It’s not my place to expound on events such as the Connecticut school shootings where so many innocent people died last week. I’m not qualified, and although I have an opinion about it, as we presumably all do, opinions, least of all mine aren’t going to help anyone. But I will voice an opinion, helpful or otherwise, about something I saw recently, coincidentally on the same day that those shootings took place.
The trailers to the new Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained, two and a half-minute packages of graphic violence in word and deed are now available for all to enjoy on various websites. Of course there may be more to the movie than can be gleaned from watching a couple of trailers, but having seen something of that director’s work in the past I rather doubt it. However well dressed up, the movie will essentially be about individuals experiencing traumatic injustices and/or gruesome conflicts all of which will sooner or later be avenged by the use of an arsenal of assorted weaponry, in this case mainly handguns. The characters will be believable and the dialogue edgy and sardonic. As an audience we will root for the good guy however flawed, and come to despise the bad guy for his misdeeds. But never fear – revenge will be sweet and death will come swiftly to those who stand in the way of vengeance blah, blah, blah. In short Django Unchained is a Spaghetti Western with brains and apparently, in its use of certain characterizations, with 2012 sensibilities.
While my opinion about Tarantino and his work is that it would be better for everyone if he would confine his psychosexual fantasies to the psychiatrist’s couch (preferably while locked away in a remote mental asylum) it goes without saying that his work is by no means the worst of what’s out there. What it does seem to be, judging by the critical reaction to his movies is the acceptable face of extreme violence, made stylish and attractive by the use of hip dialogue and the sharp character definitions so beloved of film critics everywhere. Seen in this light ultra-violence is almost a desirable lifestyle choice and its practitioners trendsetters.
I abhor violence in whatever form it presents itself but I believe that I’ve come to a degree of understanding about particular aspects of it. I understand, for example, that certain people while living safe, secure, but tightly structured lives can become fascinated by the decisive act of violence as a way of cutting through confusion and complexity. I also understand its seductive power as a simplistic means to an end, and even as a form of self-expression when all else fails.
As a very young soldier I experienced the powerful effects that both random and organised violence can have on individuals, groups, and societies. There is an intoxicating sense of liberation when our flimsy social structures fall away and life becomes a matter of striking first and hardest. All questions are answered and all doubts silenced in such moments. Caught up in that delirium consequences are for others to worry about, a dangerous illusion so insidious that otherwise sane and grounded people can easily be swept away by it.
From a Distance
The cowardice that lurks at the heart of the use of guns is carefully masked by the technical and cultural blarney that surrounds it, but it comes down to this: The ability to strike decisively from a distance simply by choosing to do so allows a level of dissociation from the consequences of the act and requires a lesser, meaner kind of courage than, for example, the courage of the boxer who steps into the ring to go nose to nose with his opponent. This same detachment allows soldiers in helicopter gunships to massacre innocent people gathering in the street below, allows for the use and justification of robot drones to bomb and kill at the touch of a distant button, and allows politicians to send generations of youngsters to do their dirty work for them. If on the face of it these actions may seem to have little connection with one another, I’m utterly convinced that in essence they are one and the same thing.
From my personal experience I know that nothing, not my upbringing, not the endless hours of training, nor my knowledge of, and confidence in the piece of technology that I held in my hands prepared me in a fit way for the moment when I had to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on another human being. This was the crucial piece that was missing I realised much, much later – an ability to grasp the full consequences of what my training and clever technology had made me capable of doing.
Links in the Chain
Maybe it’s because these days I tend to see things from a holistic point of view rather than grouping causes and effects into separate, disconnected boxes that I’m unable to make a clear distinction between the man who designs, manufactures, and sells the weapon, and the man who carries the process to its logical conclusion and uses it to commit an act of violence. To me the designer of the landmine for example, safely out of sight in his workshop, is no better than the man who deploys the device with the intention of blowing another human being to bits. The person who then produces a work of pop entertainment that normalizes, justifies, romanticizes or glorifies that act is just another culpable link in the chain, no better than the arms trader or the psychotic who closes the circle.
This should be the clearly recognised and acknowledged chain of culpability, beginning with the bright spark who designs and markets the weapon, via those who through various ways and means legalize, promote and profit from its use, to the poor fool who pulls the trigger. Surely it must be obvious by now that those who have to deal with the consequences are the victims of a collective effort channeled through a well-defined, well-worn trajectory.
Level of Consciousness
Attempting to fight gun crime or bring about peace by the use of more and more weaponry is a lunatic philosophy worthy of the cancer cell. Calling for the banning or restriction of arms sales to private individuals while at the same time indoctrinating young people in the advantages of their use and flooding the world with weapons of every possible description is nothing but the most cynical hypocrisy, in my opinion. But the arms industry and certain sections of the entertainment industry, amongst others, have a vested interest in keeping people at a level of consciousness that facilitates hatred, violence and warfare as means of dealing with our fears and uncertainties.
Tarting up extreme violence in a slick hi-tech package and selling it as a “game”, a cool fashion accessory or a must-see movie doesn’t make it ok. It’s not a useful contribution. At best it is deluded self-indulgence, and at worst an act of predatory capitalism with a nasty little ulterior motive. Neither does it confront us with “reality” to any useful extent or offer a valuable insight into the human condition, whatever critics and other media types might say ad nauseam. That particular piece of insight, however cleverly disguised in psychological hocus pocus has literally been done to death.
What it does do is keep us scared and stupid. Scared people, given the opportunity, go out and buy guns to make themselves feel safe, then sit at home nursing their insecurities until something has to give. Those who are scared and stupid go out and use them.