Thomas F. Bertonneau ponders the current popularity of hardcore horror movies. Responding to “Spengler” (our own David P. Goldman), who asserts that the appeal of “sado-masochistic” films in the past decade can be traced to reality-blurring events like 9/11 and the subsequent images of war and torture that saturated the media. Bertonneau counters that the appeal of these spectacles is simply wired into human nature, and recalls Augustine’s discussion of his friend Alypius’ struggles with the circus:
One of the struggles associated with the dissemination of the Gospel is the struggle against these natural propensities of the human primitive and his community. One of the anecdotes in St. Augustine’s autobiography (Book VI) concerns his friend Alypius, who had been addicted to the spectacle of torment and murder in the arena. He gradually weaned himself, but one day while on an errand ran into reprobate friends who coaxed him to the games. Alypius tried to keep his eyes closed, but, as the autobiographer affirms, when he heard the crowd shouting, he had to look; he could no longer help himself.
Interestingly, Bertonneau suggests that the popularity of extreme violence may, in a perverse way, represent a longing on the part of a de-Christianized public for an authentic sacrifice: a deep human ritual impulse which can very easily devolve into excessive cruelty. He also likens the pervasiveness of violence to the banalization of sex, claiming that both
belong to the pattern of liberal ‘liberation’ from inherited constraints that the taboo against enjoying violence undergoes deconstruction along with every other inherited prohibition. The “liberation” of pornography runs in precise parallel with the “liberation” of the arduously suppressed appetite for blood-spectacle.
If Bertonneau is correct, then his thesis is ultimately more damning than Goldman’s, in that it pins the blame for the outburst of simulated violence not on one recent traumatic event or series of events but instead on a more general breakdown of cultural inhibitions. It may also portend a grimmer future, as he indicates that many people have lost the ability to feel a sense of compassion rooted in the Gospel. He doesn’t buy the excuse, often given by defenders of violent video games, for instance, that the digital spectacles are not “real”:
[These images] are indistinguishable from reality, [so] the excuse rings hollow. What the people who visit the theater or rent the discs to see such movies are saying is that they like to observe the torture and murder of human beings.
Is Bertonneau correct, or is he too dismissive of Goldman’s thesis? After all, as Goldman notes, the kind of horror films coming out now only re-emerged recently, after a hiatus of several decades, and they may ultimately represent just another trend in audience taste which will inevitably fade after overstaying its welcome. Additionally, his implied equation of pornography and violence (even fictional violence) seems to serve rhetorical effect before reality. But, at the same time, popular culture rarely comes from nowhere: in order to succeed, it must engage, in its own way, the underlying assumptions of the society that produces it.
(Via: The Thinking Housewife)