On Violence

God, I love violence. 

Django Unchained is an absolutely spectacular film, but there’s a three and a half minute segment in the third act that goes beyond spectacular and becomes perfection. For those of you who have seen the movie, it’s the part where – spoiler alert! – Django kills a bunch of white people, and then rap music starts playing and he kills more white people in slow motion. For my money, the entire movie could’ve been a slow motion shootout set to rap music and I probably would’ve liked it even more than I already do.

I should point out that the climactic shootout in a Quentin Tarantino movie was – spoiler alert! – incredibly violent. Bullets whistle in like artillery shells and fountains of bright red cherry puree erupt from white trash thugs’ chests and faces and spray all over walls that had been white once. If you’re on the fence about seeing the movie, let me assure you that you definitely get your money’s worth in the blood department (and also the racial slur department).

This scene is so beautifully shot, choreographed, acted, edited, and mixed that I searched for it on YouTube every day until last week, when I found it in HD, uploaded from a torrent. I saved the video before it got taken down, and I watch it a couple times a day. By my estimate, I’ve seen the same group of bearded white union stuntmen writhe and fall to the ground between 50 and 75 times now. Sometimes I plug in my headphones and watch it at the office for inspiration when I’m having writer’s block.

I get a touch of writer’s block on a fairly regular basis at work, because a lot of the game trailers and commercials I’m writing start to run together. I’ve written countless gunfights, stabbings, stakings, car crashes, acts of terror, and maybe two dozen drafts of scripts where the game’s protagonist watches as his family is brutally murdered – and since this is a popular gaming trope, I’ve done it for more than one franchise. Some days it seems like every trailer I write ends with, “SMASH CUT from the exploding bodies to a tightly edited MONTAGE OF GAME FOOTAGE.”

When I get home, I usually unwind from a day of writing about video games by playing video games. Recently I’ve been playing a really wonderful strategy game called XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where you command a squad of heavily armed special forces soldiers fighting bloodthirsty aliens who will rip your men to pieces if you’re not careful. Before that I was taking another run through Fallout: New Vegas, where you’re a post apocalyptic errand boy on a mission to find the man who shot you and left you for dead – a mission you accomplish by shooting a whole lot of squishy, blood filled people.

When you’re talking about violence in the media, you’re talking about my bread and butter. I’ve earned a lot of paychecks contributing to violence in the media, then turned around and used those paychecks to buy violent media to consume for myself. For better or for worse, I live, breathe, and eat violence in the media – and if my knowledge of biology serves, I suppose I probably crap violence in the media as well.

So my reaction to the president’s Executive Order #14 regarding gun violence - Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence – is, “About time! Let me know what you find out, bro; I’ll be in here watching that one scene from Django Unchained.”

The NRA seems to be of the opinion that it’s our violent media and not our readily available firearms at the source of our epidemic of gun violence, and that we should be controlling the media more tightly, not guns – an unexpected position from a lobbying organization whose board of directors is stacked with firearm manufacturers.

While I don’t support the censorship of violent media – I can’t quite remember my reasoning, but it had something to do with the Constitution and our fundamental right as Americans to free expression – I’m all in favor of research on the relationship between violence and the media. Because the more research we conduct, the more evidence there will be that there is little to no relationship between violent media and violence in society, and I can point to that research when people give me shit for watching the Django Unchained scene for the 76th time.

Writing about a person getting shot, watching a person get shot in a movie, or shooting a person in a video game does not make you more likely to go out and kill someone – just ask Japan, where everything from their films to their cartoons to their pornography is almost nauseatingly violent and their rates of homicide and attempted homicide are the second lowest in the world.

It’s true that many spree shooters played violent games and watched violent movies, but it’s also true that 100% of spree shooters have severe mental illnesses. Between Call of Duty and paranoid schizophrenia, I’d say schizophrenia is what makes you go shoot a bunch of people and Call of Duty is a hobby which happens to simulate shooting a bunch of people. 

That said, since a big part of mental illness is the inability to separate fantasy from reality, it would probably be helpful to keep the mentally ill away from violent media. So if you’ve got any ideas on how to completely isolate a person from violent movies, TV shows, and video games in the Information Age, please let me know.  Because from where I’m sitting, it seems like the only action more futile than trying to keep crazy people from getting guns in America is trying to keep them from seeing images of people using guns. 

Truman Capps likes the way you die, boy.