In the wake of several mass killings, there has been a lot of talk about further restricting the sales of guns and various types of ammunition. I want to stay out from that discussion since reasonable Catholics will differ and I really don’t know much about the topic.
However, I do find it odd that there is a lot less discussion about other and perhaps more relevant issues related to explosive violence in our culture. Surely the breakdown of families, the decreasing discipline in schools, and a steady diet of violent video games and movies are factors too.
It is about the last matter that I would like to say a few things. Let me say from the start I am not calling for bans or boycotts. Actually, I am turning my attention to we the viewer, the consumer and am asking why it might be that violent “entertainment” appeals so much to so many of us. I wonder how well this can be squared with the Christian walk and if it is just harmless fun, or if there aren’t a few questions we should ask our self.
When I was a young man in my twenties I loved “action movies.” I remember that we guys often talked about the “kill ratio” as a way of rating the movie. High kill ratio movies were “good,” and low kill ratio movies were poor and dangerously on the way to becoming a “chick flick.” Car chases, buildings being blown up, and the bad guys being killed in large numbers, was the recipe we looked for.
In fact, I’ll save you some money and give you the plot of every adventure movie ever made or to be made:
- The movie opens with some bad guy, a guy who is unambiguously evil, doing some terrible thing. Perhaps he kills some one, takes hostages, or engages in a terrorist act.
- After this our hero steps on the scene.
- There follows about ninety minutes of car chases, blowing things up and killing lots of people
- He has a final showdown with the unambiguously evil bad guy and kills him.
- In having done this, He has exacted vengeance, restored justice and now walks off the scene, girl in arm, burning city in the background, roll credits.
- (There is usually a sub-plot which involves the girl wherein she enters the scene, complicating things for our hero. She is usually a combination of an insistent partner to our hero who is reluctant to accept his need for her help. Some other leading ladies play the role of damsel in distress, but that is less politically correct today).
- Bottom line, our hero is victorious and justice once again reigns in Gotham City.
OK, so save your $15. You’ve just had them all presented to you. There is almost no variance to this theme and it is usually downright cartoonish.
In recent years I have lost interest in these movies. Some of it is age. But a lot of it is my Christian walk. I no longer love these movies because it is seems to me that the Lord does not love them. For a Christian, who really stops to think about it and to apply the faith in violent movies and video games, it should, in my estimation become clear that violence ought not be proposed as entertainment, or be experienced as entertaining. Violence is always regrettable and is a cause for sober reflection, not exuberant joy.
I am no pacifist, there are times when the police have to repel or restrain criminals with violent force. There are times when nations, for a grave reason, and as a last recourse, must go to war. But this is always lamentable, and surely not entertaining. People often die terribly in war, and in other violent ways.
The adventure movies and video games often present simplistic and cartoonish notions of violence. For example, our hero may be involved in a high speed car crash. Despite this, he often walks away from it and remains quite fit to do further battle. But in reality no one walks away from a high speed car crash unscathed. The whole body is wrenched and there are almost always neck and back injuries that require months to recover from. Some never recover. Further, as our hero kills bad guys left and right, we are never invited to consider that in real life death has terrible ripple effects as families, children and others related to the dead, experience the tragedy and often never recover.
The CBS video below speaks of an area I know little, the world of video games. I will admit, that video games are simply not, and never have been a part of my world. When I was in high school the only video game available was “PONG” (a simple monochrome tennis game). Pac Man and Donkey Kong were just on the horizon, but I never warmed up to them in college years. The first video shows that a new rating system has come into play for these games, many of which are horribly violent as well as being saturated with sex and bad language. I am personally glad to see it and hope it will guide parents to be more sober about what their kids are playing.
I intend no crusade here. I am not calling for abolishment of such games, or of adventure movies. Neither am I saying that these movies and games cause mass killings. I am simply saying that they don’t help. I will even say I oppose those who refuse to let little boys have toy guns and play war. I figure for them it is just a stage, a boy thing. But that is a central point, it should be just a stage.
So what I do propose is that, as we grow in our Christian walk, the notion of raw violence as a form of entertainment, should become increasingly untenable for us. As we grow and consider real life, violence is something we increasingly mourn, increasingly find troubling. If it ever did appeal to us, it appeals less and less. The voice of Jesus echoes in our conscience: Put away your sword (Matt 26:52).
And as we grow in grace, that still small voice of Jesus gradually has its way. The swords are sheathed, the video controllers are set aside, the movies look silly, and violence becomes unappealing, lamentable, and a subject for prayer, rather than a form of entertainment. At least that has been my experience.
I’m glad I don’t like the “high kill ratio” movies any more. Somehow I think that’s how it should be, that I’ve outgrown them. I do worry that some young people have a pretty steady diet of this stuff and may be desensitized. I rather doubt that most of them will ever become mass killers. But I don’t think it helps by making the simulated killing of other people entertainment. And, at some level, it is worth asking our self, “Why do I like this?” Honestly, to say that the killing of large numbers is a reasonable solution to a problem, is generally a kind of an “anti-gospel.” At best, the violent engagement of an enemy is deeply lamentable and rarely necessary. And when it must be undertaken it is subject to the tenets of the Just War Tradition. Surely there is nothing “entertaining” about real violence.
A couple of videos for further reflection.
The first video is from CBS News and details some of the problems with violence in video games. The second video is a humorous description of how silly adventure movies really are. Pardon a could mild profanities. One of the lines says, Cool guys don’t look at explosions, they blow things up and walk away, and never think of the people they’ve killed.