Read the following Los Angeles Times report and tell me if the phrase “culture of death” does not pop into your mind every few paragraphs. As graphic as this Greg Braxton story is, I think it actually avoids several issues that would have made it even worse.
You know you’re in for it when a daily newspaper starts a story with this kind of “warning” disclaimer:
The following story contains graphic and good-taste-defying descriptions of bone snapping, limb hacking, fingernail pulling and body zapping. Read on at your own risk.
The actual thesis paragraphs put this mass-media torture campaign into a context that strikes me as rather mild. The movies are getting bad, as we’ve discussed before, but some of the television shows are wading into the same violent swamp:
… (In) the last several months, numerous torture scenes — many of them graphic and bloody — have been set pieces on TV dramas, not only in thrill-ride dramas, such as “24″ and ABC’s “Alias,” but also in melodramatic or escapist fare such as Fox’s “Prison Break.” One key character on ABC’s “Lost” is an Iraqi military officer who tortures a fellow castaway. “Alias” had an unnamed recurring villain who quietly tortured key characters. FX’s “Nip/Tuck,” a hit drama about the psychic turmoil of those who seek and perform cosmetic surgery, recently spotlighted physical turmoil with two simultaneous torture scenes, each set to a tango.
It’s unclear — both to those who create torture-inflected scenarios and those who have taken note of their proliferation — whether such themes reflect a pop culture recalibration or a blip on the screen. But for now, at least, torture seems inescapable.
Here’s the question I wanted to ask. Braxton asks if the ramping up of the pain and suffering might, in some way, be linked to this era of fear and terrorism. But I was left thinking darker thoughts. What happens when the movies are not as bad as what ordinary citizens can see, if they wish, on the World Wide Web with a few clicks of a mouse? What can Hollywood do to top an online videotape of a man’s head being hacked off?
The obvious thing to say is that some people who choose to drink from this bloody well are getting used to it by now and want stronger and stronger drink. You can hear clergy and other moral leaders voice that sentiment every now and then. And, sure enought, the Los Angeles Times offers a mild disclaimer of that kind.
The people behind these projects maintain that movie ratings and parental advisories on TV tip off viewers to graphic material, and many stress that audiences themselves ultimately set the boundaries for what’s portrayed on-screen. Networks’ and studios’ reading of audience reaction has some amping up the torture in their projects, believing that doing so increases its effectiveness.
OK, we hear you. But how does this work in homes that have four or five cable-linked televisions? How does this work in the age of director-cut DVDs? How does this work in an age in which most religious groups are totally silent about the role that entertainment plays in daily life, other than to blow the warning trumpets every year or two about sex in a specific show or movie (as if waves of teen-agers are rushing out to see Brokeback Mountain)?
There is a ghost in here. It’s the silence of the shepherds. Again.
Follow the mass-media statistics for ordinary homes and for those “conservative” homes. There is a story in there.