A Rant About Violent Movies


So you want a rant, do you? What? You say you’re tired of the frothing at the mouth, end of the world, I-have-all-the-answers racket that goes on 24 hours a day now?

Me, too. But this one can’t be helped.

Creating Demand for Violence

The WordPress blogmeister has this thing called Mind the Gap where you present your “side” of an issue.  I rarely participate because as I say, I’m tired of negativity and division and general pointless opining.

But this week, they asked: Does watching violent movies inspire violence in the real world?

This is something personal to me, like being a vegetarian.

Several decades ago, I chose to stop supporting violence in the movies after I heard some producer saying that the reason they made so many violent movies was because that’s what people wanted. So I thought I would vote with my dollars.

I miss an awful lot of movies, and I often can’t join in conversations with my friends who have just seen a film I skipped because of violence. I’m sure some people think I’m eccentric or stodgy or overly dramatic. I don’t care.

I feel pretty strongly about this. I do not want that crap in my head. It is bad for my psyche. I think it’s bad for your psyche, too. And I think it’s bad for a budding young terrorist’s psyche.

Does it affect society? Damn straight it does. Frankly, I do not know and I do not care what studies show. It is common sense.

I cannot believe that people are seriously asking about the Boston bombers, “How could a young man who grew up in America commit such an unspeakable act?”


Garbage in, garbage out. Blood and gore in, blood and gore out.

I wonder if one reason so many people are on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds is that we’re all walking around with mild post-traumatic-stress-disorder from exposing ourselves to blood and guts and body parts and decapitations and stabbings and shootings and bombs.

That is not entertainment to me. It is trauma.

At best, we can brace ourselves for violence in a film, inure ourselves, numb ourselves. How is that good? Why should I pay money for that?

This is not an unpleasant reality we’re forced to face, like a Boston Marathon bombing; it is an unpleasant fake reality people choose to subject themselves to. It’s a cheap, low-blow to the gut that makes people think they have seen an effective movie.

Remember the great Alfred Hitchcock films? Those scary movies from the 40s and 50s and 60s that practically made you pee your pants?  Yet in his most celebrated films, the murders always took place off stage. Maybe the shadow of a knife.

You lost none of the drama – in fact the subtlety contributed to the terror. Until the Psycho shower scene, when Hitchcock gave in to the pull of violence, and we started our inexorable plunge down the drain to the cesspool we’re in now.

We Don’t Even Recognize Violence Anymore

The other night I went to a movie at my local theater.

“Is it violent?” I asked at the ticket window.

“Noooo,” the guy said, considering.

“You don’t sound too sure,” I said. He knows me. I ask this question every week.

“Well, two older women walked out of the last show, but it’s not that bad.”

“That’s OK,” I said. I went home and watched a Downton Abbey episode instead.

I found out later that the whole movie was about violence, but one friend explained that it really wasn’t violent because it had a redemptive ending where the guy decides not to pull the trigger (this, after several hours of carnage).

One Voice for Nonviolence – Plus One, Plus One, Plus…

I know it seems silly. One person’s choice to boycott gratuitous violence in movies won’t make a difference in what Hollywood does. True. One person might not make a difference. But if one person doesn’t start, it is guaranteed nothing will change.

It’s like being a vegetarian. Back in the early seventies when I quit eating meat, only one percent of Americans were vegetarians. I didn’t know one. Now – depending on whose polls you look at – it’s 5% to 13%. And that doesn’t include the 1/3 of the population that regularly eats vegetarian meals. This weekend I went to a local vegan festival and hundreds of people showed up. Here are two of them — perfectly normal folks.


Vegans are Sprouting up Everywhere

Eating meat is not good for me. Watching violent scenes is not good for me. I don’t think either of those things is good for you either, but I’m not going to get in your business. You make your own choices. But at least think about it, OK?

And a last word from the Bible, because I like the Bible:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. “

Thanks to Publicdomainpictures.net

He Was Dead, Right There in the Left Lane


“I saw the guy’s eyes get really huge, right before his motorcycle smacked into my truck. He flew 45 feet. He was dead, right there in the left lane.”

