In Boozo Veritas #5 by Teege Braune
Why I Love Violence
If you haven’t read Mark Pursell’s Like a Geek God blog post “Dr. Who, An Unarmed Hero,” please do. The article is an homage to “the anti-gun pacifist alien espousing diplomacy and intellectualism” Dr. Who, an odd-duck amongst geek culture heroes and a respite from the average blood-thirsty warriors of fantasy, sci-fi, and comic books. While Mark never once becomes preachy or suggests that the sword, laser blaster, and machine gun wielding characters that populate the bulk of geek media should or will disappear, he rightfully hails an alternative to the never-ending barrage of carnage that movies, television, graphic novels, and video games throw at us. Why don’t we have more protagonists who, like the good doctor, value beauty, creativity, and peaceful solutions to conflicts, who detest aggression and violence of any kind?
Mark goes out of his way to mention that he doesn’t “personally believe that violent movies, games, and TV shows can be convincingly held accountable when an unstable person takes up arms against a crowded theater or an elementary school.” Nevertheless, it’s hard for any analytical person to see the sheer magnitude of human atrocities in our media, both fictional and non, and not recognize that both phenomenon are the products of a culture absolutely obsessed with violence. Jesus, who wouldn’t welcome a break from all that and embrace a peace-loving hero like Dr. Who?
That being said, I think part of the reason I found Mark’s article so moving was because it forced me to face an unresolved conflict within myself. Truth be told: I love violence. As long as it takes place safely within the context of fiction, I love love love violence. I don’t necessarily love that I love violence, but that fact doesn’t in any way make me love violence less. When given the option, I’ll always take Alien over Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Terminator over Robby the Robot, and yes, Neo over Dr. Who. I love violent movies whether they be shoot-em-up action flicks, spaghetti westerns, neo-noir, and above all else horror. Sometimes violence makes me cringe, sometimes it makes me laugh, and often, when it’s at its best, it does both. I find it exciting, thrilling, and I can’t for the life of me say why.
I need to point out that I also hate violence. I find nothing at all fun about reading news accounts of atrocities in this country and other war-torn parts of the world. These stories fill me with sorrow and disgust, and yet don’t prevent me from popping Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the DVD player when I get home from work. Certainly I’m not alone in this duality. The distinction between fiction and non in this context is everything. Nevertheless, sensitive as I can be, it is not a conflict that’s easy to reconcile. Anthropological explanations for the enduring popularity of horror and violent art in general usually point out that our brains reaction to fear is similar whether we are watching a character in peril or facing real, imminent danger, that witnessing a fictional person overcome or fall victim to physical harm in some way prepares us should we encounter similar circumstances. As accurate and psychologically sound an argument as this may, it fails to strike any kind of personal chord within me.
In his own 1981 essay “Why I Love Violence,” John Waters solves this dichotomy by simply abandoning it. As Waters explains his lifelong obsession with murder, death, and destruction, an obsession that led to the creation of some the most wonderfully twisted and sick movies in the history of cinema and the endearing title “Prince of Puke,” the reader becomes aware of a disturbing truth: though Waters is quick to mention, “I’ve never initiated physical violence in my life,” it becomes immediately clear that neither does he need violence to be fictional for it to delight him. Unlike myself, Waters lacks any ambivalence about his obsession. He openly admits to fantasies about real, fatal disasters, the 1960 Indianapolis 500 tragedy being a favorite, and is a connoisseur of true crime.
Waters never bothers to justify himself to his reader. In the end, you walk away from the essay knowing without a doubt that he loves violence, but no more able to say exactly why. That being said, what follows is admittedly only my own supposition, but I think Waters’ interest in violence may simply be an radical acceptance of an unchanging fact of life. Even an utopic society would face continual hurricanes, volcanoes, and other natural disaster decimating entire populations. Perhaps Waters’ approach to violence is a more honest way of viewing it than my own in the same way that my love of consuming fish would be ruined if I actually had to gut one myself. Furthermore, Waters’ has used his fascination with violence to make positive changes in the lives of others; the work he’s done in maximum security prisons, teaching creative writing to murderers and other violent criminals, is truly inspiring.
This doesn’t mean I think we should all be John Waters, as much as I love him. I also have undying respect for the peaceniks, pacifists, and Dr. Whos of the world. My own visceral response to real-life violence is guaranteed to keep me as far away from it as possible, and lately I have found that even fictional violence, when it becomes too realistic or mean-spirited, can really bother me. The exploitation films I used to love hold less appeal for me now, and there are moments when images from movies like Cannibal Holocaust, Blood Sucking Freaks, and Man Bites Dog haunt me, making wish I could un-see films I genuinely appreciate. Perhaps I am getting soft as I enter my mid-thirties. Maybe all of my favorite violent movies will lose their appeal the closer I get to middle-age. But I kind of doubt it.
Recently, inspired by Mark’s thought-provoking article, I decided to give Dr. Who another shot. I got bored within the first five minutes and put on John Carpenter’s The Thing for the umpteenth time. As the shape-shifting alien menace ripped apart MacReady’s unfortunate crew, I stopped worrying why I took such joy in their demise and simply enjoyed the ride, never forgetting how glad I was that it was only fiction.
I shall return next week with more drinking stories and musings on the sauce.
Teege Braune (figured right) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.