Monday, April 6, 2009

Why aren't we driving on the road?

Many of the films I watch feature violence and death as a selling point. I have gone from finding violence and action "really cool" as a child to "really cool and fucking hilarious" as a (quasi-)adult. What happened? I'm sure smarter and more entertaining people than me have written many, many words on why we need violence in our entertainment. My question is, why is a lot of it so damn funny?

In Punisher:War Zone, the film's titular character punches a fellow human being's face off. He also decapitates a wheelchair-bound old man with a kitchen knife and puts a chair leg through another man's eye. If you're anything like me, the corners of your mouth started gently pulling themselves upward as you read those last two sentences, a vague sense of bliss slowly descending over your troubled soul. Hell, if you're really like me, you've seen War Zone a few times already.

A lot of hoopla has been made of the fact that anyone who really likes films like War Zone or Rambo has latent fascist tendencies. Certainly, anyone who thinks the streets overflow with scum that can only be dealt with by way of gunshots to the genitals or hoards firearms and katanas while wearing combat gear exclusively must be a deeply unpleasant individual. But what of the people who find the exploits of Frank Castle (the aforementioned "Punisher", for those not in the know) truly funny?

Fret not, my children, for we are the blessed. Well, not blessed in any religious or really beneficial sense, but I do believe that if laughter is your reaction to glorified violence in film, you've reached a higher level of movie-going, at least. Violence in real life is unpleasant, scary, a last resort of the desperate and, in our civilized society, luckily not very common. Our goals and labors in this society have become more and more intellectual in nature, rather than physical. The need for an alpha male to establish his dominance through use of force is steadily becoming more and more archaic and, in the most extreme of cases, ludicrous. In our entertainment, however, violence is quite pervasive. Serious films use violence to make a serious point. Even children's cartoons have no small amount of conflict resolved by the use of force, however sanitized. And then there's stuff like Bad Boys II, a film aimed (technically) at adults.

In this light-hearted summer fare set to the sweet tones of Sean "Diddy" Combs, heads are blown up, hearts are pulled out of rib cages and the corpses of fat Cuban men are gleefully run over by Ferraris. The violence in a film like this serves no real purpose other than its viewers to live vicariously through. It's pretty much everything the evolved lover of violence could want. I'm not counting stuff like Hot Fuzz or Crank, since those films -- while brilliant in their own right -- are quite obviously meant to be funny by virtue of jokes in the screenplay. Bad Boys II has these pre-conceived jokes as well (some of them, such as the Reggie interrogation, even work), but you're not going to tell me director Michael Bay thought we'd laugh at the destruction of a Cuban shantytown while a hastily added voice-over reassures us "Naw it's cool it's where they make the drugs, mang!"

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