Oh my God,” I say to the long-distance trucker, “that must have been so traumatic for you.”

“No,” he says, “I saw a lot of that in the military. No biggie.” He squeezes more ketchup onto his hash browns.

No biggie?

I had this conversation over breakfast yesterday with a trucker at the Village Diner in Pennsylvania. He drives what’s appropriately dubbed a “crash truck” – the one that cruises along behind wide loads with fluttering flags and such.

Even if he had seen “a lot of that” in the military, which it turns out he hadn’t (his major service consisted of building a golf course, a football field, and beer garden at a base in Texas), this would rate as a biggie. Yet he pooh-poohs this other guy’s bloody death.

Which brings me to my point.

Why are people so averse to talking about death?

What scythe? I don’t see no scythe.

I know this is a dumb question, on one level. Death is, from our current vantage point, a highly unpleasant certainty. But most people who have experienced the deathbed vigil with a friend or family member know how profound the moment of death is. I have heard many use the seemingly incongruous word, “beautiful.”

We will all “join the great majority . . . join the choir invisible . . . go the way of all flesh.” This final passing is the one thing we all have in common. And aren’t writers urged to write about the universals, to try to find the themes and experiences that everyone can relate to? What’s more universal? Still, if I had started this post with the inviting words, “Let’s talk about death and dying,” you might well not have clicked.

There’s been a lot of death and dying going on in my circles lately. The universe has been teaching me to be more comfortable with death since my mother’s passing four years ago, during which she saw and said things that made me want to go with her — “Oh what are those beautiful winged creatures . . . why can’t they be here all the time?”

I’d like to read and write and hear about death and grieving, but it’s not a popular topic. Even the Christian Science Monitor **, a church-owned newspaper with a public-service mission, tells writers:

“We accept essays on a wide variety of subjects, and encourage timely, newsy topics.

However, we don’t deal with the topics of death, aging and disease.

Some examples:

It’s raining acorns!

In the basement, we putter and flutter.”

They want to print essays on “home, family, gardening, neighborhood, and community,” but only the ones where nobody ever gets sick or dies.  Even poets, who are usually exempt from “no sad things” rules, are advised:

“We do not publish work that presents people in helpless or hopeless states.

Nor do we print poetry about death, aging, and illness, or anything dark,

violent, sensual or overtly religious.”

When one of my stories was being published in the AARP Bulletin** http://www.aarp.org/work/social-security/info-11-2011/melanie-griffin.html#.TrqiPkT6_dg.email, they sent a photographer whose only advice was, “You’re not allowed to wear black in AARP.” Apparently, even eighty-year-old retirees mustn’t be exposed to the shadows. Here’s the game:

  • Let’s all be young forever!
  • Let’s keep our penises erect!
  • Keep those age spots bleached!
  • If you break the rules and get old or sick and want to reflect on death, I promise to tousle your hair and say jauntily, “Oh don’t talk like that, you’ll pull through!!”

That last rule is the worst. Not only do we avoid talking about death; we don’t even want the dying to talk about it. This costs us dearly. It is a privilege to help someone to the Great Beyond, but we have to be willing to walk alongside them. Only the dying can truly teach us how to face death ourselves. But we don’t want to hear about it. (Nothing competes when it comes to evasive euphemisms.)

Maybe if we don’t acknowledge the guy over there with the cape & scythe, we can avoid that little unpleasantness altogether.


** – This is not to say that I don’t ADORE the Christian Science Monitor and the AARP Bulletin. I would consider it a great privilege to appear in the pages of those august publications. Honest.

I highly recommend this wonderful little book by a hospice nurse. Yes, its’ about dying: http://www.maggiecallanan.com/finalgifts.htm

If you want, you’re even allowed to joke about IT. Kudos to Tig Notaro, stand-up comedian who I recently heard doing her “I have cancer” bit on NPR’s This American Life. Here’s the podcast site: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/476/what-doesnt-kill-you?act=1

%d bloggers like this: