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Unexamined Premises

A History of Violence

July 21st, 2012 - 5:42 pm

Writing early in the aftermath of the evil — not tragic, evil — events in Colorado, Roger Simon has laid out some challenging thoughts on Hollywood’s philosophical culpability in such horrific crimes of violence:

Given the horrifying death toll, rare as the likes of Holmes may be, we have to account for the similarly deranged and aberrant. We owe that to the dead of Colorado and elsewhere. Moreover, we should not encourage these events, wittingly or unwittingly. And by we I mean the people who make films (which includes me).

I am not calling for censorship here, nor for gun control laws, but for a modicum of self-censorship on the part of the filmmakers and the film and television industries. They should ask themselves to what end is the violence they are portraying and whether it need be so explicit. Can they make their points as effectively, perhaps more effectively, without the endless splatter and gore?

Allow me to take this argument in a slightly different direction. If you glance to the right of this column, you’ll see the three (so far) books in my “Devlin” series, about a top-secret and very lethal operative for the Central Security Service, as well as the great Irish-American gangster Owney Madden’s own personal memoir (channeled through me) of the most violent days of Prohibition, And All the Saints.  To wrap up this orgy of literary ultra-violence, there’s As Time Goes By, my prequel/sequel to Casablanca, which finds Rick and Ilsa wrapped up in the assassination plot against the architect of the Final Solution, Reinhard Heydrich, the Hangman of Prague.

So you’re not going to find me arguing against violence per se. Violence, alas, is a part of life, and a history of civilization is also a history of violence  – of force met with force, of great armies clashing on the plains, or two special ops waging a secret war in the back alleys of Berlin. To those who say that violence never solved anything, I say: ask Hitler. As Al Capone famously observed, in his neighborhood (Brooklyn), you got farther with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word.

Saving Private Ryan is violent. 300 is violent. Enemy at the Gates is violent. But they are about men at war.

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