 

We could look at a cheetah hunting and eating an antelope and think “That’s violent”, but is it? The cheetah is just doing what it does, it hunts, it eats, it lives, and survives. 

Human violence is a willful act. Human violence is a choice. Human violence can and should be unnecessary, and yet human beings choose to be violent and choose to hurt each other, with the knowledge that they are doing it so. The difference between an animal and humans is our conscience. We know we can avoid violence and yet we choose it. And not only choose it but encourage it, find it fun or even funny, pay to see it, encourage others to see it. It’s madness. 

And I understand violence can have a purpose. I understand that all people who have gone to war have thought of themselves as “the good guys” who were defending something, who were fighting for what’s right, or what’s fair, or freedom, etc., etc. We are always the good guys, aren’t we? Does anybody ever really think of themselves as the villain? Not really. 

Violence begets violence, and in the end, the fire it creates cannot be quenched. Sure. Wars started. Wars ended. But has the fire been put out? No! Can we truly say we live on a peaceful planet? No, and yet those wars are over, right? But actually, there are wars going on right now. Can you believe it? I really wish I couldn’t. 

And okay, let’s say we are lucky enough to live far away from those places where there’s war right now. Let’s say that we live relatively peaceful lives… We still bring violence into our lives. How? Or when? Every day in several ways. In this post, I want to write about violence in movies and series, specifically. 

I have never really understood people’s fascination with it. I really want to know because I simply can’t understand. So please… answer me… why? Why do people enjoy watching movies where there are people doing awful things to others? 

I have sat there in the cinema, with my hands over my eyes, trying to reach my ears too to shut out the noise as people are being killed, tortured, hurt, stabbed, beheaded, shot down, punched… And all I can think of is why? 

I have even heard laughter during violent action films. 

I really have a hard time finding films during which I can keep my eyes open the whole time because I still shut my eyes when Rocky and Apollo are going at it. People have called me too soft, too sensitive, too innocent, too weak… I don’t care. I would rather be that than someone who laughs when people are getting killed on screen. 

And nowadays, we are so used to violence, so desensitized to it, it’s hard to find anything mainstream where there is no violence.

Lately, even children’s movies are full of violence. And I wonder how my 8-year-old nephew can stand to watch what I can’t.

It makes me think what are we doing, to ourselves, to our youths?

Because people have told me, “Relax! It’s just a movie!” But, is it? 

Aren’t movies also a way to not only represent but to create reality? Are we teaching our children that we live in a world where all that violence is normal, or worse, desired? That it is something excited to look at and to participate in? Because children learn from example, they want to see themselves in the characters they watch, they want to emulate them too.

What are they looking at? Is it really just a movie?

I don’t think so. As someone who loves stories, written or on-screen, I know the power they wield. Our world is created through stories, our identity is created through the stories we tell ourselves and of ourselves. Everything is a story. Reality is a story in itself.

Why do we want to include violence in our stories? Why do we find that entertaining? 

And I don’t want to be so binary as to see violence in black and white terms. I don’t want to judge it as something good or evil. Violence exists and like I’ve said, it often serves a purpose, sometimes we could say a helpful purpose. For example, the film La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) directed by Roberto Benigni, a wonderful movie that I hate because it’s heartbreaking and real in a heartbreaking way, and love because it’s beautiful as it is awful. There is certainly violence in that movie, but it’s a violence that is meant to make us aware, to shake us awake… to say, “Hey! This happened! Look at it! It can’t happen again! Don’t let it happen again!” That kind of violence serves a purpose and a useful one if you ask me. I do let violence shake me awake. 

These are not the kind of movies I am thinking about now. 

I am thinking of movies with unnecessary violence, and not only unnecessary but movies where violence is depicted as something exciting.

The truth is…. A looooot of movies and series include violence that is just gratuitous, a violence whose only purpose is to entertain the audience.

And there are many movies that film violence in a “cool light”, where people kill each other and that makes them “cool, tough, the heroes”. Where the more you kill the better/cooler you are. What is wrong with us? There is nothing, NOTHING, heroic about killing others. There never has been, there never will be. Period. 

I do ask of the world and of myself…. Why are we entertained by violence? Why is hurting each other entertaining? What is sooo entertaining about people dying at the hands of other human beings? Please, do ask yourselves because I ask myself the same things. 

I believe what Neale Donald Walsch says when he says that ‘we can know how evolved a civilization is by what it finds entertaining’. If that is the case, and I do believe it is, looking at today’s entertainment I am sad to say that we are in fact… Not that evolved. At least, not as we sometimes think we are, not as we could be.

I know I can’t erase violence from films. It is increasingly difficult to find movies I can watch without cringing. Lately, I’ve found myself leaving cinema rooms mid-movie because I just can’t stand it. Other times I simply fall asleep with my earphones on. Other times, I simply leave the sitting room where my family is watching a violent movie and as I close the door to shut the screams out I think, ‘Why… why??, if we’ve been so lucky enough to escape violence in our lives, why do we call it into our lives through the movies and series we watch? Why, if we have been untouched by that underworld, why the hell do we let it into our mind? Because sometimes that is really hell right there on the screen.

If we really want to live in a peaceful world, we have to start by looking at what we look at, by questioning our own views, and likes. We need to see ourselves reflected in the movies we watch because what we let into our minds has an effect. What we feed our mind, we are feeding our beings. Do we want to feed us violence? Is that the way to create a peaceful world? It is not.

It’s about time we start de-mythicizing violence as something to aspire to, to clap at, to laugh at, to condone, or worse, to encourage. Because this world is burning, it’s not the time to fuel the fire, it’s the time to quench it, in our screens, in our stories, in our minds, in our hearts, in our lives, and in our souls. 

Published by Mariel Torres

Wandererer whose feet follow where the pen leads...

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