Why do we, human society, enjoy violent forms of entertainment? We all have different limits, and I consider my own tolerance level to be quite low, but even so I have always enjoyed classic style murder mystery novels and TV shows.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t watch a lot of films, so when I do go to look for a DVD to rent I’m always amazed at the high proportion of films where the main focus of the entertainment is violence.
At least, I suppose, in a classic murder mystery there is usually only one death and the focus of the story is on ensuring that justice is done. The severity and impacts of the violent incident are not overlooked. Whereas in the majority of violent films minor characters are dispatched by bullets or other means without a second thought, their deaths just part of a side show, barely relevant to the main event.
Of course, violent entertainment is nothing new. Humans have been fighting each other for sport since the dark ages, in fact this still goes on, albeit under the guise of a legal and regulated sport, and the spectacle is broadcast live on pay-per-view.
Some of my friends, along with a substantial number of other people around the world, love horror films. I don’t even like being in the same house as a DVD rack full of horror films, let alone when anyone is watching them. I do agree there is a black comedy entertainment value in some of the 80s teen slasher film series, but I truly cannot understand why anyone would want to watch, for example, the Saw film series. Just hearing people talk about the content of these films is more than enough for me.
I have debated several times with friends the question of why films such as Saw are made at all. The obvious answer is because someone decided they could make money from it, but Hollywood lack of ethics aside, are our censorship laws really so relaxed now that this kind of cruel and unusual violence can be passed as mass market entertainment? I don’t think anyone can be naïve enough to believe that an 18+ rating means that no-one under 18 will see these films. Even now in my thirties, I don’t think I could watch these films without seeing things that would end up etched on my mind for months afterwards, making me feel anything other than entertained.
One response I have received in this debate is that everyone has some degree of morbid curiosity and whilst we would never for one moment consider committing the acts that we see on screen, there is a part of us that is curious about what humans are capable of doing. Another response is that most people don’t even think about why they enjoy watching horror films, they just do. I think I must just be more cautious than most people. If something sounds unpleasant I won’t watch it just in case I find I don’t mind it, instead I just steer clear altogether. I don’t think I’ve missed out on too much, I’ve read American Psycho and that’s as far into human-cruelty-as-entertainment as I care to venture.
It’s with this in mind that I seriously do not understand why I love Sons of Anarchy so much. In the five and a half series broadcast to date, my favourite TV show has included an unimaginable (or imaginative, depending on your view point) array of human violence and perversions. The good guys are just as violent as the bad guys, but can their violence be justified because they are only violent to bad guys, and only in the course of doing business?
After every episode I am left horrified by what I have just seen but also desperate to see what happens next. I am intrigued by how far the characters will go for honour and reputation, how something that probably started out as a group of friends wanting to live a bad boy lifestyle turned into a nightmare from which their families may never escape. Will the nightmare continue until there is no-one left alive? It’s all the more incredible because we know that bikies and street gangs exist in real life, they really do shoot people a lot and we know that because it’s on the news every day. So I suppose this is where my morbid curiosity lies. I am amazed by how people can become entangled in these situations and intrigued as to whether or not they even realise how far removed they are from the general definition of normal life. Instead of looking away, the worse it all gets the more I want to watch.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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