Recently, I saw the new Viggo Mortensen movie, “A History of Violence”. Based off the graphic novel of the same name, it tells the story of a cold-blooded killer who reinvented himself into a warm, loving family man.
In a word or two, it was succulent, superb (much like Eddie Cibrian, or in GlamourDiva’s case, Went Miller but, that’s another topic altogether!).
It was also painstakingly, unapologetically violent.
My reactions to the drama unfolding before me on that big screen were visceral, cacophonous, histrionic. I screamed, I howled, I slouched down in my seat while my legs sliced up through the air, I guffawed. I wondered, as I drove home, wishing that I had a husband like Viggo Mortensen’s Tom Stall character (a husband who can kill some asshole with a coffee pot and then come home and make love to me on the stairs with his hand around my throat), why had I laughed? Why had I shouted with glee? Why had none of that superfluous violence filled me with a terrifying dread (as the threat of an outbreak of the Ebola virus or the thought of that Ben Affleck/Jennifer Garner spawn does)? Why hadn’t it saddened me? Or made me worry about the state of the world and the way people are so vicious to each other for no damn good reason.
A History of Violence was raw, shocking, breathtaking and intense. It was also very funny. But, should it have made me laugh? Am I desensitized to violence? I decided the answer might be found in researching my own history of over-exposure to violence.
As a kid who lived in America, I was bombarded with tons of violent images from a very early age. You might know what violent images I’m talking about. That’s right, our old faithful friends. . .cartoons, the very epitome of violence.
Think about it, what did your parents do on Saturday morning? They weren’t out playing catch with you or taking you to the museum or teaching you how to perform linear algebraic equations so you could get a decent SAT score, were they? No, they had better ways to waste their time than spending it with some snot-nose, bratty kid. They plunked you down in front of the television with a bowl of Coco Puffs and turned the channel to whatever network was broadcasting “Looney Tunes”. And that’s where you saw Daffy Duck get all his damn feathers blow the fudge off with a shotgun. That’s where you saw Wile E. Coyote fall off dangerous precipices in the Grand Canyon and blow himself up time and again with those no-good, faulty incendiary devices from ACME (which makes you wonder. . .why did Wile E. continue to patronize that company time and again? Why didn’t he try to get his money back? Or, at least call the damn BBB on their ass!) And that’s were you saw a punk-wuss Sylvester the Cat get the shit kicked out of him by a kangaroo he’d mistakenly thought was a giant mouse. And were you horrified? Were you aghast and filled with righteous indignation? Not hardly. You laughed.
The next time you probably laughed at something violent was in grade school. Remember grade school? Apathetic teachers, moldy bathrooms, grade F mystery meat and playground politics so gruesome and vicious, they would make even that unrepentantly evil Dick Cheney sob hysterically. Do you perhaps recall when two kids, full of piss and vinegar, got into a bitching contest and came to blows over it? Remember what happened when one of the kids knocked the motherfudge out of the other kid? Remember how cool and funny it was? And when we recalled it the next day, as we retold it, we laughed! We didn’t care if some poor kid had gotten his head cracked open or his teeth knocked out of his mouth. The fight was funny and we laughed.
Now, in order not to blame our parents for our desensitization to violence (which is very tempting because our parents are usually to blame for most of the hell in our lives, right?), it is important to look at the country we were born and raised in. Yeah, that’s right I’m talking about America – that vicious, devious bitch (God Bless her!).
Think about it. America was stolen because of and subsequently founded upon Manifest Destiny. In other words, our founding fathers raped the land, and mindfucked the Indians into self-imposed exile on reservations like so much wall-eyed, nonchalant, cud-chewing cattle.
European colonization was all about violence. Pasty, thin-lipped white guys and their equally pasty women and chillun came over from England looking for a place where they could bust loose and go buck wild. When they got to America, it was on like a pot of neck bones! Free from suppressive (and largely hypocritical) Victorian morals and reactions, the colonists reverted to their primal nature – bloodthirsty sons of bitches. They did what all folks do when they leave home and go someplace where no one knows who the hell they are and no one is going to be able to go and blab to the folks back home what they did – they explored the facets of their personalities that heretofore they’d had to repress for fear of silver bells and cockle shells.
So, as I drove home from the movie, still all a-twitter and a-flutter and tingling from the sheer sensation of the experience, I realized that if I was the kind of person who took violence seriously, I never would have enjoyed “Pulp Fiction”.
In other words, as an American, I have violence in my blood, in my genetic code. As my French friend, Antoine says, “You Americans are obsessed with violence”. To some extent, that is true. But, we aren’t obsessed with violence because we want to be but, because we were given no other choice. As the drug lords say, “Silver or lead, bitch!”. My response to violence, while not constructive, is nevertheless typical. When violence is funny to us, then often that means our response is a defense mechanism (or contraption, if you prefer).
We laugh because with so much bloody, heart-wrenching nonsense going on in the world, we just don’t feel like crying about some guy getting his ass shot off fifteen minutes into the movie.
Copyright 2005. . .galaxyMafia will continue to laugh whenever some dumb fugger gets clocked in the face with a bag of hot nickels! (Unless it's Eddie Cibrian. . .then she will be dismayed and damaged!)