Monday, November 27, 2023

Desensitizing To Violence

One of the first steps toward fascism is to desensitize people to violence.

While crime rates are far lower today than they were in, say, the 1970s, the level of violence in our society has risen dramatically.  It seems quaint now, but back in the 1960s, people complained there was "too much violence" on television because Mannix got into fistfights.  Fistfights where no one ever bled and being "knocked out" never resulted in a traumatic brain injury.   Even when someone got shot on television, they just tipped over after going "ugh" and peacefully died.  No one ever spurt out quarts of bloods from a severed  artery and then died screaming.

Today, they do.  Violence in the media has become more and more "realistic" which is to say, gory.  The body counts have risen as well, as henchmen in any "action" movie end up being gunned-down in droves.  Then again, I suppose the same could be said for the finale of any old James Bond movie from the 60s.  Of course, henchmen back then died with a quiet and bloodless "Ughhh!" and then usually fell over a guardrail in classic stuntman airbag style.

First person shooter games are wildly popular these days - and probably make up the vast majority of the gaming market.  These have morphed from primitive target-practice games (remember "Duck Hunter" on the primitive consoles of the 1980s?) to realistic murder simulators.  You have a real, big-screen, surround-sound experience, and even "talk" to other players as you slaughter them.  People, mostly gamers or those in the gaming industry, are first to argue that spending hours every day practicing shooting people won't have an effect on your psyche.  I fail to see how it cannot.

And life itself is trivialized. Kill someone?  Well, either they are an NPC (non-playing character) or if they are a human opponent, they can "respawn" with a "new life" and start over.  How Buddhist!

You might remember - or have tried to block out - scenes from horror movies that you thought were "over the top" and excessive.  They upset you and make you feel bad.  Imagine seeing such scenes on a daily basis, for years. You end up not feeling anything.

But I am not picking on video games or television or the movies in particular.  You could argue - rationally - that art also reflects life and that the rise in gore and violence in our media is merely a reflection of the values of the underlying society.  It is also a result of the problem of one-upsmanship that occurs in every scenario or industry.

A guy shows up at a campground in a tent.  Another fellow decides to built a tent-trailer and everyone thinks that is keen.  Soon, someone has invented the camper trailer, then the motorhome.  Fast-forward a few decades, and people are spending a million bucks to go camping in a vehicle that is nicer than their homes.

The same is true of media.  In the old days, horror films were less about gore (Roger Corman notwithstanding) but than about shock and scares - the "jumpscares" that made a comeback with the "FNAF" game franchise (oddly enough, aimed at children, apparently).  Gore started to become more prevalent, I think, in the 1990s and beyond, until we end up with such cerebral material as the "Saw" franchise or "Human Centipede."  Nuance is out, grossness and gore is in.  People don't just want to see blood, and not even guts, but specific organs as they are removed from the body in a carnival of carnage.

But again, this is not limited to media.  When I was a kid back in the 1960s we had carefully orchestrated and rehearsed "violence" on television in the form of Professional Wrestling and Roller Derby.  These usually appeared on television on Saturday afternoon and they were not considered to be real sports and it was understood that the violence was cartoonish and faked - for the most part.  Even real pugalistic sports, such as boxing, had strict rules and you could not "hit below the belt" and contestants wore enormous leather gloves.  Still, you could get hurt and even die.

Today we have "extreme sports" such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and bare-knuckles boxing.  I recounted before a restaurant I was eating at was playing one of these "cage matches" and I lost my appetite when I saw the bloodfest on the screen.  Other diners seem less perturbed - to them, bloody violence was the perfect accoutrement to a tasty meal.

We drive by, in Florida, a number of places that advertise paint-ball shooting or lazer-tag.  This is a chance to try out your marksmanship on live targets.  No one gets killed or seriously hurt, of course, although I hear that a paintball can sting quite a bit, and for some reason, they sell body armor online for airsoft games.  It seems, at least to me, that we have trained an entire generation to shoot one another, in these online simulations and in-person hunting games.

And then of course, there are guns.  Not weapons to be used for a specific purpose, but hoards of "tactical" style weaponry stored leaning up against a wall in the closet, or laid on a bed and photographed for Facebook friends.  This new generation of gun owners is always making dark comments about how they are going to overthrow the government or how much they would enjoy gunning down a "criminal."

"Years old but barely used. Less than 50 rounds into it. Comes with primer to reset the target, and red marking packets, and metal fork stand with base plate."

These are the sort of people who shoot at watermelons on the weekend, pretending it is someone's head.  Or shoot at an old car, pretending there is someone inside it.  Or shooting at body targets shaped like humans and having the characteristics of human flesh.  This is not healthy thinking and we've come a long way from deer hunting.  On our local Craigslist is an ad for one such "torso" target - riddled in the chest with bullet holes.  I guess the previous owner of it got tired of killing it.  Maybe smear some ketchup on it next time for more realism!

You might think that there was some sort of conspiracy behind this all - to train people to think of their friends and neighbors and coworkers and family members as targets.  And sadly, every week, we are treated to a story of someone who "went off" and killed - or tried to kill - a number of people.  There are so many today that they are quickly forgotten about a week later.

Now add into this mix the comments being made on the far right about "Civil War" and "Lining people up against the wall and shooting them" and it starts to look a lot like pre-war Germany, with the rise of civilian violence and  hatred - toward their fellow citizens.

There are, of course, other aspects to this as well - the Culture of Belligerence I wrote about before, where people, mostly men (but some women as well) trying to act tough and be aggressive through the way they dress, talk, and act, as well as the (usually loud and obnoxious) vehicles they drive.

Compounding this is the spreading of fear among even the neutral population.  The world is going to hell in a handbasket!  Violent crime is skyrocketing! (It is actually much lower than back in the 1970s).  Homeless people are doing Fentanyl and giving it to your kids!  All hell is breaking loose and our elected officials seem more concerned with the rights of criminals than with law-abiding citizens!  They seem more obsessed with pronouns than with law and order!  (And by the way, you can say this about both parties - the GOP is obsessed with "trans" issues to the point where they fail to govern).

Again, Wiemar Germany - an apparently weak government unable to handle crises, such as the Great Depression.  But actually, they did and the German economy was recovering nicely when the Nazis came to power.  How did they pull this off?  By promising an end to the violence in the streets - violence that they themselves helped foment.

Want an end to all this fussin' and a feudin'?  Want a return to "Law and Order" and not just the television series?  Want to go back to the "Good old days" when "Goyls were Goyls and Men were Men?"  Say no more - have we got a dictator for you!  Just a little messy business of taking over the government and eliminating our enemies.  Just a little thing we call "Project 2025."

Yes, Project 2025, which promises to fire government employees who are "disloyal" (i.e., Democrats) and replace them with loyal MAGA followers!  Yes, a cushy government job is waiting for you, as your reward for being a loyal follower - even if you are unqualified!  The only qualification is, of course, blind loyalty to the party and The Leader.  Apply now!  They want to install their minions in the first months of a "new" administration.  This is right out of the playbook of 1930's Germany when the Nazis rose to power.

When the time comes, people will be so inured to violence that the sign of people being gunned down in the street won't even affect them, provided it is someone else that is being gunned down - the "other" that society is currently programming people to hate.  So long as you pledge loyalty to the new order, you should be safe - for now.  But there are some groups who will be targeted for extinction - and you can pretty much figure out who those are without thinking too hard.

I would hope this is all not true - that people will come to their senses and that the election of 2024 will be a benign event not marred by violence or more ridiculous "rat fucking" exercises.

I hope, but I am not too optimistic!