Entertaining Violence

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[This show will record early (at 5:00 pm Eastern) so that David Gammons can make it to an evening rehearsal for his next show.]

Like Shakespeare’s own audience, I was initially drawn to Titus Andronicus for the promise of spectacular, violent bloodshed. In his day it was his most popular play, bespeaking an Elizabethan taste for the gruesome and gory. We are all compelled to witness man’s capacity for cruelty; we are shocked but perversely satisfied to see that which is meant to stay inside come out into the light. We alleviate our own darkest fears and desires by seeing them played out on stage.

David R. Gammons, Director’s Notes on Titus Andronicus

So writes the seriously wild and wildly serious David Gammons, who has directed the current Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of Titus Andronicus just around the corner from our Harvard Square office. We last heard from the Actor’s Shakespeare Project when they had Alvin Epstein do King Lear. Lear has bluster and gore, but it’s no match for Titus. When the first act of this production ends, this is the familial misery parade we see: A young woman who has been raped, and whose hands and tongue have been cut off, holds her father’s lopped-off hand in her mute mouth. Her father marches along, carrying — with his good hand — the head of one of his murdered sons in a burlap sack. Her uncle has a head-filled sack of his own. And that’s all before the mayhem, suffocation, and cannibalism of the second half. (As Chris joked the morning after, “‘And what do you call this act?’ ‘The aristocrats!'”)

All of which begs the question: why are we compelled, as Gammons himself puts it, “to witness man’s capacity for cruelty?” Shakespeare didn’t invent cruelty as spectacle — or “entertaining violence,” in the phrase of an Actors’ Shakespeare Project symposium tonight — and it certainly didn’t end with him. Instead of gladiatorial contests (or, in some cases, in addition to their contemporary incarnations), we amuse ourselves with boxing and WWF, with video games and slasher films and torture scenes in 24.

We’re hoping to avoid the sanctimonious (and tired) conversation about the morality of violence as entertainment. We’re less interested in the societal implications of, say, graphic video games as they might be enumerated before a concerned Senate subcommittee. Instead, how about the interplay of voyeurism and catharsis, fantasy and blood lust, guilt and thrill?

We don’t want to hear the reasons you don’t like to watch; what are the reasons you do?

Update, 4/17 12:35pm

“Does the news make tonight’s show ghoulish?” Katherine asked in a staff e-mail this morning, echoing something Lumière wrote yesterday.

I figured I’d post my reply publicly:

My immediate reaction is: no. Would we have said this about the 289 Iraqis that were killed this past Saturday? Or after the bombs in Algeria last week? Did millions of people not watch 24 last night? We live in a terribly violent world, a truly violent world, and that has to be part of the reason that watching staged violence in different forms is a perennial form of our entertainment.

Now, having said all of that, does doing this show tonight make me a little nervous? Yes. I think the only way to do it right tonight is to acknowledge the horror and catastrophe that happens all the time — including yesterday morning, as a particularly shocking example — and then to say: so why, why do we willingly, sometimes eagerly, watch more?

David Gammons

Director, Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s Titus Andronicus

Director of the theatre program, Concord Academy

Eric Lichtenfeld

Author, Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie

Phillip Freeman

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Institute

Extra Credit Reading

The Movie Chick, 300 Review, The Movie Chick’s blog on Myspace.com, April 16, 2007: “But then a movie like 300 comes out and it reminds you why you really do like violent movies! 300 is a masterpiece of severed limbs, digital blood spewing, and manly cries of ‘THIS…IS…SPARTAAAAAAA! It is a visual feast for the eyes.”

Penny Larson, A whole new perspective on rape, Penny’s Story, April 15, 2007: “As I mentioned above, all of the characters were played by male actors. This created an interesting dynamic during the rape scene. Jennifer and I were talking about it, and she said that the rape scene was less intense for her because Lavinia was portrayed by a man. I, however, as a transwoman seemed to have the opposite reaction. Seeing a man portraying a woman suffering a rape connected very strongly with me.”

David Boyles, Batshit Crazy, Stratford to QC, April 11, 2007: “Which leads us into the big question about Titus: is it simply A) morally repugnant violence for the sake of entertainment on the scale of pro wrestling or pseudo-snuff films like “Saw”, or is it B) a more knowing comment on the culture of violence, and violence as entertainment, such as the work of Tarantino or “The Sopranos”?”

ryan, Blood & Violence in Video Games: GDC 2007, Massively Online Gamer, March 12, 2007: “Often most player’s don’t give a rats-ass what they’re decapitating as long as it gives experience or harms an opposing player. Morality never enters the picture because a players’ struggle is virtual. Typically players don’t roll-play; they grind, lore hardly factors in beyond character generation. If a player were to face choices & consequences in the same way the heroes of the film did most combat would be a rare commodity indeed. And subsequently the game would be boring.”

Ken Brosky, On Mortality, Violence, and Consequences, An Author’s Journey, March 19, 2007: “That wimpy lawyer in “Jurassic Park” who got eaten on the john by a T-rex? Probably had a family. The psycho family in “The Devil’s Rejects” killed a lot of people, people who begged and screamed and yet even movie critics were rooting for the bad guys to “win.””

Adrienswords, The Path of the Righteous, Adrienswords, March 1, 2007: “This is the standard take on Tarantino. He’s the visual gangsta rapper. Riffing off cool lines and spectacular kills for the blood-hungry. The thing is whilst that’s true, the idea that the whole thing is a pointless exercise in visceral thrill is untrue.”

Gale Edwards, View from the director’s chair…Gale Edwards on TITUS, Digital Shakespeare, March 19, 2007: “I think the play is extremely relevant to our times. If you can access the right internet site, you can witness live beheadings. Turn on the evening news, and you can watch a blood bath that leaves this play looking conservative.”

Bobo, in a comment on Open Source, April 16, 2007: “I also like real life violence. I don’t mean like stopping to see a car crash, I count that in the same despicable category as TV News. I mean I like to engage and be engaged in violence. Admittedly, I’m a pretty big guy, and I’m not afraid to use my physical strength when it is useful. But I would never get any enjoyment out of violence where either myself or ‘the other guy’ was a victim.”

zeke, in a comment on Open Source, April 17, 2007: “Linking back to a show from last week: I wonder if our brains respond differently depending on the representation and context in which we view violence. Presumably they do; violence on stage is different from violence on film. Both, obviously, are different from seeing someone beaten in front of you.”

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  • hurley

    There’s the drama of nature, “red in tooth and claw,” and the essential kinetic drama behind it, to which our senses are inexorably, biologically drawn, wherein things live and die and both terms are set in motion. Violence more than a condition of our existence, but a parable of our existence, and most of us want to know more about that, even if we don’t know what it is we want to know.

  • regarding “the reasons you like to watch”:

    I’m not sure reason enters into it. We’re biologically hard-wired to pay attention to things of interest to our survival, such as sex and violence. Because we’re constantly bombarded with so many signals, which we’ve learned to screen out, advertisers and entertainers and others wanting our attention use sex and violence. Sex and violence slip past our reasoning defenses to affect us.

    To the extent that we willingly permit entrance to violence, it’s to awaken our numbed selves.

  • hurley

    A guest you might consider, William Vollmann, author of the epic Rising Up and Down, a sort of moral calculus of violence. My heart sinks at the prospect of such a thing, but he’s arrived at his own, having witnessed much in the process.

  • RobertPeel

    I still wonder about our need to Scapegoat(Rene Girard). I remember the faces of a sculpure of a crownd in Montreal. Is the capactiy for violence part of the human. How do we tame the savage beast within?

  • Lumière

    At Least 29 Killed in Virginia Tech Shootings

    At least 29 people were killed this morning in a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, authorities now say. Another 21 people were wounded.

    President Charles Steger describes it as a tragedy of “monumental proportions.”

  • Lumière

    Maybe this isn’t a good time for this show

  • hurley

    On the contrary, Lumière.

  • Potter

    I would not seek out a bloody movie but I happened to fall into watching Martin Scorcese’s “Gangs of New York” not that long ago and was riveted to the end. It was the story that carried me along. It had me emotionally but as well my interest in that period of history and the possibility of the underlying moral lesson or understanding to be derived. The filming and the acting carried me through as well. I think it was the blood and gore that burned it into me. But if a production only wants to take advantage of my emotions- I can’t acquiesce.

    That is very different from watching a “graphic” documentary. I just heard an interview with the filmmaker who made “Baghdad ER” ” Blood Guts and Glory in Iraq (Terri Gross Fresh Air last week) and I am glad I heard the interview but do not want to see the film.

  • rahbuhbuh

    when I saw “Curse of the Golden Flower” with its gob-smacking quantities of Tang Dynastry warrior casualties due to the bickering of a few royal family members, it was beautiful in scale and choreography. Yes, it was bloody and horrific, but still captivating. But, this is romanticized intimate violence which is outdated.

    I was shown “Platoon” at an early age and it chastened me when playing soldier. I think as long as you have the capacity to watch realistic violence without sadistic intent, and counter balance viewing artful violence with the occassional “Gangs of New York,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” or “Saving Private Ryan,” you’ve enacted a little film penance. Too much of either is suspect.

    Julie Taymor’s “Titus” should not be ignored here.


  • plnelson

    why are we compelled, as Gammons himself puts it, “to witness man’s capacity for cruelty?”

    Who do you mean by “we” paleface?

    I personally cannot stand violent movies. The world itself is so full of violence and the daily news reflects this, so the idea of paying perfectly good money and deliberately devoting several hours of your precious time to watch actors depict violence in a movie or on stage seems beyond ludicrous!

    Suppose outside your office there was a construction project going on and your day was constantly filled with the sound of jackhammers and nailguns and cement mixers and compressors running. On your weekends would your idea of a fun evening be to rent a DVD of that stuff and curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn to watch it for two hours?

    I think people who like to watch violent, gory movies are, to a degree, mentally disturbed.

    I’d be curious to know whether a preference for violence in entertainment is more common among males. I suspect it is.

  • rc21

    Potter, gangs of New York was not a very realistic movie. I read the book and as usual the film maker totally misrepresented the facts.

    I will say Daniel Day Lewis did an excellent job of acting, and if I had not read the book I would have enjoyed the movie more.

  • Ben

    Mediated violence is a natural thing that humans have collectively experienced for almost all of recorded history. Gladiatorial combat in Rome records back as far as 264BCE, the MesoAmerican ballgame and it’s coordinated human sacrifices go back to 1600BCE or further in the Yucatan.

    How violence is mediated and used as a cultural tool changes with the times, but I think the purveyor of violent imageries for our stories may be as normal of a member of our collective existence as a vintner or an architect is.

  • rc21

    pln, I must agree I do not see the enjoyment of blood and gore movies, especially the slasher types.

    I find myself looking for movies of the past to watch. I especially enjoy the 40’s and 50’s.

    Now adays Movies tend to be built around violence. In the past violence was a small part of movies.

    Another thing I hate is the constant swearing that goes on in todays movies. It’s as if a movie maker has to prove his realism and gritiness by assaulting my senses with vulgarity.

  • valkyrie607

    I saw that there’s a sequel to 28 Days Later coming out: 28 Weeks Later. I’m intrigued because 28 Days Later was the one movie that freaked me the fuck out. (I haven’t seen many other horror films–I don’t really care for them, now you see why.) I couldn’t even finish watching it, my heart was pounding so hard I thought I was going to pass out. Despite the insistence of my rational mind, it’s just a movie, it’s just a movie, the images of zombies stuck with me for weeks. Especially on my 45-minute nighttime bike ride home that same evening–I even stopped to turn my taillight off so as to avoid attracting zombie attention. Wierd, huh? I knew I was being completely irrational, but I did it anyway.

    Movies like Gangs of New York, or Tarentino’s movies, I don’t have the same reaction to. I may like or dislike them, but the violence is removed, at a distance, and I enjoy witnessing it that way.

  • Bobo

    In light of today’s horrific events, I hesitate to say what I am about to say.

    I like violence. In the movies? Yes. In the news? Never. Violence in the news is almost always cowardly. There is a clear division between the victim and the evil-doer (genocide, random killing, serial killers). The only reaction we can have in this case is pity. Rarely can we really say we ‘admire’ the victim. And we certainly can’t admire the perpetrator, their despicable cowardice overwhelms us. You can’t get any enjoyment out of it, well, unless you’re a true sadist.

    I also like real life violence. I don’t mean like stopping to see a car crash, I count that in the same despicable category as TV News. I mean I like to engage and be engaged in violence. Admittedly, I’m a pretty big guy, and I’m not afraid to use my physical strength when it is useful. But I would never get any enjoyment out of violence where either myself or ‘the other guy’ was a victim.

    I’m not just talking about pointless bar fights, though they can be fun sometimes. The real thrill of violence comes when you’re either fighting for your life, or fighting for something you’re willing to give your life for. But this thrill has become a ‘bad’ thing in our culture. Fear of violence and fear of death has become moralized into a whole ethos of ‘health and non-violence.’ Personally, I have never felt more alive than those moments when I’m close to death, knowing that if I die, I do so for myself, for my loved-ones, or for an idea I believe in.

    But since violence and death have become ‘evil’ in real life, we turn to the movies for just a taste of a meaningful life. If a person has never put their life on the line, watching someone else do it will have to suffice. There’s no difference between this and pornography. Sex is a beautiful and meaningful part of being human, and porn is an unsatisfying shade of this beauty, but it gives the temporary illusion of sex. The same is true with real violence and violent movies. Now that violence is ‘evil’, all we have left is voyeurism. Don’t you think people would watch a lot of porn if sex were made illegal?

    While my feet are in the states, my heart is definitely buried in the beautiful grit of Bombay right now. That’s where I learned to love violence and to love love with equal vigor. That’s where I learned to live. Where did you?

  • rc21

    Valkyrie607, The first halloween movie gave me the same reaction and by todays standards I don’t think it is even considered that gory or violent.

    Never the less I ran home from my friends house that night instead of taking my usual leisurely walk.

  • As a child I was fascinated with the Vincent Price films that were based on the sociopathic protagonist who had gruesome ways of torturing people to death as a means of vengeance. I wasn’t simply watching for the sake of entertainment. At some point I realized that I was conjuring up what I thought was the most long, slow, painful death I could imagine. Why? I think it served two purposed: 1) made my plight seem less painful in comparison; and, 2) gave me a twisted sense of power – not physical power but mental power, resourcefulness. Helped me to believe that I would survive my plight.

    Later, in intense therapy, I had a period of extremely grotesque and twisted nightmares. I was traumatized by what my mind was capable. in the end, I had a huge breaktrough in my emotional health. With a more peaceful internal life, I lost interest in violence as entertainment with the exception, perhaps, of using it to illuminate the hero/heroine archetype in a well-told story.

    Am I unusual?

    I do think that I am more self-assured because I learned to shoot a gun as a girl living in the West. Also, I successfully defended – read “fought off” – myself from threatening men as a young woman. I have no need to ever put my hands on a gun, or to hone my fighting skills, but I have a sense of some strength just knowing that I can, if necessary. I was just talking with a friend this afternoon about the contemplation of taking our daughters to a firing range when they’re older. It’s a survival instinct, I think. Perhaps when you don’t feel so vulnerable you have less need for violence as entertainment?

  • herbert browne

    Thanks, allison… my own conjecture is that a view of (or partaking in) a violent act, and being able to do so without flinching (or closing one’s eyes, &/or running away) is, possibly, character-building… and may, to a degree, make it more possible to “speak truth to power” some day. It does bring us to face our own mortality- and the ideas that flow from that particular awareness (eg the “good” deaths- the selfless heroes, Jesus, etc)- as well as the mortality of all creatures.

    Providing food on the farm (or by hunting and fishing) is far less common than it was once… and that makes these vicarious options (with all their “moral weighting”) more relevant than they would have been for earlier generations of Americans. The nihilistic violence that’s an outgrowth of power struggles (& maybe internal “power struggles” that lead to the random acts of violence) seems to be, unfortunately, the model for much of the video game industry. The beheading of a chicken or two for Sunday supper is a violent act… and the birth of a large animal can be traumatizing, sometimes, by its visceral & bloody nature, to both the young and those unfamiliar with such events… The experience of these things can help educate and inform a person to “keep one’s wits”, if one finds oneself in the midst of a “situation”, down the road… ^..^

  • plnelson

    Personally, I have never felt more alive than those moments when I’m close to death, knowing that if I die, I do so for myself, for my loved-ones, or for an idea I believe in.

    Of course this is eactly what motivates terrorists.

    Our species has a history of violence, mostly committed by males. I think the comments in Bobo’s post illustrate the mental illness (testosterone poisoning?) that underly our species’ problem. Several studies have shown a link between testosterone levels and violence (even in women). Someone should do a study where we give volunteers a testosterone antagonist and ask them to rate movies and compare their preferences to a control group.

  • zeke

    Linking back to a show from last week: I wonder if our brains respond differently depending on the representation and context in which we view violence. Presumably they do; violence on stage is different from violence on film. Both, obviously, are different from seeing someone beaten in front of you.

    Also, having enjoyed ASP’s Titus, I would love to hear David Gammons explain the process that lead to the choices they made in staging the play’s violence. They settled on abstract symbolism over naturalistic representation and, in the banquet scene, comedy over horror.

  • loki

    I know this dates me. The Opening and Closing scenes of Sam Pechinpah’s the Wild Bunch still a vivid for me. The Hole in the Wall Gang goes into town and shoot up the town while children are watching. The final scenes have children(are they immitating the Gang.) pretending that they are shooting one another.

    Is this what Shakespeare is after having us face ourselves in a culture where adult violences becomes child’s play. Or is Shakespeare’s on stage violence purgative i.e. acting it out on stage so it does not get acted out in life.

    Also, what is the imapct of Iraq on our daily life-street violence and murder in a university?

  • Violence in movies has its place, but some ways of using it are more productive than others. I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105695/), which tries to help us understand violence. In the end it sticks with me more than, say, High Plains Drifter or Dirty Harry.

  • jonallen

    Human violence, whether it is Homicide or Suicide, has been with us always, as far as our history books and/or mythologies will take us.

