Myth and Violence

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This post has little to do with my usual blog topics; instead it piggy-backs on a post my good friend and fellow writer David Frauenfelder wrote for his blog, Breakfast With Pandora, two days ago concerning the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. You can find more about Dave and this post here

This post of Dave's is so rich in meaning and understanding (something we need truckloads of these days) that I couldn't help but talk it over as we waited for the rain clouds to lift from over the Durham Bulls this weekend (they didn't), and I promised this hopefully complementary post. 

After the anger passes at the person who perpetrated this crime (a person I refuse to name), we're going to sit down and wonder what brought about this horrible event.

Toward that end, I largely agree with Dave, and with Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who both write that we as a society have all but lost what LaSalle calls the Female Principle, i.e., the ability to internalize experience and to summon values from it. When we simply react to events, this isn't the positive catharsis that comes from internalization (the inward search for meaning and understanding) that allows us not only to move on but to correct those things in the society, so that we can move on. Not just stick our heads in the sand.

It should be clear by now that we have something of a national neurosis, a mental affliction, that can and occasionally does erupt in a single person. What can we say, then, about both such a person and the national psyche?

First, it seems to be part of the human condition that one group of "heroes," if we stick to Frauenfelder's topic of myth, has always been there for us to perhaps commit acts of violence so that the rest of us can live in peace and serenity. As police do. As soldiers do. As Firemen do. As Cory Booker recently did in New Jersey (look it up).

But we've "democratized" violence to the point that it pervades the world stage, leaving none of us untouched. If you don't believe this, think about the computer games, the fascination with weapons, the urge to act violently to everything in our society, even toward others driving on our highways. And such violence is present even in speech- political and artistic –  even in conversations on Facebook.

So if some insecure and misguided soul wants to be noticed? He/she can be damned sure that an act of unspeakable violence will do what donations to the poor, helping a fallen elderly person, or sacrificing a given person's wants to the needs of children and family, won't do to get him/her noticed these days.

The second thing is built on the first, really. Our mythic heroes in story and on stage these days must react with commensurate violence, or we'll say this "hero" isn't one at all, but a milquetoast wimp. Think about that, what that says about the rest of us! 

And this is a fairly recent position to put our violence-stemming heroes in. To take a pop-culture example (the most obvious example to make here, I suspect), think back to the 1950s and 60s and Andy Griffith. This may seem an asinine comparison, but it's really not. We were all more accommodating and understanding back then (at least superficially), less addicted to the showmanship of violence, which meant Andy could stanch whatever upset his town underwent with a cagey move, a few wise words, or a very gentle, non-violent threat. 

This is not to say that we should relish that era, when so many things in the national psyche were repressed or ignored, because we won't – and shouldn't – go back that way again. But we do need to bring a whole lot more civility to the social arena, realize that understanding and accommodation, even in these tumultuous times of ours, are the only things that can make our society easier to live within.

One more thing:

Dave Frauenfelder is a talented writer and reviewer. Seek out his stuff, and urge him to publish that trove of work he's sitting on.


4 thoughts on “Myth and Violence

  1. Bob, Thanks for the plug and the thoughtful response to my post. I do think that “virtual” violence is out of control and that we are obsessed with it. Actual violence such as homicides are way down, however. See this CS Monitor story, which, among other things, suggests that the ubiquity of video games may LOWER rates of violent crime.
    But using violent entertainment as a drug or anesthetic to soothe our violent tendencies may have some worse result that we don’t understand yet. Just as an addicted person needs more and more of what he’s addicted to in order to get the same high, I think we are upping the ante in entertainment violence to the point where there’s not much farther to go. What will happen when we are showing the worst of the worst violent events and it doesn’t register on our psyches?
    We are in uncharted waters.

  2. I think there’s a difference, David, as you do suggest, in games, movies, etc., that act as a catharsis to violence and depicting violence as “the way it is” in society . When such games, et. al., simply represent “the way it is,” they provide a tacit approval of violence, leading to a ramping up of the same as our inhibitions to it are lowered.
    There has to be some evidence within your “virtual” violence – implied or otherwise – that a price must be paid for choosing to take that route to problem resolution, whether the “problem” is personal and interiorized, or whether it’s institutionalized and manifested throughout a society. We’re no longer very good in this country, I think, at providing or embracing accountability for much of anything.

  3. I was guided to your blog by my dear cousin, David.
    All I can say is “Absolutely”
    I think you nailed it. I was brought up in Britain, and in an age when common civility was ~ well~ common!
    This isn’t to say that violence didn’t exist. I was born a mere decade after WW2 and the chilling violence of that war was still on the minds of adults around me, and the depth of other chilling violence (such as the holocaust and the treatment of POW’s in Japanese camps) was only recently being fully realised. We also heard of nasty gang-style violence; the Kray Twins spring to mind.
    And it wasn’t la-la fairyland, people got angry and swore. But most people didn’t seem to need to put themselves and all-that-they-do first. It was rare for anyone to swear and scream and swerve, for example; if someone was a little slow to go through a green light. (something I witnessed yesterday). Or push, or honk horns, or rail against society for some small indiscretion.
    I recently heard someone on the radio (in Britain, I am ashamed to say) say
    “I HATE people who walk slowly, they should be BANNED from the cities, or pushed out of the way”
    He got laughs, and applause. Really??
    A return to civility would be so…..civilised; and I think; civilising.
    After the terrible incident in Aurora, I heard one person railing against the irresponsibility of some of the cinema-goers (the victims!!) and two people on the radio going on about how this tragedy impacted them (neither of them related to, or acquainted with the victims). Me, Me, Me…we have to take “Me” off the table I think. We don’t have to throw it away, but it could be easily placed in a box for awhile, until warranted.

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