Paul Andersen: Enough of blood, guts and gore!
H. L. Mencken cynically remarked, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” I would add that no one ever lost a buck underestimating their taste for violence.
Whether watching TV or videos, the viewing public has a choice between the murder and mayhem channels or the culture and creativity channels.
Opting out of violence is a radical shift in a culture that fixates on gruesome crimes depicted by the commercial entertainment industry. Inducing a steady diet of killing and crime is the sobering sign of a warped culture and strange times.
Who in their right mind would willingly subject themselves to brutal violence on a nightly basis? Answer: the millions of TV viewers who routinely tune in to gape at fantasized blood baths.
Most viewers get plenty of violence from TV news. Watching fast-talking anchors dispense the daily horrors and tragedies has become habitual for anyone with TV and cable. But what a way to start your morning and end your night!
Still not satiated, most viewers complement the news with dramatically produced shows of the most dreadful kind. Many are the TV series that exalt in resplendent savagery and graphic bloodlettings. Audiences serve as gratuitous witnesses to portrayals of deranged sociopaths who slaughter their fellow man with apparent glee.
My wife and I have spent enough time in this virtual hell to know that dozens of TV serials and films are readily available for shock treatment. We check out free videos from our well-stocked library and notice that violence is the lingua franca for most.
We began with the benign fare of “Downton Abbey,” then descended into “House of Cards,” “24,” “Elementary,” “The Wire,” and “X Files.” Where Downton was a pleasure, the others left us shocked, tense, stressed, disgusted, uneasy, grossed out — and thoroughly mesmerized! Binge watching ensued, and we felt like addicts craving one more fix of death.
We recognize that violence is part of life in the animal kingdom, and there’s a fascination to it. But when raw depictions of shootings, drug abuse, sadomasochism and murder became so passe that we hardly flinched, it was time for a change.
How many times can you watch visceral debasements via special effects, like fountains of blood gushing from slain victims, without desensitizing? Violence, it appears, is tantalizingly addictive to our primitive selves.
My wife and I began to wonder about the creative teams handsomely paid to conceive, stage and shoot heinous scenes of bondage, rape and torture. One can only imagine what a production meeting is like when the next season’s terrors are being brainstormed.
“OK, guys,” encourages the producer. “We’re gonna make this season the most rabid, repugnant, distasteful, debauched season ever. We’re gonna get uglier than we’ve ever been. I want trauma and drama! I want blood and guts! I want ratings!”
Born is a season of horror and darkness from which advertisers profit handsomely. Apparently it works because there sat my wife and me, like laboratory rats, waiting to see how long it took before we lost all semblance of sensitivity to human suffering.
During some of these self-imposed trials, we realized that our sleep was disrupted from particularly graphic episodes that left us shuddering with unspeakable visualizations. Our moods were somber after the last flicker dimmed from the fading glow of the screen.
Enough! We came to our senses and agreed to shift our viewing to the documentary side of the library’s video rack. Now we find gratification from inspiring stories of creative people achieving beauty in art and literature, of naturalists exploring the living world, of reformers crusading for social justice.
Now we take pleasure in Ken Burns and other documentarians who provide redeeming profiles that are both edifying and entertaining. We turn in for the night feeling wonder and awe for the human experience, amazed by the rich lives people lead and by the beautiful web of life that encompasses the planet.
Today we look forward to our video selections, not with morbid trepidation, but with a sense of exploration and appreciation. The dark world is still out there, but not with us as squirming voyeurs.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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