    I was accepted for admission to Cornell University, which I loved when I spent a summer there for an NSF Physics program, but I chose the University of Rochester instead because of the record-breaking suicide rate at Cornell at that time.

    I have seen a number of stories about fatal shootings at colleges since the massacre at Virginia Tech yesterday, and most take you back to the infamous Kent State killing of 4 students out of thousands protesting the war in Vietnam. None of them mention what happened 10 days later in Jackson, MI when 50 students held a vigil. The fact that the two killed and the nine injured were all African Americans made them disappear in our white-centered media, and invisible they seem to remain.

    Beyond this, what causes these shifts in the incidence of homicides and suicides? Why are more students taking down others in record numbers instead of simple suicide? Could it be related to the growing uncertainty over the US status in the world as a proponent of peace? The general perception that the US has made its own rules since 911, without any effective resistance to the authoritarian commands from our commander-in-chief? How much has government-condoned violence affected violence in America, or in the world?

  • PaulK

    In particular, do the user’s of the public’s airwaves have any right to set certain of our borderline people off, even in the name of “entertainment”? Should the public take their airwaves back? Should the new wave of torture and violence shows such as “24” be on before 10:00? Should violence pornography be on at all?

    The difference between violence pornography and sex pornography is that when people go out and have sex because they saw it on TV, the population in general says “oh well, the birth rate is back up to normal.”

  • mynocturama

    I’ll come clean: I watch 24. Despite its absurdity and hackneyed characterizations, all the frustration and eye rolling it elicits, I watch it. I do think it’s tapped into, or come to define, for better or worst, certain cultural currents of the past several years (insofar as a TV show can do so), just as I think the X-files did for a good chunk of the 90s (both shows from Fox, incidentally). And I have to say it’s helped to make the link between representations of sex and violence clearer to me. With very few exceptions, there are no sex scenes in 24. Apart from the rare romantic interlude, it’s almost entirely devoid of (straightforward) sex. It’s also more or less humorless, though they insert the occasional scene/character for comic relief. But any humor it has is strictly for the sake of relief, outside of its overall character.

    But back to sex. Or the lack thereof. In lieu of sex, you have torture. The increasingly notorious torture scenes are formally very similar to sex scenes. There’s a point, in the unfolding of the story, when anticipation begins to build: someone, whether Jack Bauer or one of the terrorists, whether a good guy or bad, is about to be tortured. There’s a pretty clear lead up – foreplay, if you will. This usually involves, among other things, two men enclosed in a room, in some private space, whether an official interrogation room (read: bedroom) at CTU (read: home), or a makeshift improvised space somewhere else, set up under immediate pressures (an illicit passionate tryst, sex that can’t wait for, or can’t happen in, the usual time and place). Such spaces, of course, allow for personal, physical intimacy. Then, a verbal exchange of emotional urgency. One person, the one in the control, the one not tied down, wants something from the other, information usually, withheld -inside- him. Then, the exposure of flesh. Then, vigorous physical contact, bodies coming together, along with loud vocalizations. And, if the one tied down has yet to yield anything, then bodily penetration, the insertion of needles or blades or drills. Yes, paging Dr. Freud.

    The combo “sex and violence” is tossed around a lot, usually without much thought. I have to give credit to 24 for making the parallels very, very explicit.

  • jonallen


    Perhaps you are right that there is little difference between violence pornography and sex pornography other than censorship rules and societal norms. Maybe suicides were more common when MASH was still drawing a huge viewer audience. Does anyone have some numbers to compare?

    I would be very surprised to learn that television has that strong an influence. Not that I dismiss it entirely, just that I find the “actions are louder than words” paradigm too convincing to ignore.

    The actions of this administration since 9/11 have changed our status as a nation, both domestically and in the world. It has become harder for Americans to feel the same kind of pride in being a citizen of this pioneering nation, no to mention to feel safe when travelling. This has to have a significant effect on our tendancy towards nervousness, stress and outbursts, including violence.

  • zeke

    We live in a culture that regulates against showing real-life violence and its effects, while celebrating the marketing of video game and film mayhem of the most lurid, misogynist kind. If the only violence a culture is exposed to is cartoonish, how will that culture develop an abhorrence of the real thing? Only the striking image (whether verbal or visual) can penetrate our coarsened perception.

  • zeke

    mynocturama: what a great point about the connection between the presentation of violence and that of sex. A couple of years ago a writer named Frederick Kaufmann wrote an article for Harpers Magazine in which he interviewed a woman who has directed over 300 porn films. She analyzed the production values of TV’s Food Network and pointed out the similarities to the porn industry.

    Here is one quote from an interview he gave to NPR’s On The Media:

    “Part of the big lie of porn and part of the big lie of The Food Network is things are made to look extremely simple when in fact they’re extraordinarily complex. So, for instance, if you’re seeing something like oral sex in pornography, it looks like the easiest thing in the world, when in fact there are all sort of issues with the way the camera is low and the light is to the side. And it’s extremely difficult to actually pull this off. This is a wildly choreographed event, just as the food is wildly choreographed. And the big lie is “taste life,” have a real experience when, in fact, this is the most unreal experience.”

  • I like Kung Fu movies like Hero, and House of Flying Daggers or westerns like Silverado and Open Range. I think I like these because either the good guys win and the bad guys are vanquished or the lovers risk death for each other (and most likely die dramatically in the end). There is a sense of justice in these movies and a notion that true love is stronger than death.

    I do however get uncomfortable when I hear the term “bad guys” used by our military or the news. Bad guys exist only in movies but real life is always more complicated. In this context it seems like simplified justification, like Ronald Reagan confusing Hollywood with Forign Policy.

  • Lumière: You’ll find a response to your comment — “Maybe this isn’t a good time for this show” — here.

  • rc21

    Jonallen, Congrats. I was wondering who would be the first person to try and weave Bush and his administration into this topic.

    The posters on this forum never let me down. Thanks.

  • nother

    “That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.”

    -Clint Eastwood as William Munny

    For Americans in the twentieth century, these Shakespearian questions of violence were played out in the Western genre. Generally, the protagonist embodied the paradoxically outlaw/hero figure. In 1998, the evolution of the of this genre and archetype, culminated in the masterpiece, “The Unforgiven.”

    This movie is a meditation on the complexities of violence in both our nature and our culture. Eastwood’s character William Munny, seeks redemption for his early years of evil; Eastwood himself seeks redemption for his early years of glorifying violence; and we seek redemption by congratulating ourselves for finally appreciating an unsentimental depiction of violence.

    Yet, we would not have been satisfied if Eastwood had not killed someone in this movie.

    We keep watching because we are attracted to omnipresent power of these killers…who instill fear in their peers. They are the ultimate alpha males…the final protectors of the tribe. Yet, we are paradoxically repulsed by the loneliness they inevitably feel on the dark side. They are making deals with the devil, and possesion is a consequence.

    (btw, the character of Tony Soprano may be the culmination of the gangster/hero archetype)

  • Ben

    It’s a bit of a rorschach or mirror for everyone. Lately my favorites are more and more tuned to what nature photographers capture. Predator and prey situations like the night scene of a pride of lions taking down an elephant in a recent episode of Planet Earth leave me dumbfounded. When there is not a clear villain and hero setup it’s more engaging.

    I prefer the cinematic violence that makes me squirm to the emotionally dry violence used by some movie makers who make the victim of an act faceless and nameless. The more surreal and personal it is, the more it seems to stick. As teenagers, the group of kids I hung out with all sought out things like copies of the unrated version of Caligula or the Faces of Death series. After seeing Reservoir Dogs I can’t listen to Stuck in the Middle without a twinge, and Kubrick’s rendition of Singing in the Rain from Clockwork Orange conjures up some images as indelible as what Hitchcock left to the imagination in Psycho.

    The dissociative first person shooter renditions of violence in films like Black Hawk Down or 300 have more in common with bowling than anything else, but they bother me at a different deeper level much more than the initial shock of seeing a perfectly executed simulation of dismemberment or an Orca taking down a seal. There’s something about being directed not to think about or feel violence that’s more troubling than actually being drawn into its details.

  • nother

    It’s this idea of possession that I think scares valkyrie607 with her zombie movies, just as they scared the bejesus out of me watching “The Omen,” as a kid. The Tarentino movies don’t scare us because play off of physical violence. Physical violence does not scare us because our physical being is perishable…just look in the mirror. The scariest movies tap into violence that threatens our souls…and thus our immortality. Stories of possession!

    Yet, I still watch “Pulp Fiction” with gusto. Maybe I watch to get a relative sense of how bad things could be/ (riffing off Allison here) Pain is inevitable, the perishing of my body is ensured; Tarentino’s imagination of the outer limits of violence…comforts me morbidly in the notion that – the pain could be worse.

  • plnelson

    Presumably they do; violence on stage is different from violence on film. Both, obviously, are different from seeing someone beaten in front of you.

  • herbert browne

    Are we watching these (predominately) “alpha males” because we want to find out if they will, ultimately, stay inside the boundaries of the “circle of morality” that defines community? That kind of tension doesn’t exist in a war situation… it’s only about “Us”- NOT about “Us & Them”.

    (from JonAllen) ..”Beyond this, what causes these shifts in the incidence of homicides and suicides? Why are more students taking down others in record numbers instead of simple suicide?”-

    I’m reminded of a Randy Newman song, with a chorus of “I just want you to hurt like I do… honest, I do- honest, I do- honest, I do..” When he performed this at a Bumbershoot celebration (maybe 7 or 8 years ago), about 15 or 20% of the house (the old Opera House) just got up and walked out. It was an amazing moment… & an eye-opener… ^..^

  • plnelson

    and we seek redemption by congratulating ourselves for finally appreciating an unsentimental depiction of violence.

    Yet, we would not have been satisfied if Eastwood had not killed someone in this movie.

    As I indicated in my first post, above. I think you have an obligation to be crystal clear who you mean by “we”.

    Feel free to say “I” if you are referring to yourself or “me and my friends” if that’s who you mean. But please don’t assume that the collective “we” shares your perverted taste for film violence.

  • plnelson

    I don’t know what happened to my earlier response. (Why does ROS have this fetishistic attachment to this antiquated web-typing software without any preview or editing features? )

    Presumably they do; violence on stage is different from violence on film. Both, obviously, are different from seeing someone beaten in front of you.

    to which I commented that it’s probably not coincidental that the same demographic that makes up the bulk of the market for violent movies and video games – young males – also makes up the bulk of the perpetratiors of violence. So while they may be different at some level, they’re probably not that different.

  • katemcshane

    I grew up in a violent home, where I and my brothers were afraid all the time that we would be beaten up. And we were. Until I was in my 30’s, I instinctively raised my right arm to shield my face whenever anyone came too close to me. It was humiliating. I worked as a counselor with rape victims and teenagers with a history of abuse for many years, and for another 12 years at a child abuse hotline. At first I thought it was good that my own violent experience allowed me to relate to these kids. In a certain way, I was gifted in this work. There was also the attraction to a crisis environment and an almost macho pride in being good in a crisis. People with a history of trauma seem to become addicted to high levels of adrenaline in the body. Once, in the midst of a fight between kids, a gun was pointed directly into my face, but I never saw it. I was shoved down a flight of stairs and I felt nothing — it was as if I were falling in a dream. I had learned this not-feeling as a child.

    The pain comes back to you at some point, though. The physical pain, the emotional pain. Things you didn’t feel in your body as a kid, during wartime, when you were jumped on the street suddenly bloom inside your body, in your dreams when you’re sleeping, walking down the street, perhaps during a film that triggers memories and your heart is pounding for three hours but you don’t know why you’re terrified. Maybe you wake up in the morning bleeding because you ran around your apartment in your sleep, trying to escape, and you hurt yourself. At some point, I had listened to too many stories of atrocities committed against children. I’m tempted to tell you one of them, in case you think I’m exaggerating, but you would be horrified.

    Chris Hedges discusses the high people have during wartime, the thrill he and other correspondents felt in mortally dangerous places, how they wanted to keep going back. He doesn’t feel that way anymore. Every time I listen to a speech or an interview with Robert Fisk in Beirut, I can barely stand it, despite the fact that he is brilliant and fascinating, because he’s driven by the danger and craziness around him. I can’t bear it anymore. When I couldn’t sleep last night, I read the links David provided above. I was relieved to hear that some of those people were stunned and sickened by violence, that the ones who took it into themselves and felt the helplessness and terror, were no longer turned on by it. I don’t mean to make a judgment. I remember feeling so proud of surviving it and being able to listen to things that no one else could handle. I remember when my eyes filled up at the stories about kids I had to listen to, the staff I worked with resented me for it, because it made it more difficult for them to keep their distance from the details. At that point, I had to stop doing the work. I walked away but I haven’t figured out how to get the pain out of my body. I hope I haven’t said too much.

  • plnelson

    Are we watching these (predominately) “alpha males” because we want to find out if they will, ultimately, stay inside the boundaries of the “circle of morality” that defines community? That kind of tension doesn’t exist in a war situation… it’s only about “Us”- NOT about “Us & Them”.

    That may be part of it. Consider Bobo’s comment I quoted earlier – Personally, I have never felt more alive than those moments when I’m close to death, knowing that if I die, I do so for myself, for my loved-ones, or for an idea I believe in..

    That’s what motivates the terrorists and it may well have motivated the Viet Cong, and our German and Japanese enemies in WWII. But it’s also what we WANT to motivate our OWN troops. Being a soldier is an incredibly dangerous profession. What could POSSIBLY make you charge into battle where other professionals are doing their level best to kill you? Rationality probably won’t do it. You would have to be a bit crazy or fanatical or whatever it is that young men are when they get all pumped-up to fight!

    Civilized countries are in the weird position of encouraging that sort of fanaticism among their young males in order to defend themselves against other crazed young men from other countries. And then when the war is over we hope that our crazed youn males don’t turn on us.

  • plnelson

    At that point, I had to stop doing the work. I walked away but I haven’t figured out how to get the pain out of my body. I hope I haven’t said too much.

    Not at all. In many ways you are far more sane, and your responses to violence are much more rational than the young men who look forward to fighting or who regard movies about inflicting pain, fear and destruction on others as “entertainment”.

    If the entire world consisted of people like you, who abhor violence, it would be a vastly better world than the one we live in where millions of people actually enjoy violence and depictions of violence.

  • Bobo

    plnelson: simple Freud: repression leads to neurosis. Yes, young men do have an instinct for violence. But this is not ‘testosterone poisoning’ as you are so fond of saying. It is a natural part of life, and the only reason why Americans don’t realize this is because of the immense amount of violence perpetrated oversees to shield us from this reality. We seem to have come to the assumption that violence is evil. So our young men are reduced to the purely masturbatory activities of video games and violent movies. It’s no wonder some of them snap while the rest are on anti-depressants.

    Oh, and thanks to plnelson for calling me a mentally-ill terrorist, btw. Really helps to promote intelligent dialog. Just invoke the holocaust next time and be done with it.

  • Bobo

    And just to clear another thing up, I do abhor violence when there is a victim involved. This type of violence is motivated either by cowardice or psychosis. The violence which katemcshane describes is of this type. So is terrorism directed at civilians. It is sick, and it only damages people.

    I place violent confrontation in a different category. Violent confrontation, especially hand to hand, allows a person to make the ultimate statement: ‘I am willing to put myself on the line for this.’ And it is done with a recognition that the other person is making the same statement. Being willing to die is a very important part of living.

  • joshua hendrickson

    Whenever I think of cartoon violence I think not of Bugs Bunny and the like, but rather of the GI Joe cartoons I watched on tv when I was a kid. Back then it bothered me that in spite of all the guns firing and the bombs exploding that no one ever got hurt — neither good guy nor bad guy was ever injured. In fact, for me the mental image of cartoon violence is invariably a fighter jet, hit by a missile, exploding into a fireball, and an unharmed pilot parachuting away every single time. That bothered me then and it bothers me now. Granted, GI Joe is no more “realistic” than Bugs Bunny, but it pretends to be, which makes its approach to violence–particularly given the show’s theme!–utterly inexcusable.

  • joshua hendrickson

    Bobo writes,

    “We seem to have come to the assumption that violence is evil.”

    I’m not one to throw the E-word around much. Certainly something as totally inherent in multicellular life as violence cannot be judged antithetical to life.

    But with human beings, there is a caveat: we are capable of living our lives without doing violence to one another. Not all of us, surely, are thus capable; some of us are probably good for nothing else. Those folks are worthless in any humane context; in our “normal”, warlike society, of course, they have a place (which still may not agree with them!). We do have a choice between a humane context and “normal” society; I’m pulling for the humane context, which I believe we may eventually achieve.

    Is violence evil?

    In and of itself, probably not. But its effects on individual human beings almost always are.

  • joshua hendrickson

    Bobo writes,

    “Violent confrontation, especially hand to hand, allows a person to make the ultimate statement: ‘I am willing to put myself on the line for this.’ And it is done with a recognition that the other person is making the same statement. Being willing to die is a very important part of living.”

    I agree that there may well be a context in which this makes sense. But do such contexts really come up very often? To die for a belief only proves that you can be dead, and there’s not a single one of us who actually needs to prove that. I think that in most hand-to-hand combat situations ideology plays much, much less of a part than does sheer survival instinct, and there is frankly nothing noble about that.

    At the risk of sounding silly, let me suggest that such a context may be illustrated thus:

    George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden face off naked in the arena, no weapons but their bare hands and feet. As leaders of respective nations/movements, they may well be said to be the champions of their causes. They agree to fight to the death so that their followers may be relieved of the necessity.

    Would this happen? Of course not. Neither Bush nor Bin Laden are champions. They are cowards–equally so in my opinion–who are both more than willing to keep their hands unbloodied by sending proxies out to fight and die for their causes. Because of that, I think that their proxies are misguided fools, since they are willing to die for a cause that their own leaders are not.

    Violence, as I said before, may not be evil in and of itself.

    But it is certainly foolish, thuggish, and base … and almost never necessary.

