With an emphasis on the "What’s.”
I was flipping around the channels the other night and I came upon Homeland, which I heard can be good but I had never watched it myself.
At the juncture of the episode I came in on, some people are hiding in a “Safe Room” and terrorists want one of them to come out, threatening that, if he doesn’t, they will begin executing a series of hostages, who are currently lined up on their knees, awaiting their destinies.
When the people in the “Safe Room” refuse to give up the person the terrorists are asking for, the terrorists, in regular intervals, put a gun to their heads and, in methodical succession, blow the brains out of the kneeling hostages, who then topple to the ground, as a result of being dead.
I must admit I was a little bit mesmerized by these proceedings. I have seen similar setups in the past, but on those occasions, the camera inevitably cuts away, to the wall or, perhaps, the sadistic shooter’s face. You’d hear the shot, and when they cut back, the newly dispatched victim would be lying on the ground, in a pool of blood, or in earlier days… just lying there, though the audience of the day was conditioned to understand they were dead without requiring further evidence.
These guys, by contrast, I (as part of the audience) was actually witnessing getting shot directly in the head. Not really, but still.
I observed two hostages getting shot in the head. Then I moved on to other channels. But from that passing experience, a residual thought continued buzzing in my head:
CUE: THE UPBEAT CLASSIC OF THE SAME NAME, UNDERSCORING THE INCONGRUITY. “DUM DA…DA-DA DA-DA-DA-DA…”
I admit to being an anomaly when it comes on cinematic violence. I was freaked out by the movie violence in the fifties and, by contemporary standards, there wasn’t any.
Still, every time I watched a pinned-down cavalryman scan the unpopulated terrain before him and say,
“It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”
I knew an arrow would come instantly whizzing in, putting an end to his accurate assessment of the situation for good. The man was a goner. And so was I, racing for the bathroom the moment he lifted himself above “trench level” to look around.
I was inordinately squeamish at an early age. And I never grew out of it.
The thing is… you see… I still want to watch something. Unfortunately, with the… I resist using the word “advancement” because “advancement” implies approval, in contrast to “regression” which suggests it is moving in a retrograde direction. On the other hand, writing “advancement” with quotes around it might suggest I am being sarcastic, which I, in no way, wish to imply.
Oh, woe – and my limited communicational abilities – is me.
You can easily observe what’s been going on – our entertainment is indisputably more graphic. The explanations for “Why?” fly in from numerous directions. (By the way, as with violence, so with sex, whose depictions have also become more graphically realistic, meaning “This is admittedly extreme but not entirely beyond the spectrum especially if you’re single and under thirty.” See: Girls. Or… don’t.)
Three perspectives explaining why our entertainment is increasingly graphic:
1. The Economic Perspective:
Since the arrival of television, movies have always dreaded its encroaching footsteps. My God, television (at least before cable) was free! How could movies ever possibly compete with that?
Their Answer: They could compete with “more.”
“Come to the movies. We’ll show dying like you can never see it at home.”
Of course, cable changed all that. Now, movies or television, everybody dies equally gruesomely. If anything, movie deaths, especially in the hugely popular “comic book” movies, have become, via their generic cartooniness, less gruesome. In one I saw, the superhero was so resiliently awesome, death was no more than a brief nap, from which he miraculously awoke and began immediately kicking superhero butt – and here’s the kicker – involving astronomically budgeted “Weapons of Destruction” with which television could not possibly compete.
Television caught up in “gruesome.” Meaning, now, I can not only not go to the movies, I cannot watch stuff in my own living room as well.
2. The Creative Perspective:
“I am an artist. I have seen my competitors depict dying. You call that dying? I’ll show you dying!”
And, ever since Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde, there has been a continual “Can you top this?” in “bite the dust” representations.
3. The Audience Perspective:
“We’ve seen that already. Show us something we haven’t seen!”
If you can’t go back, you must inevitably go forward. The question is, “Where exactly are we going forward to?” “Snuff” films? Not at all being provocative. “Snuff” films is the ultimate step in the process – it is the “realest” and the “gruesome-est.” The road to that destination is indeterminately lengthy. But in the end, and considering the direction we are traveling in, what exactly would stop us from getting there?
I am aware that, in a free country, you are not compelled to watch anything that does not appeal to you.
The Bottom Line, however, is…
I would like to watch something.
WARNING (AND I WILL WRITE THIS IN COLOR SO YOU WON’T MISS IT:
I AM NOT HERE TO ARGUE THAT THE ENTERTAINMENTS OF THE PAST WERE SUPERIOR.
WHAT I AM TRULY INTERESTED IN IS WHAT OUR CONTEMPORARY POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT IS SAYING ABOUT ITS AUDIENCE.
BECAUSE, PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE I HAVE TO LIVE WITH.