Postmodern classic?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Violence and popular culture

Movie box office receipts have been slipping in the recent years. Profits are going down- some attribute this to copyright infringement and other competitive aspects of the international movie market. But as far as Hollywood USA is concerned- I think intellectual property rights is probably not the most important. When 'Brokeback Mountain' is credible as Oscar material, one has to say hmmmm.... who's out of touch?

I wonder what our friends abroad in places like Israel think of Hollywood when lauded director Steven Spielberg makes a film like 'Munich'. Just reading reviews and seeing the trailers has relieved me of the urge to see it for myself. VDH takes a good bash at it- 'Hollywood's Misunderstood Terrorists'. Spielberg seems to have been trying to make a point of moral equivalency between the Israeli Mossad agents and the terrorists they tracked down. Is that a defensible argument? Is all violence supposed to be morally reprehensible and unjustifiable? That's what I am left with, unless I'm way off point here.

But I'm not content to leave it there. One of the undercurrents of this trend is an overall attempt to deligitimize violence through various means- 'gun control', 'mediation', all these other high minded efforts to overrule human nature. One of the side effects is the marginalization of the warrior culture- those who would protect the ability of these 'high-minded intellectuals' to produce their work and safeguard the market to sell it in. Unless you thought that every place in the world has a Best Buy or a movie theatre... reality alert, these things don't come easy. They are secured by the stability provided by the efforts of others. And unfortunately at times, that requires more violence.

But when you get film after film highlighting this emasculation, you have to wonder.... and wonder some more, since my incomplete thoughts won't be that satisfying. So I'll defer to someone saying it better than me, a la 'The Belmont Club'-

"Implicit in the model of Western warfare is that the warrior should never seek to persuade. That job has been assigned to the diplomats and civilians -- including the press. The most subversive thing imaginable is a military as good with words as it is with guns. That division of labor has been coextensive with the origins of uniformed armies. As old as the distinction between men in uniform and franc tireurs. Men under discipline might be allowed the occasional inarticulate "hoo-ah" but politics was to be left to civilians. But in the second half of the 20th century a strange thing happened. The neat division between uniformed and un-uniformed combatants collapsed; and the firewall between man-at-arms and man of letters disappeared."

He was writing about the problems the military has in countering enemy propaganda through what are called 'information operations'. I would point to something else, the ability of a society to produce warriors for its preservation, content to fight for a righteous cause. Fighting together, across lines of class and ethnicity. The converse being avoiding those who might otherwise protect degrade into thugs when their secular identity no long pulls weight, and no one dares question them. I believe this is what we see going on in Europe with the rejection of militancy and the moral corrosion of socialism. Tough words, I know! But I've yet to be convinced otherwise.

The question is open, shifting and changing. But I reckon it won't be too long before more people are asking what role do they want violence to play in their life, and what are they willing to do to achieve it? Can we just ignore it and deligitimize it, hoping it will go away by shame? Perhaps the ideal of a warrior might be useful, as it has in the past. Not perfect, but able and willing to defend what's important.


  • Hmmm, I have to disagree with what I think is the main point of your article.

    For instance, I cannot see how you can argue that in the US we live in a 'less violent' culture -- by any metric -- now than we did forty, fifty, or one hundred years ago. Look at crime statistics, look at violence in the media, look at violence in the 'arts'.

    Interestingly enough, just as a side note, the attempt at the 'delegitimization' of the American gun culture seems to have corresponded with an explosion in the amount of violence in our society. But I digress...

    I would posit that there is a difference between violence within a civil society and violence articulated between military units as combat. A libertarian will note that the 'initiation' of violence is always unjust, whether it is exercised by a sovereign nation or an individual. On the other hand, self defense is the only reasonable cause for the use of force.

    But in a civilized Hobbesian society, I think it is desirable for its members to live peacefully without the inclination to split someone else's skull at the slightest provocation. Thus, society inherently acts to suppress any violent natural inclinations man may have, in order to allow him to be a productive member of it. I think that is where basic military training comes in, to release some of that and channel it in the appropriate manner.

    If I missed the point, let me just say that I agree that Hollywood is screwed up beyond all repair, and that referenced Belmont Club article is excellent (that's a very good blog that I read regularly).

    By Anonymous JC, at 9:33 AM  

  • If only you had an Israeli you could ask about Munich... :)

    Spielberg hired a local P.R. here for the movie, and he arranged a special screening for the Munich olympics victims' families, that's how important public opinion here is to him.

    The thing is that the whole post Munich revenge thing is kinda known as a fuck up in local folklore, and led to a shift in the way Mossad works, but it's still problematic because Spielberg's using the story, which isn't cmpletely based on facts, to prove a point to America. So once again, we're doing the dirty work for you :)

    By Anonymous Efrat, at 3:34 PM  

  • JC-

    My point is not that we are less violent, but that by trying to deligitimize violence through popular culture or other social conventions, you raise the benefits to those who will disobey social conventions. A la: with gun control, only criminals will have guns. But even beyond this, the flip-side seems to be a significant lack of people with the knowledge or willingness to counteract that, despite the 'moral superiority' of one who espouses the values of nonviolence. Those who would be warriors and defenders of the society that produced them.

    I think a libertarian perspective might appreciate the values of a society that accepts human nature as chaotic, but channels the violent tendencies into more socially productive ends. Such as sports, or the military, or economic competition among citizens. But the problems come when you deny these outlets, infringe on their privacy to inhibit them doing certain sports (including guns and such). An acceptance of this seems much more healthy than denial, if a little less faith in our fellow man. Or perhaps it's more faith- with freedom we be both great or evil, limited only by our indivual efforts.

    The BC also touched on how proficient the Pentagon and our warfighters are getting at in shaping media coverage- as they defend themselves, they adapt to the hostility that used to be shouldered by our representatives. That would be another post, if not a PhD thesis. I'll hold that for another day. But it is a troubling reality of 'modern' warfighting.

    Effi: I was hoping to get your perspective on Munich! It makes sense that Spielberg would go to some trouble to present his film in Israel favorably, but how did the substance of it strike you? Even if the operation was some sort of screw-up, does that mean we're no good and just the same as those who target noncombatants? I find myself having a hard time giving them that credit. In the religious sense, we're all of the same substance, of course- but our day to day lives are marked by the choices we make. Do we then, judge people by their religions or nationalities- ie Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc.... or by the things they do? Where do we draw the line between savage and civilized- and what do we do about it?

    I find myself hard-pressed to do that, giving the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure no small part of that comes from my current status.

    In the meantime, I'm afraid you're still doing our dirty work- do you think that'll change anytime soon? Couldn't say...

    By Blogger sunguh5307, at 8:33 PM  

  • You should also check out this tangentially related article at Free Will, which attempts to explain some of Hollywood's woes.... namely they are making movies they want to see, that push their agenda, not what the audience wants to see.

    By Anonymous JC, at 4:31 AM  

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