  • joshua hendrickson

    Violent moments in movies that really hit me in the gut while watching:

    The near-drowning in the trough of Alex by his former droogs from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

  • rahbuhbuh

    Discounting veterans or victims of previous trauma, I think people who blankly refuse to watch violence because they don’t like are just wrong. People need to be reminded that violence and pain are real no matter what justification or broadcasting wrapper. Just like love and tireswing glee are real and should not be ignored by the teenage boy in his basement watching slasher flicks. To ostrich oneself in a happy media black out warps one’s views. Seeing violence reminds us why most of us remain peaceful, even towards that jerk who stole your parking spot.

    Following what Zeke said, segments on movie rating regarding violence from “This Movie is Not Yet Rated” could offer perspective into our violence as entertainment habit. Bruckheimer super-action where heroes emerge from a firefight without a scratch is dishonestly damaging and PG-13. Tarantino’s bleeding bride in “Kill Bill” is horrific, but so much truer the results of a brawl and rated R.


  • rahbuhbuh

    Bits are ping ponging inbetween this show and the anthropomorphism one. Remember the “When animals attack” phenomenon? How does animal violence related to this? Why are people so fascinated by predator footage on National Geographic or Animal Planet? Are those same viewers drawn to human violence on screen?

  • Lumière

    I wasn’t going to partake of this thread, but since I got called out:

    I called a friend in VA – she e-mailed me from North Carolina, so she doesn’t know yet if one of her neighbor’s kids was killed.

    Given what happened in VA some of you should go back over what you wrote. The tone is exactly what I suspected it would be, kinda like this:

    The real thrill of violence: it allows a person to make the ultimate statement

    Is that what happened in VA, was the ultimate statement being made?

    The problem with violence is that the effects of violence can’t be undone.

    I have had to think about that.

  • joshua hendrickson

    Violent moments in movies that really hit me in the gut while watching:

    The near-drowning in the trough of Alex by his former droogs from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

    The beating with soap-in-socks of Private Pyle in FULL METAL JACKET

    The public beating by Barry Lyndon of his stepson, complete with kidney punches, in BARRY LYNDON

    The murder of Mother by Pauline and Juliet in HEAVENLY CREATURES

    The throat-tearing rabbit fights depicted in the animated WATERSHIP DOWN

    The shooting of the animals, especially the rabbits, in THE RULES OF THE GAME

    The shooting of John Doe at the “wrathful” conclusion of SE7EN

    I notice, as I write this list, that I left out possibly more “obvious” movies, or even more “obvious” scenes from the included films. There is, I think, a thread of pure realism running through all of them–especially in THE RULES OF THE GAME, where the hunting isn’t faked–and even in WATERSHIP DOWN, which, though a cartoon about talking rabbits, is played out with the purest realism which could be mustered–I saw that film when I was ten, and it changed my life forever. In some ways, all of these films changed my life forever: they are all from my personal list of favorite films. And the first three films on the list are further linked by being the works of Stanley Kubrick, who, amongst his many other prodigious gifts, always depicted pain in an unflinching manner.

  • herbert browne

    (from katemcshane)..” I was shoved down a flight of stairs and I felt nothing — it was as if I were falling in a dream. I had learned this not-feeling as a child..”-

    I couldn’t find a quote from David Livingstone about his attack by a lion (see excerpt):

    “Setting up a new mission at Mabotswa in 1844, he was attacked by a lion but his life was saved by his assistant, Mabelwe, who attacked the lion and was also badly injured. Both recovered but Livingstone’s arm was partially disabled thereafter..”

    What I remember from his account, when I read it (decades ago) was his recollection that, at the moment the lion grabbed his shoulder, a great euphoria came over him… and he hypothesized that perhaps this was something biological, built into the nervous system (particularly in those animals who were a bit lower on the food chain) that acted as a sort of anesthetic when death was imminent- and ameliorating the emotional trauma of that moment… ^..^

  • joshua hendrickson

    On the potential reaction to the massacre at Virginia Tech;

    What aspect of this tragedy will be scapegoated this time?

    After Columbine, society/the government were happy to blame gothic dress and Marilyn Manson.

    What this time? Korean-Americans? Kids who exhibit hatred of the wealthy? Loners?

    Or, could it be …


    At last?

    After all, everybody’s referring to this tragedy as a “shooting” — not a “mass slashing” or “mass explosion”.

    As I said elsewhere today in response to this crisis, we are surrounded by weapons of convenience, but guns are the only weapons of convenience that are intended solely for use in the murder of human beings.

  • Potter

    joshua hendrickson guns are the only weapons of convenience that are intended solely for use in the murder of human beings.

    absolutely! He purchased those guns legally apparently.

    Katemcshane- whatever horrors you went though have deepened you along with the pain. Maybe you would trade all that to feel more deadened, less pain. I don’t know.

    Here we speak of some who feel so deadened that they perhaps need the excitement of violence- of war, of blood on the stage or screen, but also of those for who, as well, if the violence is handled well and in a context ( not abusive), it can be cathartic or of some help to relive and resolve. This can be for anyone, even the most traumatized, as the Greeks knew.

    I agree with David that this is life ongoing- how much blood flows daily in real life.

  • plnelson

    And just to clear another thing up, I do abhor violence when there is a victim involved.

    But you reserve to yourself the right to define “victim”. So do the terrorists. If we bomb an enemy city and we kill civilians are they victims or legitimate targets? Were the people in Dresden or London victims or the enemy in WWII? Th terrorists attacking Israeli civilians see them as legitimate targets the same way we see civilians in the places we bomb in wars. The terrorists would say that WE are the cowards because they look their targets in the face before killing them (and themselves). I think your rationales for violence are slipperier than you think.

    We invaded Iraq and the result is a country that’s been turned into a hell-hole, with many (10’s? 100’s?) thousands of dead Iraqis. Are they victims, and if so, of whom? The insurgents and bandits? But would they be dead if we hadn’t invaded Iraq?

    N.B. – I didn’t call you a terrorist – said that the your ethos – – Personally, I have never felt more alive than those moments when I’m close to death, knowing that if I die, I do so for myself, for my loved-ones, or for an idea I believe in. – – are also the ethos of the terrorist.

  • Sutter

    For what it’s worth (and mostly to the discussion about halfway upthread): I think it’s critical to detangle “sex and violence” in the entertainment context. I’d happily trade 3 o4 4 times as much sex on tv if I could halve the violence. Acculturating adolescents to sex at worst accelerates that which we would have to do anyway. Acculturating them to torture and killing introduces them to something we hope they’ll never do.

    (And if there’s any doubt that tv violence affects real-life violence, read the story on 24 and Joel Surnow from the Feb 19 New Yorker — http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/02/19/070219fa_fact_mayer. Among other tidbits: Military brass visit Surnow (executive producer of 24) and underlings to plead “no more torture, please!” Why? Because they were finding that young men came to the military having watched 24 and having come to believe that torture leads to answers.)

  • Sutter

    Oops — “3 OR 4 times”

  • plnelson

    Being willing to die is a very important part of living

    We’re not talking about being willing to die – dying is inevitable whether we are willing or not. The topic under discussion is being willing to kill.

  • patsyb

    Just finishing T. C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain (1995): one of the most violent novels, and oh so thoroughly ominous throughout. What makes it so compelling a read, such a page-turner?

  • patsyb

    Also twisted: the mayor of Nagasaki was shot dead today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6565505,00.html

  • rc21

    Sutter, good point about sex and violence. But let’s not forget how many millions have been killed by sex. Aids has probably killed more people than war or murder over the last 25 years.

    Also your points about people emulating what they se on tv or the movies are well taken. Of course there is not much that can be done.

  • Sutter

    Fair point, to be sure, rc21. I guess I should qualify and say that sex should ideally be presented maturely — consensual and safe sexual interaction. But I do note that while sex can be presented in a good way, almost all tv violence is of the sort that we wouldn’t want people to emulate.

    By the way, I should point out that I’m not tisk-tisking here: I love 24 (though more for the suspense, which has mostly faded from the show but was a MAJOR part of the first season or two, and the political intrigue, and not for the violence).

  • jazzman

    Bobo avers: I also like real life violence. I don’t mean like stopping to see a car crash, I count that in the same despicable category as TV News. I mean I like to engage and be engaged in violence. Admittedly, I’m a pretty big guy, and I’m not afraid to use my physical strength when it is useful. But I would never get any enjoyment out of violence where either myself or ‘the other guy’ was a victim.

    This is a strange stew of predilections given the many quasi-religious statements that were made by Bobo on the Paglia thread. I’m inclined to agree with plnelson’s assessments regarding the topic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no shortage of violence in Bobo’s reality with an attitude that enjoys violent confrontation (with bullying overtones.) What would constitute a victim in this scenario? Is mutually sanctioned violence something to be aspired, OK? A sport? Worthwhile? Ideal? I think NOT.

  • jazzman

    David believes ”We live in a terribly violent world, a truly violent world, and that has to be part of the reason that watching staged violence in different forms is a perennial form of our entertainment.” and believes that it is tiresome to criticize the morality of violence as entertainment.

    Athletic competition (devoid of animosity or intent to physically harm another) is the way to vicariously exorcise the atavistic (not hardwired by DE) collective beliefs. I like plnelson don’t purposely engage violent entertainment (or the news – apart from weather or traffic reports) it’s almost inescapable to some degree and I don’t live in a violent world.

    rahbuhbuh’s assertion not withstanding I think people who blankly refuse to watch violence because they don’t like are just wrong. People need to be reminded that violence and pain are real no matter what justification or broadcasting wrapper.

    I don’t need to be reminded that violence is real, if anything I need to be reminded that violence isn’t real. It’s a manifestation of less than ideal beliefs and if it’s experienced, it is a caution to change one’s ways.

  • jazzman

    Isaac Asimov wrote: Violence is the last resort of the incompetent. Violence also is produced by a sense of powerlessness (actual or perceived) on the part of those who act out violently. It also is the product of repressed expression which erupts inappropriately due to pent up frustration (also related to perceived lack of power.) It’s often a response to uncontrolled fear or impatience for results. It is the most common method of “means to a justified end” Lumiere’s “Committing Bad Acts to Achieve Good” rationale.

    I disagree with Joshua Hendrickson’s Q & A Is violence evil? In and of itself, probably not. But its effects on individual human beings almost always are. As I don’t believe in “evil”, I would say that violence acts are about as far from a peaceful ideal as one could get. Its effects on humanity are always not ideal and devastating to the human psyche.

    Its effects erode a person’s relationship with nature and the rest of humanity subtly by creating the illusion that it is the rule rather than the exception. It’s like parents abusing a child physically or verbally and believing that because they were spanked or worse and demeaned by their parents, (they believed it did them no harm and actually improved them) that it’s OK to perpetuate the cycle of violence (I experienced this 1st hand.) It’s so subtle & pervasive that they don’t even realize they were negatively affected.

    People who are vicariously drawn to violence based (intrinsic or incidental) entertainment are at best those who are unknowingly affected by the pervasive subtle influence of violence as “business as usual” or Walter Mittyish thrill seekers to at worst adrenaline or testosterone pumped up addicts who act out their fantasies if possible.

    Every viewed or participatory act of violence reinforces the belief that violence is to be tolerated and used whenever one deems it appropriate. Violence is NEVER appropriate.


  • joshua hendrickson


    you write,

    “I disagree with Joshua Hendrickson’s Q & A Is violence evil? In and of itself, probably not. But its effects on individual human beings almost always are. As I don’t believe in “evil”, I would say that violence acts are about as far from a peaceful ideal as one could get. Its effects on humanity are always not ideal and devastating to the human psyche.”

    Maybe my reading comprehension skills are getting rusty, but I’m not sure how you disagree with me. Is it solely the use of the word “evil”? That much I can understand; thinking of evil as something extrahuman, or divine, is not what I am encouraging here, but rather its use as a term that implies the bad results of ill intentions between people. I don’t believe in Evil; but that certain human acts may be designated as evil doesn’t seem wrong to me. In other words, quite apart from the use of that word, I don’t think we do disagree.


    You write,

    “Every viewed or participatory act of violence reinforces the belief that violence is to be tolerated and used whenever one deems it appropriate.”

    That is ascribing a single response to a variety of individuals, and that is overgeneralizing. I have viewed a lot of violence in films (see above posting for details) but I scarcely believe that my own worldview has been turned into something that might be called “pro-violent” as a result.

    Maybe, as you say, violence is NEVER appropriate. I would certainly like to think that humankind may one day outgrow our basest animal instincts and our most senseless tribe-oriented traditions. But at present, this much is a fact: violence is equivalent to eating, which is equivalent to survival. In so far as this has been true for hundreds of millions of years, it is true that violence IS ‘business as usual.’ No amount of violent entertainment or bloody conflict is needed to make that fact true.

    We’re still animals; we’re just the animals who can think outside the box.

  • joshua hendrickson

    The guest on ROS just made the connection between genocide and manifest destiny, using the words “inevitability” and “moral righteousness.”

    To my mind, the concept of “moral righteousness” is one of the last great bastions of awfulness in the human psyche. As soon as you accept the idea that you are morally righteous, you gain license to behave exactly as you wish with others.

    As an atheist, I wouldn’t mind the concept of God so much if so many believers in God didn’t use it as a concept to reinforce their own sense of moral righteousness.

    In other words: God CANNOT equal morality.

    So, I guess that’s my comment on the morality show yesterday….

  • bringolf2k

    Violence as entertainment — isn’t it a guy thing? Where are the women contributing to your show?

  • gringopinolero

    David Gammons’ point that there’s a difference between violence on stage and random killing in the streets (or classrooms) need repeating, with this twist: The deaths at Virginia Tech, although they sadden us, are not a “tragedy,” any more than 9/11 is a tragedy. Such events are Mass Murder, they’re Sudden Crime which we’re fascinated by, and will take our time to figure out, slowly, after the fact. Tragedy–in Shakespeare, Sophocles, even Arthur Miller–is cleansing because (a) it’s not happening in real life, (b) we get to know the characters’ strengths and weaknesses before terrible, even violent, things happen to them, (c) what happens to them partly flows from who they are, (d) we are slowly fused to their impending suffering through the very human emotions of empathy and fear, and (e) they world from which these tragic figures come is itself cleansed, ever bettered, by their suffering. None of this is true of sudden mass murder. That’s why tragedy is finally good for us, and raw images/reports of mayhem are not. The difference between real tragedy and horrifically magnetic crimes we can’t take our eyes off is like the difference between the erotic and the obscene.

  • valkyrie607

    You want to know what’s really ghoulish?

    The first statements from both George Bush and John McCain included words to the effect that Virginia Tech is a great tragedy, but this doesn’t mean that citizens don’t have the right to bear arms.

    Carrying water for the ghouls, they are.

  • joshua hendrickson


    I think that to define “tragedy” so narrowly is to deny its meaning to most people. After all, by your definition, the Holocaust would not be a tragedy. In any case, “erotic” and “obscene” are poor analogues for a human disaster.

  • Lumière

    joshua hendrickson Says: We’re still animals; we’re just the animals who can think outside the box.

    One has the theoretical ability to fill the emptiness of their life with anything – why would one decide to fill it with violence, fake or real?

    ….animals don’t have that choice

  • howard

    In many ways we are at a point that verifies things written and said many years ago:

    Robert Benchley wrote an essay (in the ’30s I believe) arguing that violence is acceptable when it is cartoonish. He illustrated this with his famous cartoon of a fencer saying “Touche” as he cut off the head of his opponent. Indeed as a child perhaps the most violence I saw was in cartoons such as the Road Runner, Tom and Jerry, and Bugs Bunny.

    In addition, we have had a culture that readily accepts sexuality when it is connected to violence. In the late ’50s Lenny Bruce did one of his social commentaries on this subject. He pointed to the contradiction in an imagined scene of children watching a stag film. The kids were constantly expecting violence while Bruce kept “telling” them that what they were going to see was gentle acts of love. I think of this while hearing about the plots of popular broadcast TV shows. Think of how often the “hit” crime dramas concern topics like rape, serial killers of women, pedophilia, semi-nudity,etc. in the context of violence and death. Only very recently have the broadcast networks started dealing with sexual innuendo without crime — and only because they have been losing market share to the cable programming that has not been similarly constrained by FCC licensing.

  • rc21

    Sutter I get your point about sex being shown in the way it is on tv. Actually my point about sex killing was not made to disagree with you. I just thought it ironic how an act that we all see in a positive light has given us such tragic numbers in it’s never ending death march.

    I hear much about 24 I have never seen it perhaps I should buy the first seacon.

    I actually see many posts on this subject that I find interesting and I tend to agree with alot that has been said. OOPS valkyrie607 just hammered Bush and the right to bare arms debate. Here we go.

  • Lumière

    We’ve gone from morality to violence – the next show would logically be a Baudrillard show on hyperreality.

  • katemcshane

    In the 1970’s when I first read psychoanalytic theory and attended many case conferences and lectures with analysts, what was immediately noticeable was the lack of mention of family violence. The impression I had at the time was that their “patients” had no violence in their families. Except for people like Judith Herman who acknowledged what families were actually like, in great numbers, psychiatrists and psychologists continued to produce narratives of families and individuals that largely denied violent behavior. Even in the 1990’s, the feminist theorist, Jessica Benjamin, in THE BONDS OF LOVE, though she explored THE STORY OF O by Pauline Reage, looking at S&M between men and women, wrote about individual development in families as if these families were the same ones in all the old psychiatric literature — the ones that were described after Freud maintained that women were fantasizing about sex with their fathers though this was not actually happening to them. As I’ve said before, the last time I checked, about 10 years ago, doctoral candidates in psych programs were not learning about trauma in families (or elsewhere). And now psychiatrists, apparently, are just handing out drugs. This society is clueless and profoundly lacking in insight.

    Anyone who believes that all these people who enjoy watching action films because they can discharge aggression only in their imaginations is living in some kind of parallel universe, while the real thing is happening behind closed doors.

    Chris, I appreciate that you asked questions about women, and I appreciate knowing that your concern and interest is sincere. I thought David R. Gammons was very interesting. He seemed sensitive to many issues that I’d like to hear him discuss in more depth. I don’t know if I could have seen his play. I’m more curious than ever, but it would be horrible to sit through it if I had to pretend I wasn’t terrified or that my terror was not based in reality.

