The Entertainment-Cringe Olympics

Television and movies have taken violence way over the top. Are audiences being punished?

If You Have To Tell Yourself It’s Only a Movie…

It’s not only a movie.

If you have to remind yourself that the movie isn’t “real”- it’s an experience, and not a good one.

Call it a race for ratings. Call it a competition in shock value. Call it a desire to stay relevant in an increasingly “woke” world, one that seems increasingly bleak the more “woke” one becomes.

Well. No kidding, Sherlock.

Welcome to your enlightenment. Of course the world seems more bleak as you become more observant of suffering and injustice in the world.

The world is full of suffering and injustice; as in chock full. Five minutes on the internet could tell an unsupervised five-year old that.

Awakening to the suffering in the world is a concept at least as old as Siddhartha Gautama, who left his palace, his family, and all his worldly wealth to become the Buddha after witnessing the suffering of the poor, the old, and the ill in his kingdom.

The more suffering and injustice you notice in the world, the more suffering and injustice there is to notice in the world. Man’s inhumanity to man is on display in every country in the world, available in living technicolor and vividest detail on the internet everyday.

What mankind does to animals and the Earth is terrible; what we do to each other is worse.

Humans are wildly creative. We have often turned that creativity to terrible ends and no people or country has the franchise on violence. From the ingenious medieval torture devices used during the many religious inquisitions, to certain Native American tribes known for keeping a torture victim alive for weeks and even months.

From ancient sects in the Middle East, to ancient sects in Europe, to ancient sects in South America; child sacrifice has always been popular. The willful killing of an innocent child, the destruction of human potential in its purest form, being perhaps the greatest act of cruelty, anarchy, and injustice of all.

Crack any history book, open any newspaper or check your phone; the truth is always there staring you in the face: Suffering and injustice are everywhere, for all time. It’s horrible.

Lucky for us moderns, we can even see all of it anytime we want. Well, we can see everything mankind has recorded for the last 10,000 years or so, including what we can glean from gruesome archeological finds like thousands of tiny skeletons with their skulls crushed in.

This is the Information Age. We know all about war, genocides, slavery, snuff films, shrunken heads, human sacrifices, chemical weapons, nuclear bombs and Nazi doctors. As much as we can stomach, anyway.

The actual people whose job it is to keep the worst of the worst off the internet by physically scanning and removing content suffer from PTSD and can’t do the job for long. Because of course they can’t. Can you imagine some of the terrible things they can never unsee?

The level and degree of suffering in the world: of poverty, illness, violent death, famine, war, genocide, slavery, rape, torture, murder feels overwhelming because it is. No one can possibly grasp the full spectrum of suffering humankind has both endured and inflicted on itself.

To call it bleak is an understatement.

This is one of the main reasons humans enjoy a nice, quiet escape from reality from time to time, in the form of stories. Humans are wired for stories. We love them. Getting lost in a pirate story, or monster story; in a fairytale, or a morality play, or in a Greek tragedy, is one of the wonderful things about our human minds. Not to mention the ability to create these things.

Perhaps the people who create our entertainment have come to believe that we, as a society, don’t deserve as such. That we simply aren’t worthy of the gifts of escapism. That we don’t need an escape from the reality of suffering in the world, and that we shouldn’t want one.

Like German audiences after World War II, who sat silent and enraptured through movies that kept the atrocities committed by their countrymen foremost in their minds. The way German audiences loved the Diary of Anne Frank. German audiences still love movies like that. Why? Because they felt they deserved to be punished, not made to feel good.

The people who make some of the movies and television currently on offer must believe that our society deserves to suffer, not escape our troubles.

An episode of Black Mirror leaves one feeling terrible, terrified, and empty. Hopeless. A second episode proves unwatchable as the storyline includes Britain’s Prime Minister performing a sex act on an animal.

Anyone thinking Black Mirror might be comparable to old Sci-fi classics like the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits would be sadly mistaken, even sickened.

The new Joker movie may have received a standing ovation from masochists at the Venice Film Festival, but those who don’t enjoy pain and watching people pretend very convincingly to be in it, should perhaps skip the newest installment in the Batman franchise.

That this movie centers around the franchise’s antagonist- a madman, a murderer, and a sadistic psychopath- rather than its hero, Batman, should tell you everything you need to know.

This isn’t your father’s Batman starring Michael Keaton. This isn’t a campy reboot starring George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, either. It isn’t even a seriously-acted brooding drama with Christian Bale. This isn’t even an overwrought Suicide Squad.

This is a firesale on human misery.

Any movie during which you have to tell yourself over and over that “this is only a movie, this is only a movie” has defeated the whole point of a movie.

While watching one you’re supposed to be able to suspend disbelief and forget that you are watching a movie- not living in a world where dragons fly and animals talk.

Having to remind yourself that you are safe in the movie theatre, or at home on your couch, while James Bond is tied naked to a chair and tortured for a squirm-inducing sequence that feels like it lasts forever, is not entertainment.

But James Bond must be punished. He represents the patriarchy, war-mongering, oppression, colonialism, sexism, bigotry and hate. He is a dated character whose days are numbered. He must be burned in effigy; and so must we. We too are participants in that system. We too have colluded in the oppression of others, even unknowingly.

If you live in America, according to the new Hollywood philosophy, you are an oppressor; your garbage is pawned off on poorer countries desperate enough to take it, and everything from the clothes on your back to the coffee you drink every morning is produced using exploitative labor and trade practices.

After which it is shipped using vast amounts of fossil fuels.

82% of the worlds starving children live in countries that export food to feed livestock animals in Western countries.

Do we really deserve to be emotionally gutted and punished for existing in a world with so much suffering? Maybe we do. Perhaps the movies are intentionally so bad, so terrible and violent, as to inspire people to do something about it.

Because it is certainly true that we each must do our part to reduce the amount of suffering in the world by making small changes like composting or avoiding factory farmed meat.

But we should all go a step further as well:

Stop consuming entertainment that glorifies violence.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)