I despise film that glorifies violence, and I’m privately ashamed of the American fascination with violence. I remember seeing a billboard for a movie called “Collateral Damage.” The film was one of many popular and commercially successful films of the “action” genre. The actor isn’t much different from any other person with a price tag. The film title itself is a military term that refers to non-military casualties of war, which leads me to further wonder why this title was chosen. Obviously the idea of civilian casualties has some sort of commercial appeal to a mass market.
Well, here’s some additional excitement for us stimulus-seeking Americans. It’s real-world news about “collateral damage” and it comes from Iraq. John F. Burns and Christine Hauser’s, April 21, NYTimes online article titled “3 Car Bombings Kill 20 People in an Iraqi City,” talks about 3 car bombs that exploded in front of an Iraqi police station during rush hour on April 21. As if coming directly from the scripts of some of the most popular “action” films of our time, one of the blasts hit a school bus. The Burns/Hauser article stated that “bodies of schoolgirls were burning inside the bus.”
As art can often reflect life, someone somewhere is thinking: “hey, that’s entertainment!” In case that schoolbus image isn’t enough to satisfy your pallet, just visit your DVD rental store and browse “action.”
Is it the film company’s fault for making movies, or the market’s fault for demanding them? Some of you may be thinking that my argument exaggerates the influence that popular film has on our society. Maybe I’m too sensitive to what Americans view as “action.” I think our view of “action” reflects the violent nature of the American culture as a whole. To what does “action” in a film rental store refer? Graphic, gratuitous violence. Sure, there may be a classic good vs. evil theme, where the good prevail, but what’s questionable is not that the good guy always wins but how those ends seem to justify any means–however violent. If life reflects art, then we generally consider “action” as violent in nature. Brute force. Physical attack. Hit and ask questions later. Action is aggressive, and the ends can justify any means. Look at the US and Iraq.
Maybe life doesn’t reflect art, but the other way around. Maybe it’s a little of both. Either way, we can see the violent nature of ourselves by a comparison: study another language. Looking at your native American English language from the outside can give it new and interesting meaning. How about this fun exercise: think of common expressions that are violent in terminology. i.e.: punching the numbers, hitting the lights, knocking it out, in your corner, in the trenches, you kill me, shoot me an email, fire it off, cut it out, knock it off. Culture is a complex combination of ideas and behavior, and ours is quite violent in nature. Maybe it’s stems from our history, our economic success, or a predominant male-orientation. Either way, the proof is as close as your nearest movie theatre.
I think we both perpetuate and reinforce our violent nature in our modern day blockbusters. Collateral damage reflects us, so we celebrate. The celebration defines who we are. It offers cohesion and reinsures us as a group. It keeps us comfortable. Quiet, nice and comfortable. Sure, Americans are inconvenienced by the nature of warfare. We start to grow tired and weary of our young people returning dead from places that are difficult to pronounce. We complain about the realized underestimated fiscal and political costs of war. But these are inconveniences, nothing more. For America, from violence comes greatness. In politics, business, economics, or art. This is the empirical state of mind, and in theatres of war and film, all over the world, we shall continue to glorify ourselves for this.
p.s. For the Iraqi schoolbus, we sure could have used a savior white male to jump in and take revenge. But, by popular vote, at least one of those guys is the governor of California now. Here’s your cultural hero.
p.p.s. Sorry Michigan, but one of the civilian contract workers killed in Iraq this month was from Manistee, Michigan. The man’s name was Stephen Hulett and he was 48 years old. You may refer to him as “collateral damage.” Better yet, go see the movie.