  • katemcshane

    Plnelson — I meant to thank you.


  • Potter

    Good choice of quotes from this thread, especially thank you for the quote from Ben above.

  • valkyrie607

    In other news, a fellow I know quite well used to enjoy starting fights with other guys. A skinny kid in high school, he began winning fights after working out and studying martial arts. Once he began winning fights, he found he enjoyed it so much that he began deliberately starting fights. Oh, he was careful to wait until somebody gave him an excuse. A guy calling his girlfriend a bad name in a public place. He became well known for this on his college campus. Today, he doesn’t do this anymore. But when he described the details of these fights to me, his enjoyment is evident. He took pleasure in his skill, his strength, his power, his ability to think faster than this other guy. He takes pleasure in the memories, even though he knows violence is not an option for him anymore.

    I suppose we all know on some level that inflicting violence is pleasurable.

  • bft

    Here’s a Canadian who watched the whole first season of 24 on DVD and advises us not to do the same.

  • Bobo

    As the resident contrarian on this thread, I feel I should expand upon some of my earlier posts.

    1) I am NOT advocating violence. I AM saying that it is a big part of human existence.

    2) When I differentiate between ‘victim-less violence’ and ‘confrontational violence’, I’m talking about the difference between a ‘fair fight’ and moral cowardice. If one is in the position of the aggressor, they’d better be damn-well sure that they have a good reason to do so, and that the fight will be fair.

    3) I can think of very few examples where the role of the aggressor is justified. One example might be revenge for the rape of a family member. Or attacking a neo-nazi rally. Or engaging in direct action ‘home demos’. I know this is controversial. I wouldn’t be the contrarian if it wasn’t.

    4) I think that the people on this thread who are trying to defend their ‘non-violent’ lives are very short-sighted in this respect. Try telling a person in the middle of a civil war to just ‘be less testosterone-full’. Most people in the world don’t have much of a choice about violence. It’s violence or death. We have the luxury of living ‘non-violent’ lives because of the centuries of slaughter we engaged in to secure ourselves within this bubble.

    I’ll probably post more later. I hope to inspire more disagreement.

  • Bobo

    But my main point which seems to be causing confusion and dismay:

    Violence is necessary, and those who try to keep violence out of their lives at all costs lead poorer lives.

    What I am pointing to here is the fact that we are, in some way, hardwired for violence. We gain pleasure from it in many of the same ways as we gain pleasure from sex. The most sexually repressed and the most over-sexualized societies both tend to contain the most depravity. In the same way, the most ‘violence repressed’ and the most ‘over-violent’ societies tend to contain the most gruesome and deplorable examples of violence.

    Violent entertainment serves much like masturbation in that it helps to temporarily restrain parts of our nature which we don’t want to express at the time. But masturbation can’t carry some people through life. Some of them just snap one day and become sexual monsters. The same is true with violence. Thus, as violence becomes more repressed, and the tools of that repression become more powerful (growth of violent entertainment), so too do the instances of serial killers and mass-murderers become more common.

    Where I seem to be advocating violence, I am more trying to diagnose the effects which a non-violent ethos has on a people who naturally need violence. I am not saying it’s a good thing that we need violence, but I am saying that we need it, whether we like it or not. Sometimes you have to acknowledge aspects of your nature which you don’t like, and the key is in finding good ways to use these aspects.

    Anyway, peace and love, everyone. I’m out for now.

  • Pris Praxis

    Bobo and others might like to note that Dr Drew (of the Adam and Dr Drew show) noted that individuals who enjoy those close-to-the-edge experiences, individuals who feel most ‘alive’ and surprisingly in control in life-or-death situations (war, etc) are very often addicts/alcoholics in the real world. There is overlap in the biology of the psychology.

    I do feel this is a ‘guy thing’. The only thing that makes we want to either harm another sentient creature, or see them harmed vicariously, is in retribution for imagined harm and, most horrifyingly, rape. I could imagine doing incredibly horrible things ONLY in reaction to rape or meditated murder. Other than that, violence is abhorrent at a gut level, not even at a moral level for me.

  • herbert browne

    (from Bobo) ..”What I am pointing to here is the fact that we are, in some way, hardwired for violence..”-

    I disagree. We’re ‘hardwired’ for survival- and the “fight or flight” may be MOL ‘instinctual’ (& certainly chemical)- but most animals will avoid confrontation, when there’s a way to do so. Fights by males over females (and breeding ‘territory’) are part of our biology… but, even here, the body language involved is often enough to avoid actual physical conflict. Fighting “for” something (outside the ‘right’ to breed) is, I’m guessing, a “learned” behavior, ie culturally inspired… and, as an advanced social animal, we’ve even gotten beyond the actual fights over the Breeding thing. I have a hunch that it’s as much an ‘ego thing’ as it is ‘hardwired’… no matter that the Helens & Cleopatras of the world can be most persuasive, simply by existing… ^..^

  • My stepfather, who experienced directly WWII as a boy and saw his best friend killed by a bomb blast as they huddled in a shelter has never been able to “enjoy” the entertainment of violent movies and shows, especially those with a war theme.

    I wonder if this is the same for most people who live with violence of some kind daily. Does the entertainment value go up in direct proportion to the safety quotient of the society or local environs? Also, does this value depend on the consistent stimulation of virtual violence “experienced” through TV news? Just how much vicarious “exposure” is required to provoke interest? Furthermore, with so much access and the repetition of violent images from wars, murders, etc., does the entertainment value of violence depend on products having ever greater intensity and shock value, and does greater expose to kill-thrill programming lead to greater incidence of real violence or the support of it? If so, how can a society, especially one inclined to warfare, get out of this positive feedback loop?

  • Potter

    Sidewalker great questions. I don’t think we scratched the surface on the topic.

    There are some who are emotionally vulnerable, including and especially children and those who live with violence or who have had a lot of it in their history, who should not or cannot expose themselves to “entertainment violence”. Adults can choose and avoid- but children need to be shielded.

    ( I am just not comfortable with the use of the word “entertainment” together with “violence”…… are we really entertained by violence-do we “enjoy” it?- or is there something else happening? Violence for it’s own sake seems to me to be pervsion, I fear promotes perversion.)

  • katemcshane

    Sidewalker — I very much appreciate your comment. These are excellent questions. Thank you for raising them.

  • jonallen

    I agree with Bobo that everyone is different in their needs for ‘fixes’ of violence. For some, watching hockey is enough. For others, watching boxing or playing hockey, and still others require engaging in boxing or the like.

    I agree with him about violent entertainment serving as masturbation as well, since many patterns of masturbation can easily lead to an increased tendancy towards sexual abuse, and violent entertainment patterns can easily lead to an increased tendancy towards violent outbursts.

    Our internal wiring or ‘modes of thinking’ determine the effect of the vicarious entertainment violence on our actual violent behaviour. This is why exposing young minds to this form of ‘entertainment’ is so controversial, since their ‘modes of thinking’ are still in development, and may be shaped by this ‘inconsequential’ vicarious exposure that lacks the impact of real experience.

  • RobertPeel

    Kate is right on about psychoanalytic theories failure to confront family violence particularly violence agains women.

  • jazzman

    JoshuaHendrickson Says: that certain human acts may be designated as evil doesn’t seem wrong to me. In other words, quite apart from the use of that word, I don’t think we do disagree.

    My disagreement besides “evil” as a designator for less than ideal acts (the value judgments “good” and “bad” are no better) is the “probably not” and the “almost always.” The “probably not” again implies that violence is neutral or just a fact of life, i.e., as you reiterate that “it IS business as usual” an attitude that perpetuates the tolerance of violence.

    The “almost always” implies that there are cases where the effects of violence are not less than ideal. Even if violent effects serve as an example of how not to resolve conflict, it is ALWAYS a less than ideal method to accomplish any end. Ideal ends are NEVER the products of less than ideal means.

    The response that viewing (read intentional viewing of violence for entertainment in my haste I neglected to make that clear and clarify it now) or participation in violence, is not directed at individuals (it’s not over generalizing as I am absolute in my stance on violence for ALL individuals rather than the population in general) nor is it confined to interpersonal violence, I include also violence against oneself, or the environment or any component of nature beyond what is necessary for physical sustenance.

    You may not believe that your worldview is affected by viewing violence but as I said the effect is subtle and insidious and while you may not deem it appropriate in most situations you seem to leave the door open to its use in particular circumstances. It may indeed have the effect of reinforcing an “anti-violent” worldview but I believe there are more ideal means of accomplishing those goals.

    The belief that violence is “equivalent to eating which is equivalent to survival” is a given or “fact” indicates that that belief has been reinforced by exposure to violence and that you believe that it has been ”true” for hundreds of millions of years is a product of conditioned response due to inculcation and the observation of violent behavior which tends to inure.

    Humans may have always appeared to engage in violent behavior but I believe it is a learned behavior and not innate. We may be biologically classified as belonging to the Animal Kingdom but humans are a unique manifestation of consciousness and have free will and choice to shape our realities in ways other members of the animal kingdom do not.

    As I stated before, violence is merely an abstract (secondary information) in my reality and if it becomes primary information, it’s a warning that something in my reality is out of balance.

    Ps. I was surprised and dismayed that Chris Lydon admitted to enjoying witnessing displays in person (primary information) of violence during hockey games and feeling exhilarated after such events.


  • bft

    jazzman: surprised and dismayed that Chris admitted it? or that it was the case?

  • Pingback: Lydon at His Best « Disparate()

  • valkyrie607

    I like watching the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Especially the early years, when they were more unpredictable and sometimes more brutal.

  • jazzman

    Bft: Both

  • I’m wondering how many more kids like the one in Virginia, prepped on violent entertainment games, have been accepted into the US army in its desperate need for recruits and unleashed on Iraqi society? A few have already been charged with murder but how many more have been able to act out their fantasies with impunity?

  • yenom

    “Kate is right on about psychoanalytic theories failure to confront family violence particularly violence against women.”

    Psychoanalysis was not only founded on discovering rampant family violence and molestations as the source of many psychiatric symptoms but remains the most subtle and useful guide for recognizing evidence of abuse in the communications of emotionally damaged individuals. Other approaches focus either on overt behavior symptoms or use ideology and presumption as a substitute for listening. When the first troubling details emerged from the Virginia disaster about the creative writing assignments of the gunman–the one where he imagines killing the father with a banana bar–it is psychoanalysis that has taught us to hear the echoes of oral rape and the possibility of real trauma in some admixture with terrifying fantasy. Even the Duke fiasco suggests the likelihood of a history of real abuse that emerges in an accusation in another context. Psychoanalysis can be annoying not because it ignores reality but because it insists on modesty about what we actually know and, at the same time, perseveres towards truthfulness. Other theories offer the reassurance of certainty at the expense of knowledge.

  • rc21

    Valkyrie607, I give you credit, I have tried watching UFC and it really turns my stomach. You have a much higher tolerance level than I do. I enjoy contact sports but UFC gives me a strange feeling that I can’t describe.

  • herbert browne

    Venom, THANK YOU for the recent post… & for offering another perspective re the “Duke fiasco”. I don’t know much about psychoanalysis… but am fairly certain about the values of “listening”… & about why language will always be powerful. ^..^

  • plnelson

    If one is in the position of the aggressor, they’d better be damn-well sure that they have a good reason to do so, and that the fight will be fair.

    If you have a legitimate reason to be the aggressor then why does it matter if the fight is fair? Give an example.

    3) I can think of very few examples where the role of the aggressor is justified. One example might be revenge for the rape of a family member.

    Why is revenge justified? There are plenty of cultures around the world that just hve endless rounds of revenge killings for perceived or real hurts, and they necvr stop, which suggests that revenge doesn’t work as a deterrent.

    Or attacking a neo-nazi rally.

    Neo-nazi’s have the same right to free speech as anyone else.

    Frankly, Bobo, you sound like a kid. How old are you?

  • valkyrie607

    Chiming in a bit with pnelson: I mentioned earlier my good friend who used to enjoy starting fights. He always made sure he was justified. A man would be verbally abusing his girlfriend in public, for example, and my friend–let’s call him John–would step in and say, “hey, quit it. apologize.” Then the fellow would (quite predictably) become offended at the intrusion, become aggressive, and often, the other fellow would throw the first punch. Which is exactly what John was waiting for. He would then unleash his full stregth against this other person and do some very serious damage. He’s recounted to me jaws he’s broken, scalps he’s split just with the force of his punch. He now tells me that the real motivation was not so much the righteous cause, though that was usually present, but the thrill of the fight. And even though John rarely threw the first punch, I still count him as the aggressor. The idea of justification can be used in all sorts of slippery ways.

  • valkyrie607

    Rc21: UFC certainly does give me a funny feeling I can’t describe either. I often contemplate the difference between WWF and UFC. The idea is sort of similar, but the UFC has this dimension of craft and skill. Otherwise, they both have personalities that clash, guys that get along, guys with beefs, returning champions, trash-talking, theatricality, etc. I guess I get a thrill because there are times when you watch when you see somebody do something that seems impossible. Or when you’re watching with a sick feeling like, this guy isn’t going to survive this.

  • Nick

    I must begin by asking for indulgence: I haven’t been able to make it all the way through this thread. I started it but quailed after realizing that I’m more like plnleson than most others: I strongly dislike violence on screen. And it troubled me to read the many testimonials to others’ pleasure in staged violence. I’ve resisted posting my own feelings till now. Forgive please the tardiness of this stream-of-thought, and forgive as well any redundancy it has with the many posts I haven’t yet read.

    I grew up watching Hollywood westerns and Looney Toons, but lost my taste for entertainment-violence after my first encounter with Peckinpah.

    Two of the best movies I’ve ever seen were The Deer Hunter and Saving Private Ryan – and I’ve watched both exactly one time each, with no intention to watch either a second time. Don’t need the nightmares.

    I don’t like boxing. It strikes me as ritualized barbarism in the guise of ‘sport’.

    I don’t like hockey—not least because of the thuggery.

    I watch football, but for the intricacy of the play-schemes, and not for the ‘lights out’ hits that make me cringe. (This despite playing the sport in high school.)

    I prefer baseball, I suppose, because the only real (or regular) violence is the smacking of inanimate, nonsentient bat on inanimate, nonsentient ball: an impersonal ‘violence’ that satisfies me amply. (And I don’t like beanball or baseball’s occasional farcical brawls.)

    I haven’t watched a millisecond of the Virginia Tech coverage, although I’ve attentively listened to the radio accounts, with heavy, heavy heartsickness.

    In sum, I just don’t like violence, whether authentic or staged. Even after hearing this hour of ROS, I can’t quite grasp why so many of my fellow humans enjoy it.

    None of this means I would passively endure violence pointed at me. I would defend myself or my family with whatever savagery the circumstances called for. (Although I don’t own a gun and have no intention of doing so.)

    None of this means I am incapable of imagining violence. Like Kate M., I grew up enduring brutal abuse. And having seen the films mentioned above, I can readily imagine wartime violence (even if inaccurately). I’ve written fictional scenes full of gore, and my readers have related that I succeeded in making it feel convincing. Luckily for me (and for my conscience), I write fantasy…

    …which brings me to this paradox:

    I don’t much mind the violence in The Lord of The Rings movies. But why?

    I suppose because, unlike the soldiers in Private Ryan or The Deer Hunter, the characters don’t represent any real, historical humans. The eventually vanquished enemies are archetypes of ‘evil’ – caricatures, in fact – and the gruesome deaths of orcs and suchlike don’t seem like the killing of sentience as much as they seem like the killing of pathogens. The story’s warlike heroes serve not simply as reciprocal amoral killers, but as curative agents for the health of their fantasy-world.

    Is it this distinction that allows humans (other than an apparent few like me and pln) to enjoy ‘entertainment violence’? By reducing ‘the Injuns’ or ‘the Nazis’ to inhuman caricatures—to anthropomorphized pathogens we must eradicate in order to save our world?

    I’m guessing yes. But that tentative conclusion bothers me. Because movies that vilify not orcs (or whatever other fantasia) but other humans instead just might serve as models for the extremes of vilification imagined within wildly imbalanced minds like that of the Virginia Tech shooter. Look, I’m aware that pointing the finger at the images we consume is overly simplistic. Our country’s strong stress of ‘rugged individualism’ at the expense of community or communalism is probably at least as culpable for the all-too-common eruptions of disaffected loners whose unusual brain chemistry, plus profound alienation, eventually manifest as murderous lone gunmen.

    But isn’t it possible – if not probable – that the archetype of ‘the lone gunman’ descends in no small part from Shane, Dirty Harry, and a zillion John Wayne characters?

    Ought we continue to vilify other humans, reducing them to pathogen-caricatures, just to put butts into expensive movie theater seats?

    And might it be time to rethink our customary vilification of the humans whose historical attitudes, convictions, and behaviors we deplore and regret? Because no matter how much we needed to stop Hitler (and we did), he too began as an imbalanced psychopath. Wouldn’t it have been preferable to kill his ideology and its absurd, justifying pseudo-scientific underpinnings long before it could gain power in Germany?

    What would you prefer to vilify: human beings, or the beliefs that inform their pathogenic behaviors?

    What would you prefer to kill off? Humans? Or beliefs—incorporeal products of human imagination?

    And if movies – entertainment-violence – serve to inform or reinforce these beliefs, ought we rethink their role in our culture?

  • katemcshane

    Nick — I don’t know if I will say anything insightful or wise to you about what you wrote. My first reaction was how wonderful it was to read your thoughts. I had a similar reaction to the thread, but I know that neither of us wants to make a judgment. I couldn’t read the whole thread, because I wasn’t able to relate to the pleasure. I’ve spent my whole life not fitting in, feeling out of it, so my first reaction in many situations is to be quiet and observe.

