Atrocious Entertainment

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“See those
kids by the river/Drop some napalm/Watch them quiver/Napalm sticks
to kids” ~ U.S. Army cadence

It’s a popularly
accepted truth that art is an expression of culture. American culture,
then, is obsessed with sadism. The movie theater has become our
Colosseum, the actor our gladiator. Blood is our artistic medium
of choice, the human body our canvas. God’s command to meditate
on what is right, pure, and lovely has been perverted by society
to an implicit command to meditate on whatever is evil, whatever
is polluted, and whatever is hideous.

Sadism commands
top dollar at the box office these days, according to an article
in the latest issue of Newsweek. Confirming what I’ve long
suspected, the article quotes horror magazine editor Tony Timpone,
“In 1990, I had to pull my hair out just to find a movie to put
on the cover. There were only three or four major horror releases
a year. Now there’s three or four a month. We’re like pigs in slop.”

Horror movies
like Saw
II
, which was infamously advertised by a movie poster representing
the “II” as a pair of severed fingers, dominate theaters. With the
public lust for blood snowballing, horror films have increasingly
abandoned suspense in favor of no-holds-barred gore. As documented
by Screen It, scenes focusing
on every cut and delighting in every agony have become the norm.

For instance,
the recent film Hostel,
which beloved faux-butcher Quentin Tarantino co-wrote, features
a scene in which a “sadist takes a power drill to a victim.” After
showing one insertion, the camera reportedly cuts to “the drill
as its laid down with flesh and blood in the bit. We then see the
victim who has bloody drill holes in various parts of his body.”
I learned about this movie when a female Air Force recruit told
me she was looking forward to it, particularly because Tarantino
was signed onto the project.

A prime example
of the sadism offered by recent films is Saw II, which was
highly anticipated by many of my peers. This movie contains such
uplifting scenes as a woman reaching into a suspended glass cage
with one-way openings, and being unable to remove her hands upon
discovering that such attempts result in the bloody slicing of her
wrists by the razor-sharp metal surrounding the openings. Another
scene shows a former druggie tossed into a pit filled with used
syringes and forced to frantically dig through the needles in search
of a key. When I refused to see this film due to its pointlessly
violent content, several acquaintances (all military recruits) pointed
out that the film contained a “great twist.” Besides, they argued,
the torturer has moral reasons for his actions. He tortures people
to snap them out of an unappreciative stupor and teach them to appreciate
life.

Other recent
films include Cry
Wolf
, which tells the graphic story of a trio trapped by
a kidnapper intent on torture, The
Hills Have Eyes
, which dwells on the pleasant subject of
cannibalism, and Underworld:
Evolution
, which concentrates on multiple impalings and
vampiric incidents.

How does the
public respond to all this? In the words of one moviegoer quoted
by Newsweek, “I liked it. I just wish it was bloodier.”

In what I believe
is a direct result of a cinematic glorification of torture, American
war crimes have literally become a laughing matter. Several months
ago, I overheard one young airman telling his sergeant about the
hilarious cadences he learned during his training, including the
notorious “Napalm Sticks to Kids” chant. The sergeant, entertained,
requested the airman serenade him with some of these cadences. “See
those kids over by the lake? Drop some napalm, watch them bake,”
crooned the airman, amusing the sergeant to no end. After Saw
II, which netted 29 times its four million dollar production
cost, featured a favorably portrayed maniac offing a houseful of
men and women, it’s hardly startling that nobody cares that twelve
Marines are currently accused of a My Lai style mini-massacre.

While stateside
audiences munch popcorn and revel in the sight of an eyeball being
cut from a woman’s skull, as portrayed in Hostel, is it any
wonder that each day reveals a new story about American troops abusing
Iraqis in one way or another? True, the Abu Ghraib MPs confined
themselves to techniques for producing humiliation and mental distress,
bypassing outright “torture,” but their motivation was to abuse
for time-killing giggles. Mistreatment became a recreational sport,
a form of diversion like you might find in your friendly neighborhood
theater.

Of course,
the American occupation in Iraq has produced more than perverted
shenanigans. Aidan Delgado, who was profiled in a New York Times
article
after being discharged from the Army for conscientious objection,
says, “Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive
by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians
passing by. They’d keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee
to break over people’s heads.” Delgado also says he “witnessed incidents
in which an Army sergeant lashed a group of children with a steel
Humvee antenna, and a Marine corporal planted a vicious kick in
the chest of a kid about 6 years old.” Hysterical, right? Why should
American troops behave any differently when the movies tell us our
culture approves of torture as entertainment?

War isn’t the
only place where the line between fantasy and reality blurs these
days, though. Sacramento’s News 10 reports that a “vampire” who
once ran for school board in my traditionally calm neck of the woods
was just arrested
in Bolivia for bombing two hotels. This American, Tristan Amero,
styled himself “Lestat Claudius de Orleans y Montevideo” after the
blood-sucking hero of Tom Cruise’s horror film, Interview
With the Vampire
. Then there are the profoundly violent
video games of the day, including “Grand Theft Auto,” which Alabaman
Devin Moore played “day and night for months,” according to CBS
News
. The game mainly focuses on the painstakingly detailed
killing of cops, an animated diversion Moore brought to the real
world last year when he murdered three police officers.

Speaking of
his victims, serial killer Ted Bundy said, “You feel the last bit
of breath leaving their body. You’re looking into their eyes. A
person in that situation is God!” Modern entertainment has given
audiences the ability to feel that power and indulge that lust to
be like God, with the silver screen offering a shield to those uncomfortable
with the idea of literally sating their appetite for sadism. Yet
with Americans entranced by the perverse and willing to spend ever
more money for the pleasure of viewing ultra-realistic simulations
of torture, I imagine we’ll only see more real-life imitators. Already
we see savagery crossing the border of fantasy into the realm of
reality, particularly in the chaotic arena of war.

March
31, 2006

Pieter
Friedrich [send him mail],
a homeschool graduate, blogs at Pumpkinhead.

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