    It took me until a few weeks ago to watch THE DEERHUNTER. I heard references to Russian Roulette, so I knew. I agree, though, that it was a wonderful film, and I think I must feel a lot stronger these days to be able to watch those scenes. At the child abuse hotline I’ve mentioned, my boss knew I had PTSD and sadistically acted in ways (deliberately) he knew would frighten me, e.g. he slammed his fist down on tables when I was walking by, because he knew I would jump. He also put his fist in my face and threatened me. Finally, I was unable to sleep for longer than 20 minutes and I lost a pound a day for more than a month before I had to quit. This brought me to a point where the idea of aggression or violence was unbearable. It seems to me that we are taught to be excited by it, but once you look at someone’s face and feel your own pain, it’s just a matter of time before you know that all of it is wrong.

    When Jazzman, on the “Women in War” thread, quoted Gandhi about letting the enemy take your home, even letting the enemy slaughter you if he had to do that, I felt relieved. It’s not that I want to be killed, but there was something deeply comforting to me in the idea that I am not required to be aggressive, that even if in this capitalistic society my ability to be aggressive measures my worth, this is not a truth. Growing up in violence and in a very aggressive, male environment, I thought I had to learn how to be like more aggressive people in order to be worth anything.

    I have not seen my family (five of them, my brothers) since writing to my father 10 years ago to say that I remember being beaten repeatedly and I remember being (probably) raped on our cellar floor. On the night before my father died, I knew I loved him, despite the way he terrorized me, and I love my brothers so much and think about them every day, but I don’t know where they live since I sent that letter. Why am I telling you this? I loved Muhammed Ali, even though I could not watch him fight. But I could not like George Frazier, because he was brutal. I watched my brothers being beaten by my father and it was horrible — they were all younger than I. I know, too, that my father, one of 10 children, was brutally beaten by his father, as a child. And I can think about him and love that little kid he was — just as the only way I can love myself at all is to think of that little girl. I think you probably understand this.

    I, myself, write poetry, and I am able to describe stark violence in an evocative, powerful, artful way, which I have experienced moving an audience, but there’s nothing gratuitive about the violence in my poems. I imagine it moves people because so many of them have never been able to talk to anyone about their own similar experiences, and because I’m offering insight. I had a teacher, who was a Vietnam Vet and was nominated for a Pulitzer for his war poetry, and I remember his telling me that when he first began to write, his teachers told him, “Just because you have great material, it means nothing if you can’t turn it into art.” Maybe that is what allows you to enjoy writing about violence and enjoying certain tales on screen. I remember in the 1970’s there was a play by Peter Shaeffer (sp?) called EQUUS, about a teenaged boy who stabbed out the eyes of horses he cared for at a stable. I never saw the play, but I read it and the horses were part of a Greek chorus. When it was made into a film, they showed this kid stabbing out the eyes of several horses. It ruined the adaptation, in my opinion, and, for me, the capacity for understanding what drove this kid to violence. It was reduced to gory violence of the worst sort, and it upstaged the almost unbearable-to-watch dynamics in the kid’s family.

    I don’t have a television, so I have not watched coverage of the Virginia Tech killings, other than what was aired on Democracy Now. I know about rage. You can’t be brutalized and not know about it. I’m one of the lucky ones, in a sense, that I haven’t let it get out of hand, but my rage has always been directed at myself.

    Your observations about our need to objectify other human beings is profoundly compassionate. I’m a much slower thinker, so I’m not able to add anything to your insight. I am suspicious whenever I find myself being encouraged to hate or objectify anyone. I had a strange experience lately, though — a friend told me about a Buddhist exercise of sorts, where you “breathe in” someone’s suffering (an enemy’s suffering, for instance) and “breathe out light.” One day I was doing this and I went down a line of people with whom I have trouble. Suddenly, I found myself breathing in George W. Bush’s suffering and breathing out light, and I burst into tears.

    The archetype of the lone gunman does derive from Westerns. I’ve read literary criticism about this in the past. One of the enemies of these macho individuals is (any) woman.

    Nick — thank you.

  • katemcshane

    venom — No one who is familiar with psychoanalytic theory would deny it’s complexity and the fact that it is probably the most intellectually interesting psychological theories. It is founded on Freud’s exploration of (mainly) women’s stories of abuse and molestation in their families, but it did not come down from Freud in a way that validated those experiences. Psychoanalysts are not known for being able to explore family violence or the sexual abuse of children in those families. Certainly, the concept of facilitating a patient’s exploration of her history with the goal of abreaction and insight is basic to the theory, but (1) many of them don’t have the stomach for it and (2) psychoanalysis does not teach patients useful tools in moving beyond trauma. For instance, “sitting with” traumatic memories probably works against health, if you cannot offer someone tools to transcend these memories. That’s why so many therapists who have been trained in psychoanalytic and object relations theories, though they mine what psychodynamic approaches offer, learn EMDR, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, etc. in order to help. But many of them simply refuse to treat people with such histories. When I worked in a rape program, I heard many, many psychoanalytically trained therapists refuse to see rape victims with the excuse that they couldn’t handle it — “I’ve been analyzed and I still can’t do this work.” And, frankly, they did these women a favor.

    I was not suggesting that other theories are better. There’s a lot of crap out there passing for psychology and psychotherapy.

  • I wonder if the need to point out shortcomings – in thinking, beliefs, actions – in others and attempt to define what their truth is, rather than express our own experiences/feeling/beliefs, point out our own shortcomings or ask exploratory questions, is a form of violence? Or, at least, represents the same source material that can lead to violence…..

  • kate,

    I agree with you on psychoanalysis. It might lead to a discovery of history, but it is not designed for healing. Anaylyzing a problem does not fix a problem. It only defines it, if the analysis is good enough.

  • Nick

    Allison, I might not fully grasp your 2:04 AM, but, even so…

    “I wonder if the need to point out shortcomings – in thinking, beliefs, actions – in others and attempt to define what their truth is…”

    I dearly value this insight even before the sentence concludes!

    “…rather than express our own experiences/feeling/beliefs, point out our own shortcomings, or ask exploratory questions, is a form of violence? Or, at least, represents the same source material that can lead to violence…”

    You’re better than good at self-expression—you’re terrific (so is Kate). Perhaps what comes so naturally to you is harder for others – especially those whom we might class as extroverts?

    I’m not sure I’m appropriately using that term though.

    What I mean is this: perhaps the introvert/extrovert continuum (I shrink from dichotomies) can in part mean, roughly: those who quietly ponder and question (introversion), and those who assert (extroverts).

    Perhaps the former are less certain than the latter – and therefore less judgmental. Perhaps the latter have less easy access to non-doctrinal modes or patterns of thinking, and project this (limited) self-understanding onto others? Thinking that it’s ‘truth’? Everyone’s ‘truth’, rather than merely their own?

    And perhaps this is experienced, especially by the more introverted, as a form or style of intellectual aggression.

    Does that approximate what you meant?

  • nother

    A thousand thank yous for you heartfelt and heart wrenching words, Kate. I come away from your post thinking that I have a lot more thinking to do on this subject of violence. When someone mentions the word “violence,” the parts of your brain that light up are probably a hell of a lot different then the parts of my brain.

    Kate, you have a unique perspective derived from first hand horror. I would not blame you at all for holding it in with the knowledge that most of us will never understand. I have held in my experiences in the past because I felt that these experiences, which had helped to define my life, would somehow be lessened when put out there.

    But you have chosen to give our community a beautiful gift…the gift of your unique perspective, and I for one appreciate it immensely. We will all be better people for it. I look forward to hearing your special voice as the conversation continues and continues.

  • nother

    Allison, it’s as refreshing to see your name on the threads, as it was to finally see the sun come out of the clouds yesterday. We all have our real lives and I understand taking an ROS break to recharge. But we need your voice in the conversation, otherwise the conversation is not whole. Kate’s post above makes all those guys look ridicules. That’s the best way for us to handle these short-minded souls, to ignore them and post from our heart.

    They will either learn something, or fade away…

  • katemcshane

    Allison — I have to agree with nother. When I saw that you had contributed to this thread (ALL of which I have not had time to read yet), I lit up inside. I felt delighted to know you were back. I was really disheartened by the “Women in War” thread, and you were one of the people who fought back, which took so much strength and presence of mind. I’m glad you’re here. Thanks.

    nother — you are such a wonderful human being. I was thinking of you when I decided to check out ROS just now. And here you are. I’m glad, I’m grateful.

  • Nick

    nother beat me to lauding Kate’s awesome post, so I’ll happily settle for seconding his praise. I wanted also to write the praise when I had time to do her post justice. Well, I haven’t enough time for that even now, but will do the best I can…

    Kate wrote: “I couldn’t read the whole thread, because I wasn’t able to relate to the pleasure.” & “…neither of us wants to make a judgment.”

    Yeah. But as the week wore on, I found the choice of silence harder and heavier. I wonder if the ROS staff, in hindsight, have had second thoughts about running this show on the day of the VT shootings. The juxtaposition of that day’s events and this thread’s occasional appreciations of entertainment-violence seem even more unsettling to me this morning than they did on Monday. Perhaps a week or two later would have been better timing.

    You wrote: “I’ve spent my whole life not fitting in, feeling out of it, so my first reaction in many situations is to be quiet and observe.”

    Boy, can I ever relate to THAT. I think the ‘introvert’ characterization fits this sentiment – and it fits me, too. Thank you for articulating it so concisely. And perhaps it takes an introvert to esteem that sentence as not merely praiseworthy but personally moving! 🙂

    I can relate to much of your personal account. Thank you for sharing it. When I lauded last night both Allison and you for your gift of self-expression, I meant stuff like this – and I’d like also to note that I’m not as capable of it as either of you. I’ll surely carry some of my own similar experiences to my grave, unexpressed. And that’s fine, I suppose—perhaps it’s best to leave the lid clamped tightly on some experiences. I wonder what PTSD counselors would say to that…?

    Btw: I liked Ali too. As a kid, I watched him box on TV – it’s how I began to perceive the barbarity of the ‘sport’. In hindsight, I wonder (similarly to your sentiment) if his appeal was that he was so charismatic – good-looking, intelligent, and so artful in speech – and pitted for our entertainment against fighters framed as ‘brutes’. Would anyone ever call Ali a ‘brute’? I doubt it. He was an avatar for many, many people who otherwise might not have ever watched a boxing match. A gladiator of smarts and charms fighting gladiators of (perceived) savagery. Maybe that’s too simplistic. Or not!

    Anyway, thank you for this too: “…our need to objectify other human beings…”. That’s a nicely concise way to summarize what my stream-of-thought was, eventually, leading towards. (Thanks for the praise, too, although I demur. I’m happiest that it sparked your post.)

    Oops. I’m out of time (for the moment). See ya!

  • Hi guys,

    Thank you for the kind words.

    Yes, kate, I found the “Women in War” thread/show troubling. I’ve back way off of ROS. Don’t know when I’ll really re-engage. I am facing some deep concerns about the treatment of women on the internet and in our culture. With the advent of blogging/forums, etc. There is a lot of data out there which allows us to see how women are held in great disrespect. They are dismissed, lashed out at and threatened at far higher rates than men. It’s more subtle here on ROS, but I’ve experienced it. (Had an interesting experience when I accidentally logged in on someone else’s computer with a male name.)

    I need to go now, but I’ll try to write more about my observations and thoughts later. There is a tie-in to this violence thread.

    But, Niko, I don’t think the introvert/extrovert idea is useful here. I’m not an introvert. An introvert is someone who gets their positive creative energy from being along. Thinking alone. Etc. An extrovert is fed by interactions with people. I’m a hybrid, if anything. But I can’t resolve my thinking by myself, per se. I need to say things out loud to others. Sometimes, i don’t even need the feedback, just expressing it outwardly makes it clearer for me.

    I’ll get back later to expound on my question about the relationship of violence to imposing your truth as universal and the act of pointing out what you perceive as flaws in others. It was a very extemporaneous thought. Nothing fleshed out. I’ll work on that and see if I can find the pathways of connection, if indeed there are any.

  • Nick

    Allison, thanks for your thoughts. I’ve got a two-post reply in the works, but time only for this half of it now. You wrote:

    “I am facing some deep concerns about the treatment of women on the internet and in our culture. With the advent of blogging/forums, etc. There is a lot of data out there which allows us to see how women are held in great disrespect. They are dismissed, lashed out at and threatened at far higher rates than men. It’s more subtle here on ROS, but I’ve experienced it.”

    Agreed. Lock, stock, and barrel. I’m familiar mostly with this venue, so I get my news of other blog-examples second hand, but, even so…

    I am occasionally stunned by the crass disrespect I read from self-identified or identifiably male bylines towards self-identified or identifiably female bylines. Not that the offenders don’t insult both genders – but the tone and volume of the dissing is unmistakably more hostile or snide towards females. Noting this, I’m grateful that the offended female contributors continue posting here – and I ask – no, implore – you to do the same.

    Maybe the best prospective solution lies in consciousness-raising.

    I suspect that the offenders aren’t even aware that third parties – and male third parties at that, like me – detect their greater hostility towards female bylines. (And, just to be fair, one of the regular male offenders seems to be a genuine equal opportunity scorner: so muscular in his skepticism that it comes across (probably unintentionally) as impersonally truculent, if not downright in-your-face hostile. The blogger I’m thinking of might surprise you…or not.)

    Back to consciousness-raising: I wonder how many here in the relatively polite ROS-cocoon are aware of the The Kathy Sierra “blog storm”. Click the links and read away…

    In fact, maybe someone more artful or persuasive than me can figure out a way to ask ROS to cover this Sierra calamity, as a microcosm of the much larger issue of civility on the Web.

    Anyone able or comfortable enough to write it up as a show suggestion?

  • Nick

    Allison, thanks again for your thoughts. I can accept that I might be inaccurately applying the introvert/extrovert continuum to this conversation, but would like to further the notion for at least one more post. I think it might not be wholly inaccurate. It might even shed a dim ray of light on our attempts to understand the larger issues. Perhaps the VT gunman was an introvert – but an extreme one, and one whose imbalances went well beyond the appropriately descriptive scope of introvert/extrovert. And I’m not about to try psychoanalyzing him. I’ll stick instead closer to home, to subjects I’m more familiar with (me!). Bear with me, if you would, please.

    A few minutes ago I managed to google up one of the first online article I ever read (I got my first computer years long after most folks did). It’s called Caring For Your Introvert. It’s wryly humorous — even hilarious — and it opens thusly:


    Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

    If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

    If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands-and that you aren’t caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

    I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.


    Note this especially: “Science…has even learned… that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up).”

    That, I can attest to. In spades.

    Reading that article for the first time was an epiphany: “I’m not nuts, I’m just an introvert!” Many of my friends disliked the article: they didn’t want to accept that it described, to a ‘T’, my inner experiences.

    Now, I’m not purely an introvert: I’m a hybrid, like you. I can function in public like an extrovert, and do so, like an actor playing a role – but, like Jonathan, it taxes me.

    Taxes the hell out of me, in fact.

    Anyway, hidden in the biting satire of this: “Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts…”

    …lies a grain, or even an entire sand-castle, of accuracy: introverts are more reflective. It’s one of their identifiable traits. This doesn’t mean that their reflections are any more accurate or any less bloody-minded than the reflections of extroverts. It does mean that introverts spend an awful lot of time pondering. Sometimes whimsically. Sometimes nastily. Introverts are just as human as extroverts – even though extroverts seem to suspect us of deceit, or deceptiveness, and of other skullduggery.

    Anyway… you class yourself an extrovert and I accept that – but perhaps, to me at least, you (and Kate and nother, ftm) demonstrate a talent for self-reflection that I (perhaps inaccurately) ascribe more to introverts than extroverts. But again: it’s a continuum more than a polarity, and many self-identified extroverts are likely to evince traits that introverts might like to think their own. Just as introverts can evince traits more commonly ascribed to extroverts. This blending is what I mean by continuum [even though ‘continuum’ is (perhaps surprisingly) just another metaphor and not a ‘real’ abstraction!].

    Sooo…with all that on the table, I stand by my suggestion that introverts might tend to be less certain – less cocksure – and therefore less judgmental than extroverts. Again, I said ‘tend’. I’m not declaring any absolutes. I’m suggesting a tendency. And I suggest it with the extra caution that concepts like ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ aren’t ‘real’ but approximations – approximations that attempt to describe noticeable, if impossible to fully define, tendencies of human beings and their behavior.

    In closing, introverts get a predictable rap: anti-social. In this, self-reflection can also be understood – or misunderstood – as ‘brooding’. Yet sometimes it is. Indeed, this conceptual lens called ‘brooding’ might well describe the VT gunman. But anti-social must be distinguished from asocial (neutral), and also from periodically social (that’s me – when I’m not being asocial).

    I’ve bothered to type all this out not to bore but to point out to the extrovertist world I share with other humans that introversion is just as misunderstood as Jonathan Rauch (comically) makes it out to be. This chronic misunderstanding is part of the alienation of the extremely imbalanced minds who become murderous lone gunman.

    And that, I suggest, is rich food for heavy thought. And I look forward to reading those thoughts of yours I’m trying to feed.

    Thanks again. 🙂

  • Warning: this is a long brain dump. Since the thread is post-show now, I’m hoping it’s okay.

    For me, as I’ve given this thought, I end up questioning the concept of civility. What is it? What do we mean? How do we know if we’re being civil? How do we express it when we feel someone has not been civil to another? How do you push up against incivility in such a way that you don’t drive people away from dialogue but you also don’t condone incivility? How do you explain the depth of the impact of even subtle incivility?

    Is it civil to say, “I know the truth and you don’t”? Is it civil to characterize someone else’s expressions or behaviors as “depraved”? Is it civil to argue rather than offer perspective?

    Am I the only one who cares? I doubt it. Do enough people care enough to courageously explore what we idealize as civility and whether we actually want to puruse it? Is it possible in the internet world of anonymity to create a movement of civility? People seem to cherish the anonymity as a way of avoiding accountability and being freed to be uncivil.

    In a Joan Walsh piece on Salon.com – http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/03/31/sierra/index.html?source=rss

    she describes how the constant personal attacks – a lot of them violently sexual – impact her as a writer. The level of anxiety that she goes through as she tries to write in a way that she hopes will minimize the attacks is not something that men have to go through, generally, but that most women do. Sadly, the hate mail is a sociopathic behavior and not based in rationality, so nothing the writer can do will actually prevent the sociopath from creating a reason to attack. (I run a yarn store and I get hate mail, believe it or not.) Still, the constant barrage has it’s impact and the person on the receiving end, irrationally, ends up taking responsibility. We all suffer from the resulting creep of neurosis.

    People live with these kinds of things constantly. I think it is harmful for everyone and would love it if, as a society with so much access to mass communication, we could have a large pubic dialogue about what it really means to be civil and how to set the expectation of civility.

    Meanwhile, the sub-groups in our society that are less empowered are the most likely to have their ability to create a meaningful life impacted by the incivilities with which they contend. When you can’t buy food, you already feel less than. So, when others treat you as less than, it compounds an inner gnawing and makes it even less likely that you will be able to gather your inner resources and improve your life circumstances. (Some may argue about self-determination and spritual insight, etc, but human experience gives some pretty solid evidence that this is a standard human response and people who continually offend have to know on some level that it is.)

    Sometimes, these inciviities are obvious. A claim that women aren’t smart enough for science professions is blatantly full of gender bias. These obvious cases are easy to discuss, relative to the more subtle ones. But even some obvious ones don’t get challenged in a meaninful way. Why do women, still, on average, get 70% of the paycheck that their male counterparts receive? And why haven’t there been massive protests, perpetual letter campaigns to corporate boards, etc.? I could analyze this readily, but for now, it’s a rhetorical question. One piece of the answer is that consciously or unconsciously people believe women should just be happy that they have the opportunity to work outside of the home and create financial independence. How dare we actually seek being equally valued. (Some women may be equally valued, but the overall valuation stands at 70%) And so, devaluing women is culturally acceptable. Is it civil? Does it serve us well as a society?

    If we started a dialogue that did not begin with a laundry list of trnasgressions, but instead began with whether our goal is to be civil and how we define that, could we come up with a code of conduct around how we speak to one another against which we could then assess behaviors?

    In the “Women in War” thread, several turns of the dialogue were distrubing to me. For now, I will point to one: why don’t we question the desire of women to be like men? Women fought for civil rights and won some ground. But they did so by conceding to behave more like men in a man’s world. Rather than say, “women’s ways of being and what they have to offer have equal value to men’s ways of being”, we stipulated to the idea that male behaviors are inherently more valuable. Women have gone as far as to mimic men’s wardrobes and wear suits and ties to work. I’ve never seen a mass movement of men donning women’s garb in mainstream culture. Rather than question the concept that being competitive was the only desirable way to contribute to achievement, we demanded the right to become equally competitve and got Title 9. Now, I was a competitve athlete, so I don’t have anything against funding equally for men’s and women’s sports. It’s more a question of, why didn’t we fight to have the more nurturing and creative activities of women be more valued. Teachers and day care workers are grotesquely underpaid for doing some of the most vital work for society, but at least we now have a women’s pro basketball league. Where’s the funding for education in crafts, home economics, nurturing etc and the demand that men participate and learn to value these activities and even pursue them?

    Fundamentally, we don’t question the dominance of the male perspective. When a few voices do, they are drowned out. Women are so readily treated as dumb or emotionally unstable. Or, the one I love is when we are accused of being wrong because we are ugly (not seen at ROS, thankfully). I’m an intelligent women. Always got high grades. But when women refer to me as smart, it’s often not a compliment. It about alienating me. Often, if men will acknowledge that I’m smart, it’s couched as intimidating. And seen as, she’s smart enough to fight with – rhetorically. It’s a competition. If my intelligence is actually to be recognized as something that people might appreciate, it will often come with the qualifier – or even be limited to – my capacity for compassion – that is, feminine, not masculine intelligence. The qualifier, sets me up as having a different, usually less, value. It’s as though then I’m safer to have around.

    I don’t share this to bait for compliments or seek sympathy. What I’m trying to get at is that I have lived with subtle, and not-so-subtle, attitudes that indicate my lower value as a person simply because I’m not like a man. (Well, I could make big bucks if I was considered particularly sexually attractive and wanted to center my life around that.) And I’ve experienced it right here on ROS. The fundamental question of why we value the masculine over the feminine never comes up and gets explored in any meaningful way. On the thread and in the interview for “Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” it was roundly dismissed that a women’s perspective behind the lens or guiding the pen creates a very different, yet equally valuable, storytelling. I was challenged to give an example and I did. One woman responded to my example. Other than that it was ignored and the assumption that gender didn’t matter was allowed to stand. It’s reasonable to claim that men cannot vouch for whether women would tell stories differently. Only women can know that. Men need to simply ask women and listen to women’s responses. The director of the film even had the nerve to claim that he knew what women ‘really” were better than women do. If he had said that he knows better than black people what it is to be black, that comment would not have gone unchallenged. But he can proclaim whatever he wants for women.

    So, I’m seeking a way to have a dialogue about the assumption of the superiority of the masculine, at the expense of getting the best that women could offer society. I’m not sure you can have that conversation without exploring the definition of civility. Understanding whether civility contains mutual respect and what that looks like, for instance. It would possibly ground other dialogues.

    Also, I wonder whether women can force men to see the destructiveness of gender bias. Does the willingness to consider such a fundamental self-reflection need to be inspired by male leaders? How would men push for this work? How would women?

    In a study of people going through gender transformation, men receiving estrogen treatment reported noticing that they were more interested in talking about who did and said what (gossip) and suddenly cried when sad, rather than being angry. Women receiving testosterone treatments reported suddenly being unable to cry and wanting to punch something when sadness was experienced. So, we know that the different chemistries of women and men lead to different ways of experiencing things and expressing things. It’s reasonable to expect that, en masse, men and women would approach the work of transformative dialogue differently. In my experience, the way to neutralize that is to agree upon rules of engagement. Groups like the Generative Dialogue Project have studied this intensely:


    I think the reason it works is that men respond to heirarchy and rules and this approach creates rules for them to abide by. Women need to feel safe and knowing that men are constrained by rules makes it safe for them and offers hope. Disempowered groups will generally not speak out without a sense of hope, because they would fear reprisal.

    In groups like ours, where suddenly one day a place was created for us to start dialoguing, we all just jumped in as we discovered it. There weren’t any up front discussions and agreements about the parameters of civil discourse. We’re all operating under our own understanding of it. When the “Rules of Engagement” were created it was a burst of an a attempt to start defining what we wanted as civil discourse. It was mostly imposed, due to enough people feeling offended that something had to be done. As time goes on, I find myself less interested in participating because I don’t see a hope of moving the dialogue toward something more generative. When I experience the offensiveness of “women at war” and “pervert’s guide to cinema” , I don’t see why I should bother. It’s become another place to affirm that women are devalued. Has anyone noticed how few women post here? It might be easier to blame it on some shortcoming in women, but it might be better to look at whether the environment is offensive and whether that is desired or whether we’d like to see what we can do to improve it.

  • Okay, Niko. I hear you. I certainly can’t say that there is no relationship. And I do accept that one marker in the defining of a character is introvert versus extrovert. I may even be more introvert than I thought.

    Now I wonder, do people who participate in a forum like this tend to be more introverted? After all, we’re all writing from the comfort of our own quiet space. And we all get the time to retreat and come back to the engagement when we’ve recovered from the exhaustion of output.

  • Potter

    Thank you Allison- I got very involved in that Women at War thread and I felt alone at times. Even though I am potter, folks that hang around here already know that I am a she. I could tell the difference in the responses that I was getting after that confusion was “cleared up” But I try not to focus on this- this that you are speaking of – and so I am grateful that you are in fact.

    I am still waiting but not holding my breath for an apology for something nasty and outrageous from an obvious male on that thread and until I get one I will not engage or ratify any posts I read of his. I don’t care if he reads this either.

    You can tell when there is a fight for male supremacy going on underneath the dialogue.

    My feeling is that it comes from having to prove maleness- and maybe it’s almost ingrained. I look at my late father and beyond to his extremely controlling mother. I look at my son and I see that I have perhaps helped in some way to produce a male far different,to break a cycle. He is far more secure, more equal to his woman, more appreciative of me as well- not perfect, but a good leap forward.

    Maybe I am saying this because I am a fighter… as a woman, you really do have to fight the fight that is right in front of you and it may at times get uncivil. (This “dinner table” is not the place for it.) My experience is that you can only have a discourse about it with those who are there or halfway there already. There are a few on this blog- I won’t name mainly b/c I don’t want to leave anyone out.

  • Nick

    Allison, great post. Not a word of it is excessive. Couldn’t disagree with a single sentence. You wrote: “Is it civil to argue rather than offer perspective?

    Am I the only one who cares?”

    As you surmised, no, you’re not the only one who cares. It’s a tricky issue though. Even if all we do is offer our perspective, or offer our personal, imperfect, subjective, and incomplete analyses of the issues these threads offer up to us, it’s probably impossible to avoid some degree of disagreement. How that disagreement manifests is the tricky bit. The dynamic is often competitive – but not always, and for good reason.

    George Lakoff & Mark Johnson examine this in detail in their little gem of a book, Metaphors We Live By. They begin their examination of the underlying, inescapable pervasiveness of metaphor in our common language with the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor, which gives us many stock phrases – phrases reflecting our intuitive understanding of the argument dynamic – like these:

    Your claims are indefensible.

    He attacked every weak point in my argument.

    His criticisms were right on target.

    I demolished his argument.

    I’ve never won an argument with him.

    You disagree? Okay, then shoot!

    If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.

    He shot down all my arguments.

    (Lakoff & Johnson, p.4)

    These examples will doubtlessly seem so intuitive as to be blatantly obvious, and any of us can construct dozens of similar examples of the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor we use so commonly (without being fully aware of it). But argument needn’t only be ‘war’.

    Here’s another (humorously couched) metaphor: ARGUMENT IS A JOURNEY –

    We have set out to prove that bats are birds.

    When we get to the next point, we shall see that philosophy is dead.

    So far, we’ve seen that no current theories will work.

    Our goal is to show that hummingbirds are essential to military defense.

    This observation points the way to an elegant solution.

    We have arrived at a disturbing solution.

    (Lakoff & Johnson, p.90)

    Obviously then, argument doesn’t have to be competitive – it can instead be cooperative. Moreover, the JOURNEY isn’t the only way that argument can be cooperative: people can also build things together:


    Is that the foundation for your theory (or argument)? The theory needs more support. The argument is shaky. We need some more facts or the argument will fall apart. We need to construct a strong argument for that. I haven’t yet figured out what the form of the argument will be. Here are some more facts to shore up the theory. We need to buttress the theory with solid arguments. The theory will stand or fall on the strength of that argument. The argument collapsed. So far we have only put together the framework of the theory. We will show that theory to be without foundation.

    (Lakoff & Johnson, p.46)

    Notice how, in that final example, the cooperative ‘We’ are planning to subvert a theory (or argument). This verges back toward the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor – and that only illustrates once again the trickiness of these unrecognized, intuitive metaphors. We mix them. We do this constantly. (Read the book for dozens of other metaphors, and for detailed analysis of our consistencies and inconsistencies – and how these mixtures can cloud our comprehension. “cloud our comprehension,” btw, is another metaphor.)

    This post is long (another metaphor) already, so I’ll cut it short with this suggestion: some of us ROS users prefer the cooperative styles of argument. Others seem to come here for competition, in the guise of ‘debate’. Perhaps a post like this can raise the consciousness of the contributors here. Perhaps we can work to maneuver competitiveness out of our threads in favor of cooperation.

    And an observation (coming from a man): men seem more drawn than women to the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor. I suggest this as a general tendency, not as an absolute. Plenty of men here offer cooperative manifestations of argument. And not all the self-identified or identifiably female bylines shrink from ARGUMENT IS WAR. (Amazons! :-)) The trouble of course is that this is a masculine-dominated culture, and if men indeed tend to favor the competitive at the expense of the cooperative, that style will be intuitively perceived as the norm – and not merely as an objectionable option.

    I look forward to (the JOURNEY metaphor) the thoughts of anyone on this post. (Potter? Kate? nother?)

  • Nick

    PS, when I wrote “This post is long (another metaphor)” the metaphor is spatial. We could just as easily have metaphorically described the post as “deep”, or “slow” (a motion metaphor), or “thick” (a viscosity metaphor).

    That’s how pervasive metaphor is in our language — we use it in every sentence! Indeed, the two usages of the word ‘in’ in the previous sentence are examples of ‘spatial’ metaphors!

  • Nick

    Oops. I forgot an important concluding point: Chris, in the show intoductions, doesn’t invite us to “join the debates” but to “join the conversation”. I assimilate this as an invitation to cooperation — a journey, or even to a construction — not an invitation to a competition.

  • Potter

    Nick- Thanks that’s helpful. I prefer cooperation to arrive somewhere together or even ending respectfully apart. One has to be willing to listen to what a person is actually saying and respond, not to use that person to get your POV out. I can understand why some are reluctant to post. I keep posting because I am learning a lot regardless of the mode of dialogue- argument or journey but I sometimes feel like I am talking to myself and I bet you do too. There have been a few disappointing and revealing threads. One of them was Women at War. This violence as entertainment thread has a lot of unfulfilled potential-a way to go, yet we are morphing it, maybe the topic is gone or we will come back to it.

    That said the generosity and depth ( and intelligence) of the personal exchange above is quite something to read: the attempt at expressing some things that are inexpressible, sharing what cannot be totally shared fully or really… so very personal. And then the camera moves to a larger perspective and pans a bit. Here “it” continues from other threads and “it” is a little cooperative journey, an encounter.

  • nother

    Allison, I just now had time to read your thoughts and I thank you. That essay is worthy of publication. It’s something I will return to from time to time as a resource.

  • nother

    Just want to throw a quick point out there.

    My main advice up till now has been to ignore the knuckleheads. These guys feed off of attention, good or bad – they don’t make distinctions. When I stop by my local bar in Cambridge, and I hear some jerk spouting his short-minded views, I generally don’t go up to him and engage him on the issues of the day. (if he is being abusive to someone, that is a different story) But that doesn’t stop me from going to my local bar, because overall I’ve been enriched by the people I’ve meet there.

    On the other hand, I’ve realized that giving some of you the advice to ignore these guys is akin to telling a black person to just ignore the bigots…easy for me to say. So we have to do something. How do we feel about “flagging?”

    One point though, some of these issues we are having remind me of the issues they’re having over at Wikipedia. The open source model works brilliantly for them – except when doesn’t. Inevitable, some blowhard brings down the party by posting erroneous information. This is how they get their rocks off.

    On some level we have to take the bad with good – and there is a lot of good to be had. Our community is not centered on a particular hobby, passion, sport, or subject. Our community is centered on conversation, a Global conversation, with a capital G. And we don’t have doormen checking ids and appearances before you come in.

    On any given day, any given soul in this whole wide world…can drop by and drop their unique perspective on us – and us on them. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty cool.

  • katemcshane

    I couldn’t write a comment yesterday, because I was at work, and this morning, I meditated first, because this is important. And after all that, I agree with nother about the Open Source model and about everything else he said.

    Allison — civility and truth: Respect for other people does not come naturally, for any of us. Some people have decided to value human respect in their lives and some people have issues that consume what energy it would require to even approach the idea of human respect. You meet them and shake your head, because their lives must be so hard. As nother says, if you were in a personal situation with someone like this, you probably wouldn’t engage with them, because there is no point; sometimes it’s obvious that it would be dangerous. It’s more difficult to see that on paper. Also, in this more intellectual model, perhaps it feels wrong to stop reading certain people’s writing, not include them in the discussion. On an intellectually political level, for me, I want to live in a world where everyone matters and has a say in everything, and I deplore situations where someone has decided that another person is inferior to the process, because on either end of the political continuum, people with some kind of power believe that it’s alright to eliminate people of the “wrong” gender, color, class, sexual preference, religion, etc. and would swear up and down that they don’t do that. Again, like nother, if I see that someone is not able to interact in a way that is respectful, I draw the line. You can have all kinds of views with which I disagree, but if you have human respect, even if I think you’re missing a boat, I want to listen to you and think about what you believe.

    Since the “Women in War” thread, I’ve wondered about standards that exist on Open Source for civility. Someone insulted Potter on that thread in a way that was appalling, but it didn’t violate ROS standards. Probably people know how to stay under the wire, and someone will always know that. I asked myself what ROS staff should have done, because much of what happened on that thread fell under the wire but certainly affected my life for a week in a very painful way. (I still have peggysue’s comment about “feminazis” taped to walls at work and in my room at home, because it comforts me.) My sense was that people at ROS didn’t understand how abusive comments on the thread had become, but I figure that they are in this “open source” world with the rest of us, so I shouldn’t imagine that they have authority over us and should somehow know everything that should be done. I couldn’t tolerate that, anyway.

    Do people take advantage of the anonymity? ABSOLUTELY!!! When I spent 12 years on a telephone listening to people discuss abuse, I saw immediately that to many of them, we were not human beings on the other end of the telephone: we represented the phone, itself — we were objects. For a lot of people, that’s what they know how to do. I used to listen to them for a while and take a few notes. At some point, in a calm voice, I would clarify what the person said and when they agreed, I would inform them that I intended to hang up and why. It was a great experience.

    Are women treated badly because they’re women? Often, yes. Will it change? VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY gradually. Does this kind of treatment make everyones’ lives so much more difficult? Yes. Can we acknowledge it here and try to change things? Absolutely. Treating people with respect, kindness, compassion, love changes everything. This discussion will change things on this site. Would a thousand of these discussions change things? Absolutely. Will anything we do eliminate all of what makes everything more difficult? No. It’s interesting that we’re able to have this conversation on a thread for a show that happened last week. Normally, we wouldn’t have the space, because it would be interrupted. I guess this is a gift.

  • katemcshane

    A last thought — I wish a bunch of us could meet this afternoon or this evening for a beer, because I’m right in the middle of a “high” with regard to this conversation.

  • Nick

    ‘Argument as a Journey’

    My recent experience on the Paglia thread was an example of the ‘Argument is a Journey’ metaphor. My goal was greater understanding – more and clearer perspectives – and my journey was like a hike up one of the Olympic Mountains peaks I scale several times each summer.

    I set off from the trailhead via a long post – a long trudge through the pines below the first of the vistas. That post posed the thoughts and questions I had in my head ‘while ascending’, if you will. And not long after it, someone responded, offering (or doing his best to offer) a glimpse of the distant heights he was climbing, one or more ridges over from mine. Each of my new posts (uphill efforts) yielded new responses, like dramatic openings in the pines: precipices or ridge-crest knobs facing the ascending ridges of my distant co-climbers.

    Some responses were like crystalline mountain air: seeming to reduce the distance between us to an easily jumpable gap. Not every view was so clear, however.

    Several responses were clouded—yet even these, though they did not reveal to me of view of the ridge of their climber, yielded beauty: swirling tendrils of vapor that caught the sunshine and gave hints of ephemeral, incorporeal experiences (comprehensions) that I could not quite share, despite the writer’s (co-climber’s) best efforts.

    Nonetheless, the higher I climbed, the more I could see. And the farther I could see as well. Eventually, at the summit, I could gawk at mountains hundreds of miles distant (just like the massive, glaciated Cascade strato-volcanoes one can see from the smaller Olympic peaks).

    Yet closer at hand, the clouds lingered between my peak and the peaks the other climbers tried so hard to reveal for me. Do I regret it? No way. Even the clouds were lovely. And the journey was worth every calorie of the exertion.

    And it wasn’t a competition. Not a moment of it.

    Was it occasionally frustrating? Sure: any good mountain hike has its drudgery. But it was worth it. And it was a journey, not a fight.

    PS: wish I could have a kolsch with you Kate. Hope it’s rewarding!

  • Hey potter, nick, nother, kate:

    Thanks for my comment in a post-show thread. I’m going to avoid responding to some of the ideas presented for now, as I find I’m driven to provide specific interactions as examples of why I feel, strongly, that we’re lacking a leadership ethic around gender-bias. I don’t feel antagonistic and don’t want to create an antagonistic atmosphere by appearing to call people out. Instead, I will continue to implore that we have an ongoing discourse of what we mean by “civil dialogue”.

    I am not suggesting that we do this in order to kick people out of the threads. I have a vast appreciation for different perspectives and quite able to hold the concept that as strongly as I feel my truth, it may not be a truth for anyone else and I need to honor the multiple truths that may exist simultaneously.

    What I am suggesting is that the more explicity we define the level of discourse we are seeking, the more possible it is to create it. I don’t expect to see any ideal achieved. I hope that by continually coming back to a conversation where we are defining an ideal to strive for we offer more insight to aid self-reflection and build a communal commitment for the striving. If you’re on a diet, you don’t just write up the meal plan – you keep checking the scale and you make adjustments if you’re not losing the weight.

    I would love a conversation that is strictly about defining civil dialogue. What do we mean by the word “civil”? How do we assess whether a conversation is civil if we don’t know how we define that?

    Nick, the metaphor of the journey is wonderful. Even in this metaphor, though, we don’t get at what I’m seeking in this moment. What if one of the other climbers has an excavation team stripping the top of your mountain and using the material to connect all other paths to his, denying anybody the ability to see from any view but his own? No matter the metaphor, there needs to an awareness that we aren’t, at every turn of the journey, operating from the purely angelic motivations of the ether at the top. We’re climbing up from the bottom and we’re covered with the muck of the earth. How do we help ourselves shed the muck along the way? We have to be self-reflective and we have to help one another. If I’m slipping, will anyone throw me a line? If someone has repelled and their line has swung over to hit me in the face, will anyone grab his line and protect me? How do you know when someone needs a line or an assist? You have to establish markers to look for before you set off on the journey. You know, like, “hey, if the angle of his line is more than 12 degrees off vertical, someone needs to redirect.” Defining civility, for me, is like defining those markers. Then we all know what’s being looked for and we can all discuss how we work together to keep the journey on course.

    Ok, I pushed that metaphor a little over the edge….

  • Nick

    I’ve had a chance to suss through the Argument is War/Argument is a Journey distinction a bit more.

    I’m not saying that the Journey version is free from disagreement. But the ascent-up-the-mountain variant of the metaphor offers models for peaceful and respectful disagreement.

    The Argument is War model, on the other hand and unfortunately, uses contradiction, intimidation, and aggression.

    Now, if someone offers her perspective on a thread, and I say, “No it isn’t! You’re wrong, and here’s why!” I’m employing contradiction at very least, and intimidation and aggression to boot.

    Worse yet, how the hell I know that her perspective is ‘wrong’? I can’t. I’m not her.

    The Journey metaphor offers the following alternative: I say, “I can’t quite share your perspective, or buy your analyses, and here’s why…” And then I say, “I’d like you to provide me this sort of clarification, evidence, or evidence-based analysis, to better my chances of sharing your perspective or your conclusions.”

    Needless to say, such requests often don’t or can’t succeed. But asking for clarification, evidence, or evidence-based analyses is fundamentally different from contradiction.

    Eventually, if your questions don’t receive the sorts of answers that can satisfy or ameliorate the disagreement, it’s probably just best to accept that the gulf between your ridge/perspective and the other’s is, well, unbridgeable, I suppose. This can be disappointing, but I’m willing to wager that at the very least you would have learned something important about how other people think, even if you can’t buy what they think. And there’s plenty of value in that, methinks.

    And now I must ask Allison: does this answer at least some of your concerns?

  • Nick, I appreciate what you are trying to work out, but, no it doesn’t answer my question. I didn’t ask for anyone to address my concerns. I’m not asking to have any concerns answered right now. I’m asking for a definition. A groupthink about a definition. One that might be built over time. The opening phrase of an attempt to respond would begin with:

    “Civil discourse is……”

    It would not be couched in a metaphor. It would be something that looks like an entry in a dictionary or encyclopedia. I’m seeking something simple.

    If I were in a brainstorming session I would give everybody two minutes to fill in the end of the sentence. No wrong answers. Put all the answers up on a board and try to create a statement that is an amalgamation. Throw out any words unacceptable to anyone. Review it. Ask, “anything missing” Give people two minutes. Throw it up on a board. And around we go until there are no responses after the two minutes are up. Then we’d read our group understanding of civil discourse. We’d sit silently with it for two minutes. We work with it for a while. We’d come back to it 5 months down the road. Did our actual discourse fit this definition? How could we improve? (each person answers for hersef, not allowed to assess others.) What is civil discourse? Two minutes……….. Repeat bi-annually.

    You can’t talk about any concerns or experiences without this base level common understanding. So,…..

    Civil discourse is… (you have two minutes to answer)

  • Nick

    Gotcha, Allison. (But it took me 20, not 2 minutes to type up—I’m sloooow…)

    Civil discourse is: a dynamic, welcoming, and friendly polyphony. Like music, it strives to maintain harmony, and to smoothly and promptly work through the sudden emergences of dissonances. Its participants can offer personal perspectives, analyses, deductions, postulations, opinions, whimsy, and, heck, even poetry.

    And questions. Especially questions. Thought-provoking questions, but not sarcastic questions.

    Participants address one another by name – or byline – as they would their next-door neighbors, which, in these virtual ‘streets’ called threads, we all are. Participants quoting other participants take the time and make the effort to credit the writer of the quote.

    If the quoter is in disagreement with the quotee, the quoter does not ridicule or contradict the quote, but instead asks for clarification, or for more rationale, or for corroborative evidence. And s/he thanks the quote’s writer for the contribution.

    Participants in civil discourse do not employ intimidation or hostility.

    (143 words)

    I could add more (lots!), but that’s enough for a starter (and I wanted to try keeping it under 150 words – no mean feat for my kind of meandering cogitations, I can tell ya!)

    Now it’s someone else’s turn.

    PS: are any of the browsers of this thread interested in asking for a ROS show on the Kathy Sierra disaster? As an extreme example of blogging-gone-bad? As a cautionary tale for the rest of the blogosphere?

    Here’s (again) the article on it that Allison links to above: at salon.com .

    (And we haven’t had a feminism-oriented show in what, nearly a year?)

  • Potter

    Civil discourse means a willingness and openness to honor those who you are engaged with in conversation by listening (here reading), paying attention to what the other person/s is/are saying, responding at least respectfully ( here as if you were in a room together). The topic/subject is subordinate. The purpose is exchange. “Validation” is a fashionable term but if you don’t acknowledge that your thoughts and truths are only your thoughts and truth and that other people have thoughts and truths, you do not have discourse.

    (addendum) It’s hard on these threads b/c you have people coming and going and you don’t want people to feel that they have to get into a discussion if they just want to leave their reaction to the show or the topic itself. But the feelng amongst those who are engaging should evolve to WE are having a dialogue and here to add our views, yes, but also maybe arrive at something we cannot find by ourselves. This is the joy.

  • Potter

    Forgot to thank Allison for the assignment- and should have said “potential joy” at the end.

  • Potter

    Maybe this is rude of me because we are evolving the discussion- so please forgive and skip over. I still had some thoughts to deposit on the previous discussion on the show topic. FWIW-

    Regarding violence, this topic, I do not seek out especially b/c today’s media is awesome, overwhelming the senses. I do appreciate as Ben says above, and Chris quotes this on the show, that;

    How violence is mediated and used as a cultural tool changes with the times, but I think the purveyor of violent imageries for our stories may be as normal of a member of our collective existence as a vintner or an architect is

    My father used to love to see heads roll in the movies. He also kept a gun by his door which he locked with three bolts. He had issues. In those days movies were black and white then came color and big screens. The medium was not so real as it is today but real enough to scare me. At 5 years old I was terribly frightened watching a rather benign movie, The “Boy With the Green Hair”. Another movie that frightened me had Mickey Rooney in it. I think I was just frightened by the big screen and the background music that pushed my emotions. I can’t imagine what kids nervous systems must be like today. Maybe we are seeing the result.

    Pictures and sound then were fuzzier. I cannot sit in a theater today with big sound, big screen and see violence. If I were to watch, say “Saving Private Ryan”- I have not yet- I would have to pick a good moment for myself and perhaps a very small screen ( my laptop!). I can’t and do not want to be overwhelmed by what is coming at me. Years ago I loved watching war movies (like “The Longest Day”) and shoot em up westerns which had great lessons in them. I think I still might be up for those old movies. Yet I did watch “Gangs of New York” this year, which was big and off the deep end, having fallen into it. I surprised myself.

    I prefer a Greek play or Shakespeare on the stage-tragedy that is exaggerated and obviously not real. Recently we watched Zhang Yimou’s House of the Flying Daggers on a big screen with big sound but it was so cartoon-ish and surreal that I did not have a problem with the violence and blood in it. It was attempt at art and so I viewed it also with another part of my brain.

    Nick says some very interesting things above one of which is: Ought we continue to vilify other humans, reducing them to pathogen-caricatures, just to put butts into expensive movie theater seats?

    The problem with today’s “entertainment” violence is that it is made so realistic- huge screen, big sound- overwhelming. And what are the storylines? Where do they leave us?

  • Potter

    On the civil discourse topic- I forgot something that I think is important: giving a person “benefit of the doubt”. As an example On the Women at War topic I must have inadvertantly pushed a button to get the response I did, which is all too easy to do here, but I was not given any benefit of the doubt regarding how I meant what I said vs how it was received or interpreted. My attempt to clarify fell on dead ears.

  • Nick

    Would anyone prefer I move the Civil Discourse conversation to my ‘Overflow’ blog? It would take some work, but I can (eventually) do it.

    I’d rather not though: It seems very much a ROS-centered (or closely derived, at least) exchange of ideas.

    Potter, I love your 4 new posts this morning. Thanks.

    (Got any affinity for the Kathy Sierra idea?)

  • Thanks Nick for pointing this thread out to me – I read the first half before I started skimming (I’m a slow reader to catch up would take all day) – I’ve been busy and missed this show but the topic is endlessly of interest – perhaps all have moved on by now. My main response is to Bobo.

    Bobo: I too have experienced the thrill of putting my life on the line for a cause I believe in but I did this by engaging in non-violent civil disobediance. As Chico Mendez said: Sometimes non-violence requires greater courage than violence. I watched activists get addicted to the thrill seeking aspect of CD actions and have experienced that to some degree myself.

    That said: I think violence is mostly about power. I was a cowgirl in a parade once and as part of my costume I had six-shooter squirt guns. It was a hot 4th of July day and I was having great fun shooting the squirt guns. After the parade I handed my fake squirt guns over to some kids to play with and I was surprised but also very interested to observe in myself a distinct feeling of LOSS OF POWER. It did not feel good. I kind of wanted my guns back but of course would have been way too embarassed to make those kids give me my squirt guns back because I felt less powerful without them. This was just pretend. I imagin real shooters, like the young man in Virginia, may have felt so powerless in life that the lure of attaining power through violence overcame even self-preservation.

    Sometimes I think I like violence in movies because I like seeing an injustice is corrected. Especially when the hero has given up gun fighting for good, wants to live a peaceful life, doesn’t believe in violence but finally the bad guys are soooo bad the hero can not avoid the shoot-out at High Noon.

    Potter: I love the color drama of Zhang Yimou’s films. They seem more like opera to me. As violent as our culture is we tend to be in denial about death. Death in art/theatre may be a way to address the topic from a safe distance. It also took me a long time to watch Saving Private Ryan. I still have not seen Pulp Fiction or Fight Club.

  • Potter: If I recall correctly I think you totally rocked on the Women in War thread.

  • Potter

    Thanks Peggysue– Nick, I think we are fine here with this bifurcation 🙂

  • Potter

    Woops, forgot to thank Nick..

    BTW regarding violent movies- I LOVE Kurosawa’s samurai series…… but they are more like plays and they also have goodness in them. They are artful as well, well acted ( Toshiro Mifune – he’s my guy!)

    Peggysue – I agree about Flying Daggers and the colors……… Yimou has departed from his earlier work.

  • Nick

    I just now had the chance to very briefly scan the Race & Language thread. (Very briefly.) It reminded me of a point that might, just might, suit the sexism tangent of the conversation on this thread:

    ‘Civil discourse’ between all men (not just some) and all women is probably impossible until we recognize that slurs like ‘slut’, ‘ho’, and ‘bitch’ are exact analogues to the dreadful ‘N-word’.

    And probably for the same underlying reasons: the N-word is used not merely to dehumanize other humans, but to slur them for the temerity of being former properties that were emanicipated by outsiders.

    Aren’t feminism and feminists are despised for exactly these reasons? Isn’t a word like ‘slut’ nohting more than a slur implying that its target has slipped through the patriarchy’s frantic attempts to restrict her sexual behaviours, partners (in quantity expecially, which no man has to concern himself with limiting), and expressiveness?

    This double standard must surely have had a large role in the woeful tale of Kathy Sierra — even though I know of no implication that she was anything but a normal, intelligent, highly successful person who just happened to be female.

    Until we consign ‘slut’ and its nasty cohorts ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ to the same lexi-dungeon as the N-word, some men will feel intuitively justified in using them to vilify and dehumanize women.

    It’s time for some consciousness-raising. Hell, it’s past time.

  • Bobo

    I hadn’t checked this thread in a while, so I’m kind of responding to a lot of stuff. But I’ll try to keep it short.

    I realize that my views on violence are quite controversial and in the minority (especially at ROS).

    However (and I really wish I didn’t have to say this), ad hominem attacks (plnelson 4/19) should really be beneath us as a community of learners. If you don’t like what I say, try to refute it (as many people have done very well and articulately on this thread). If my ideas were completely baseless and I was indeed a psychopath, wouldn’t humanity have experienced world peace a long time ago?

    My thoughts on violence and my experiences with it come mainly from two places in my life. The first is the years of my life I’ve spent living in the developing world. I spent a lot of time interacting with people for whom violence was a part of daily life. Many of them were my friends. Before these experiences I was a pacifist. This period opened my eyes to the fact that pacifism is an extreme privilege which most of the world doesn’t have. And it doesn’t come for free (see some of my posts above).

    The second source of my views on violence is the time that I recently spent in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. I was there helping to rebuild, or that’s what I had planned. I ended up, due to my physical size and leadership, coordinating security for the volunteer organization I was working with. The 9th Ward was a rough place before the storm, now it’s just ridiculous. It reminded me a lot of some of the 3rd world slums I spent time in, except it was more violent and less forgiving. I almost got killed a few times, but I never had to use physical violence myself. However, if I had felt it appropriate, I would not have hesitated to use violence to do my job. I was in charge of protecting other people (and myself as well), I did not take that role lightly. However, I’m also not a hot-head, and I somehow managed to resolve some pretty tough confrontations, with some pretty bad people, without using violence.

    This is getting longer than I had intended. Quickly: Nick, Potter, Peggysue, Allison, I love the discussion over the past week. I am a huge fan of civil disobedience, and I have used it many times. But I don’t think it’s an all purpose tool. When the people on the other side of the line are willing to kill you, I don’t think civil disobedience is an appropriate method of protest. Also, violence is different from killing. It would take a lot for me to be able to kill a person. I’m not even sure if I could under any circumstances. Non-killing-violence, on the other hand, can be a very useful method of preserving your life and your rights.

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I try to be respectful, and I hope you all will be as well. Engage me, challenge me, get pissed at me, but please try to keep the discussion productive instead of resorting to cheap insults and insinuations about my personal character.

    And now to bring this back, here’s what I would like to contribute to the civil discourse definition:

    1) –No Ad Hominem Arguments.– Ad Hominem means ‘to the person’. It’s a style of rhetorical argument which attempts to devalue a person’s ideas by attacking them personally while ignoring what they actually say. I think that a lot of the offensive, inconsiderate, and just-plain-dumb posts on ROS fall into this category.

    2) –If your ideas are not self-evident, and/or they are being misconstrued, back them up with some stories from your life.– It’s a lot harder to misread the intent of a story than it is to misread a vague philosophical statement. A bit of a story often puts things in perspective and prevents people from lashing out at you (sometimes). Major props to Katemcshane for her stories on this thread, they have inspired some very self-reflective moments in my week.

    I myself, as a man, have been rather shocked by some of the veiled and not-so-veiled sexism on the threads recently. I really hope we can find a way to sort this out soon, because it would be a real embarrassment if we lost any of the female voices on ROS due to this thoughtlessness. Oh yeah, and I wish I could speak for all men on this, but I know I can’t, so I’ll just speak for myself: I am not immune to sexism! Please, please, please, if I mistakenly let sexism slip into one of my posts, call me out on it. I might try to defend myself, but I can assure you that just being called on it will inspire some careful reflection on my part. None of us are immune to the cultural biases around us, and even the best intentioned man can become an accidental sexist sometimes. But really, just calling a person out on it can often separate the well-intentioned from the assholes.

    I’m really glad this discussion is happening. It’s helped to articulate some of the uncomfortable feelings I’ve been having lately when reading certain posts. I’m sure if I was a woman I would have been able to identify the source a lot quicker. I like where this thread is going, though, and I’m excited to see things get better.

  • Bobo,

    OK, well, I’m pretty hard core in the non-violent camp BUT I do confess that on one occasion I did succumb to an unpremeditated spontanious violent response when I slapped a man soundly across the face. It was like for just a minute I turned into Bette Davis. I confess. It was very satisfying. And because I am not a violent person this had quite a bit of shock value. The thing about violence is that it gets out of hand so easily and no one can predict where it will end. If he had hit me back I would have been in big trouble.

    I do appreciate your thoughtfulness.

    “I somehow managed to resolve some pretty tough confrontations, with some pretty bad people, without using violence” a applaud you for this. It takes keeping your wits sharp to calm down a heated situation without violence.

  • nother

    Hey, who here would push me onto that train track to save those four people?

  • herbert browne

    Listen, nother… from my perspective, those 4 people got into their predicament on their own… and I’m not about to add a victim to the pile (nor to trouble my own Akashic Record), when I might not even be perceiving what’s truly happening (& anyway, I don’t want to beat up on some popstand by depriving them of a steady cheeseburger consumer). ^..^

  • katemcshane

    Bobo — What you wrote blew me away. It was some of the most memorable writing I’ve read on Open Source. If I had been one of the people you were protecting, I would have had no problem with the way you did your job. In fact, when I imagined myself in that position, I felt hope and some exhilaration, because I’ve never experienced protection, on any level, at any time in my life. I thought, then, that when a person is competent to handle violence, they must experience pleasure in that, whereas if you come to it from my experience, it’s a very different story. And there must be many things to be learned from those extremely different perspectives. And I wish we were sitting down to talk about it.

    All my life, I’ve asked myself how would I have acted in a concentration camp. I imagine the questions are the same in the 3rd world or the 9th ward — or in countries wherer the US has invaded. And if you see violence on a continuum that begins with emotional/verbal/intellectual aggression, you can apply these lessons to any group of people, in any situation.

    Like you, I appreciate stories from someone’s life, as I appreciated yours. Chris asked me recently what I meant by the phrase, “writing from the heart”, and your comment is a wonderful example of it. I don’t have much time to read these threads and I don’t read quickly enough, so I have to eliminate a lot — immediately, anyone who tends to be abusive or even obnoxious, and then, depending on the amount of time I have left, I read comments that are written from the heart. I go back for the more abstract, intellectual comments if I have the time. In all of that, if I write, I try to treat people decently, and I don’t always feel sure that I’m doing that. I just keep trying.

  • katemcshane

    nother — It occurred to me while I was writing back to bobo, that I didn’t respond to what you wrote on this thread, except in my email to you, so that it looks here as if I never acknowledged you. For the record, thank you very much. If it hadn’t been for what you wrote, I’d have been worrying ever since I posted it that people thought I was a little horrifying for saying so much in public.

    Nick — the same to you, thank you so much. When I wrote to you on this thread, I imagined that I was talking to a very nice person with whom I had something in common and I appreciated your “company.” I didn’t respond to your discussion of metaphors, because I have a lot of trouble comprehending metaphor. I think maybe my mind doesn’t work that way, not easily at least. I write poetry, but all my metaphors are accidental. I am always amazed by the thought you put into your posts. If I don’t respond, it’s not for lack of appreciation. I feel like I’m not smart enough to engage in the discussion, in writing, at least. In person, I think we could have a great discussion.

    I want to say to both of you that before I wrote on this site, I didn’t know many men who were as decent and moving as the two of you. And I have felt that way about jazzman and bobo — and Chris and Brendan. I’ve come into contact with some of the kindest men (of my whole life) on this site. So, while we’re talking so much about the jerks, I want to acknowledge the nice guys. And I’m sure I’m leaving out other people I’d like to name, and I hope I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings.

  • nother: I’m afraid those other 4 people are toast.

    non-violence is never complete. I ate a bird yesterday. I’m going to go boil water right now and kill more micro-organisms than I even know. We can’t live without killing something. I think what it boils down to (no pun intended) is intention and respect for other living beings.

    kate: I read slowly and can’t read it all either but I sure consider your voice a welcome addition to the ROS community.

  • Bobo

    nother: I find it interesting that the constraints of this dilemma are so applicable to my own life. I would not have to make the choice presented here. A very important aspect of the dilemma is that the man standing next to you is big enough to stop the trolley, but you are not. However, what if you’ve been put in this same situation many times before? What if at least once a year you found yourself standing next to a big man, with a runaway trolley about to kill four people?

    After a few times of this happening, and you having to make this agonizing decision, you decide to start bulking up. You start eating a lot and lifting weights, and by the time this situation happens again, you’re ready for it. This time you don’t have to chose between the man next to you and the four people. This time you can throw yourself in front of the trolley and hope that you have prepared enough to survive. I think that most people, if they were able, would throw themselves in front of the trolley instead of pushing the man next to them or letting the four people die.

    This dilemma goes to the core of the value system of people who chose to prepare themselves for violence. From career soldiers to so-called ‘gun nuts’, many of these people chose to prepare themselves (bulk up), because they recognize that violence has happened before, and it probably will again (repetition of the dilemma). But these people are sick of having to let others die while they stand by. They are sick of feeling helpless in these situations (having to chose between the two awful options).

    Ok, so maybe I’ve distorted the dilemma a bit to prove my point. *Shrug* Oh well. It has at least proved to be a fun distraction from trying to formulate a serious response to the profound, personal, and wonderful posts that everyone has been writing on this thread.

  • Bobo

    Katemcshane: I thank you very much for your comments on my post. I often, as you have also described, hesitate to relate these very personal experiences on ROS. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from feminist critique is that it’s always easier to intellectualize something and create an emotional wall than it is to just relate that experience or feeling. It’s always a risk when you try to relate an experience which was really meaningful in your own life. I guess you can never know how much of that meaning you will be able to convey. I want to thank you profusely in this regard, though. If it weren’t for your personal/powerful posts on this thread, I would have probably continued to distance myself from my own stories.

    It saddens me to hear you say that you’ve never experience ‘protection’. You seem like someone who has devoted their entire life to protecting and healing other people. I wish you the best of luck in this endeavor, and I hope you’re able to feel safe sometimes (even with the pending apocalypse).

    I’ll continue to look forward to reading your comments.

  • Nick

    Bobo, I’ve been smiling much of the afternoon after reading your recent words on this thread. Thanks for sharing. And I just want to reiterate that this thread’s earlier comments wouldn’t have likely perturbed me so much had they come a week prior to, or perhaps a fortnight after, the VT catastrophe.

    Like you, I’m willing to fight if pushed (I worked as a bartender for a couple of decades, and know intimately the sort of fury one truculent drunk can evoke in the peaceful, chatting folks he inflicts himself upon). Luckily, fisticuffs are exponentially less harmful than bullets, or even than blades. So, although I know violence, I can almost always avoid it, and almost always have.

    My larger concern is the archetypal models Hollywood provides to impressionable young minds – and indiscriminately to the minds of gun-haters like me and to terribly compromised minds like that of Cho Seung-Hui.

    Why do we make on-screen sex between consenting adults a matter of scandal and shame, while blithely ignoring the gruesome killings available to teens in slasher movies? How upside-down is that?

    Anyway, I was gratified to read your thoughts, and am looking forward to more. Thanks again.

  • Hey everybody,

    I’m enjoying the post-show-conversation. Not really capable or ordered or meta-thinking right now. Some random thoughts:

    Bobo, thank you for continuing to expound on your thoughts/experiences re:violence. It’s a great example of why a dialogue of inquiry is important. Your first posts on the subject seemed sensational. Further posts dig into what you’re getting at in a way that people can glean something and connect to it.

    Kate, I haven’t known protection either. I think that when you don’t have a protective father and no one around you protects you it results in a) you don’t even think you deserve it; and/or b) you don’t believe you would ever get it even if you did deserve it; and/or c) you have no idea how to ask for it; and/or d) you learn how to protect yourself; and/or d) because you don’t exude the expectation or know how to seek it you attract people that won’t provide it. I find that even in small ways, no one seems to protect me. I’m always seen as “strong enough to take care of myself.” (When really people just don’t like to face off) But it’s like finding a good life partner: you may not need one, but life is so much nicer with one. How much more could I do in the world if I was allowed to lower the armor knowing that others would protect me if needed? (Even in a yarn business I get attacked and no one steps up. it’s expected that I will do that for everyone, including myself.) It’s sad what people are willing to sacrifice – the most vital contributions of their fellow citizens – just so they can avoid confrontations. Anyway, my heart goes out to you.

    Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute more to the civil discourse thing later. I feel like I started it and have some responsibility to engage it and, well, sometimes I just don’t function as well as I’d like. (Damn metals breaking my brain…..)

  • valkyrie607

    Yowza! This thread is the bomb! (Uh oh–more war metaphors?)

    If it wasn’t 2 am I would say something interesting, I’m sure. But it is, so… later y’all. Keep up the good work.

  • The following is excerpted from a Buddhist description of the Noble Eightfold Path. I thought it an apt description of Civil Discourse. I know I myself am sometimes guilty of ridicule, devisive and foolish idle speech and gossip. I find it a good reminder.

    “RIGHT SPEECH is the ability to speak truthfully and harmlessly. Right speech comes naturally from Right Thought, since our speech is a direct expression of our thoughts. Our speech should never be cruel or hurtful to others. Our words should not create hatred, misunderstanding, or suffering. Right speech means that we do not lie, slander, or speak in ways that create resentment, conflict, division, or disharmony among individuals or groups. Right speech means not speaking in ways that are harsh, rude, impolite, abusive or malicious. We refrain from idle, useless, and foolish talk or gossip. In this way, we cultivate the ability to speak the truth; we learn to use words that are friendly, gentle, benevolent, and meaningful. Right speech means speaking kindly and wisely at the right time and place. When we are not able to speak in ways that are useful, kind, or uplifting, we may consider the wisdom of remaining in noble silence. Through Right Speech we cultivate ethical conduct (personal integrity), the essential foundation of the path.” Naljor Creations

  • nother

    sweet stuff peggysue

  • valkyrie607

    Well, since people have been sharing their experiences about the Women in War thread, let me chime in too. I pitched the frikkin’ thread (along with someone else) and by the end of it, I didn’t even want to listen to the show. I totally abandoned the thread on account of feeling too angry to continue, feeling like nothing I was saying was really getting through. I felt like a hysterical female, I felt like my visceral emotional response to the subject matter was something that hurt my credibility instead of inspiring respect or interest in my perspective. So many women said something along the lines of, “This story made me sick to my stomach.” That sick, vulnerable emotional response felt by me and many others, combined with the casual misogyny by some posters on the thread made it an unpleasant experience. I’m sorry now that I jumped ship, though. I told myself that I was too busy with school and I didn’t have the time, but the truth is I just didn’t want to deal with the feelings it brought up.

  • katemcshane

    peggysue — When I read your phrase “foolish idle speech and gossip”, I had to laugh. You just crack me up. What you posted, though, makes a lot more sense to me than a list of stipulations, which I’m never able to finish reading. We need to be as decent as possible to each other. When I read some of the writing on these threads, it doesn’t seem that people don’t know how to be decent — they just don’t care about it.

  • Ben

    Quite a post show run, and so many well laid thoughts and I know I can’t add much this late inline, but I’ll try. I am struck by a few things. Mainly what does it mean to experience violence without a following lament, whether it’s fictional or personal? There are very good examples above (thanks for sharing), but I wonder if overall the modern western mind has been too habituated to avoid a good look at or retelling of the bad that happened, and is mostly exceptional at celebrating a triumph of a destructive force or the healing and rebuilding of overcoming an event – thus rendering many of the lessons of violence minimal.

    I do equally or preferably enjoy watching my very old fish just breathe or the shadows of my neighborhood crows playing out their lives among rooftops to the sensational and mediated. Thankfully that’s how most days go on to be fairly uneventful and lucid, but the one day the crows hunted the pigeons in their nest underneath my apartment window is singularly haunting and poetic.

    Early on much was discussed about reflexive responses to the shocking, and too often paired with judgments of each others reflexes. Though, most everyone who continued on afterward seemed to overcome that instinct – it’s an incredibly healthy community that starts a discussion on violence and follows further down the line to conversation about how we should treat each other. Cheers to that.

  • Bobo

    Ben: Great post. Thanks for bringing up the lament. I agree, it’s very crucial to a healthy understanding of violence.

    Allison: “Your first posts on the subject seemed sensational.” I agree, they did sound quite sensational. I kind of cringed when I heard Chris quote me on the show. I chose to write with that particular tone mainly because I felt that violence was being universally spat-upon. I felt the need to defend a way of life which has served me very well in doing good.

    Also, I saw the collective analysis going something like this: 1) Violence is unnatural. 2) There is violence in the media. 3) This causes people to be violent.

    I wanted to bring a different perspective, namely that: 1) Violence is natural. 2) Media is one of many tools which people use to repress violence in their real lives. 3) This repression results in unhealthy releases of violence which often end up doing great harm.

    Unfortunately, articulating these thoughts clearly has required 157 posts and a lot of self reflection. At the beginning of the thread, all I had to go on was a gut reaction that said “I don’t like where this conversation is going. I’m being told I’m evil, and I know I’m not.” So, yeah, my initial responses were a bit extreme. Thanks for sticking with the conversation for long enough that I could clarify.

  • Nick

    Bobo, very briefly: I STILL haven’t read all the posts in this thread or in the Women at War thread. (Although I’m trying, but have too many metacognitive fish to fry in other threads, and reading to do, and life to live, and baseball to watch…you get the picture.) So don’t count me among those who might tell you that ‘you’re evil’. (I don’t buy into the ‘good and evil’ paradigm anyway.)

    I don’t always agree with all you say in your posts, but I respect them all. And you. You’re not evil. You’re a fine writer, and one of my favorite reads.

  • Nick

    PS: Thanks to valkyrie, Ben, nother, Peggy Sue, Kate, et al for their recent thoughts too. 🙂

  • valkyrie607

    Not a problem, yo.

    Anybody want to check out the Language, Class, Racism thread? I believe I’m the only chick over there at the moment.

  • Potter

    Bobo- I think it was your controversial and perhaps misunderstood post http://www.radioopensource.org/entertaining-violence/#comment-50743 above that caused the ill-tempered response (about mental illness and the disrespectfully posed question about your age). I should have jumped in to object to the tone after I cringed especially as you had as much right to your opinion as plnelson said Neo-Nazi’s did ( referring to your post). I think you have explained yourself well in this heartfelt post above- thank you.

    I believe in Karma Squads. As well I have apologized several times for my own ill-considered remarks on these threads ( and have been deleted) and I can tell anyone who cannot bring themselves to apologize when they offend, that it does NOT hurt to do so.

    Thank you also to Ben- I have appreciated your comments on this thread. Though few they are meaningful. I thought we WERE being much too judgmental about others’ responses to viiolence in the beginning of this thread. We obviously each have our own tolerance levels based on what we have been through and psychological make-up. When you said that mediated violence is a tool it struck a chord. A hammer can pound a nail in too.

    You reminded me of the violence of nature….specifically one day when I was looking out of my window a red-tailed hawk swooped down in a flash and grabbed a grey squirrel in such a way that it was instantly killed. In one moment that life was out. I rushed out to try to save the squirrel ( too late) and that hawk an I stared at each other for an eternity before he gave up and flew away leaving me with a pounding heart. I have to say it was shocking but also beautiful- what it did to me, what it made me realize.

  • Potter

    A.O. Scott wrote a piece in the NYTimes “Drawing the Line From Movie to Murder” Monday April 23, 2007 in which he says at the end:

    ….the discussion of popular culture has a way of slipping from the particular to the general. Pious denunciations of movie violence can be expected to continue, even as it is unlikely that any serious attempt to curb it will ever be undertaken or that any causal or correlative link between on-screen mayhem and its real-life counterpart will ever be established (particularly since the Asian countries that produce gory and graphic movies, cartoons and comic books tend to have very low rates of actual violence). As “The Sopranos” and “The Departed” are worshiped and rewarded and the latest horror and serial-killer movies dominate the box office, scolds will continue to insist that representations of violence are not a matter of taste but of public morals and public health.

    Millions of people meanwhile will continue to be entertained by spectacles of murder, indulging for a few hours in the visceral, amoral thrill of cinematic brutality and then going back to their peaceful, sane, non-threatening business. That we know the difference between reality and make-believe is evident in the shock and horror we feel when confronted with events like the one last Monday in Virginia.

  • valkyrie607

    Has anybody seen the movie This Movie is Not Yet Rated? I think of this because of Nick’s comment about the different reactions to sex on screen vs. violence on screen. Sex will get you an R or NC-17 (the kiss of death) rating much quicker than depictions of violence will. That’s basically the premise of the movie.

  • nother

    Have not but will valkyrie, Thanks.

    And thanks Potter. I getting less concerned aboout movies and more concerned about the interactive video games. Every year the screens get bigger and the pixels get smaller…the immersion into the unreal is becoming so real…it’s errie.

    Maybe ROS can do a sequal to “Second Life,” – the Dark Side.

  • nother

    Can’t wait for that new edit feature. Yee ha!

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