Violence and Entertainment: Some Thoughts

In the wake of the commonplace mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, blame has been thrown in every direction as a means to pivot away from any real action. Mental illness is further stigmatized while the notion of gun control is entertained, but not considered with honest intent. The president has fallen on the age-old rhetoric that blames the glorification of violence as presented in our media, specifically video games and film. These mediums aren’t to blame for the ills of society. I recall a similar instance from my youth, one that involved casting blame on a rock and roll star following the mass shooting at Columbine. Video games (Doom) and films (Natural Born Killers) were scapegoated as well, but Marilyn Manson became the figure of cause, or in his own words, “the poster boy for fear,” in an arena where the artist had no business.

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Violence in entertainment has been normalized through the ages. Shakespeare had to compete with a bear-baiting arena that stood within walking distance from The Globe, where dogs were set against bears. Violence is an unfortunate byproduct of the human experience, to which entertainment falls short of reality. Does entertainment glorify the vices of violence and drug dependency? Absolutely. Can entertainment have a psychological impact on the person? Studies conclude our violent media doesn’t make a violent mind. I’d ask the POW’s whom the United States government exposed to singular songs on repeat at volumes too great to withstand, but that’s use of media as a means of torture. I guess I’ve never met a person who watched Breaking Bad, and decided to try their hand at cooking crystal meth.

Still, I will say that though some media is horribly toxic (especially without proper context or critical thinking skills), mass shootings don’t stem from a ‘life imitating art’ philosophy. No one kills a police officer because they could in Grand Theft Auto. No one shoots up any array of social settings because of the music/images associated with Marilyn Manson. Such arguments serve only to pivot from the issue, with the intent of leaving it unaddressed. Jim Carrey possibly disagrees with me, as he decided to not promote a violent film he had acted in, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He drew parallels of self-importance, and saw his participation in the production of the film as something bigger than what it was. While I admire him wanting to bring attention to the issue, the source of his conviction was one rooted in error.

There’s a greater cultural problem that won’t be solved through a singular idea, and Americans need to acquire the skills of civil debate if compromise is to be reached. Without adjustment the shootings will continue. Even with adjustments the shootings will continue. Resolution won’t come overnight, and the first steps shall not yield instant results. There are growing pains ahead if we are to grow from these events, but the ‘pivot blame game’ falls on the same old arguments that have-time and time again-been reduced to falsehood. Video games, music, and movies entertain, and at times provide a coping mechanism by means of catharsis. Should we ban the work of William Shakespeare before the influence drives more teenagers to kill themselves and each other?

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Greater insight is necessary. What of violence in the real world? News programs use significant portions of their broadcasts to examine violent events within any given community, and break them down in such a way as to have the viewer feeling relieved. They’re left with a feeling of, ‘at least I’m not that bad,’ which serves complacency. They speak of wars in foreign lands with a particular cruelty, and equate their human condition to a sordid less than. Further down the pipeline is a subculture that celebrates the tragedies our society bears. Before the shooting at Virginia Tech, the shooter made a video where he paid homage to the school shooters that had come before him, even naming a few. When the Vegas concert shooting left 58 dead, and 851 others injured, particular online message boards discussed how he’d fallen short of the ‘high score,’ by referencing the mass shooting in Norway that left 80 dead in 2011. Violence is encouraged in a way that mimics the most morbid of support groups. There’s enough real world influence to claim our entertainment is not as harmful as some would allege.

 

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Critical South Park: Political Satire, Expectations, and the Issue of Donald Trump

With South Park having become serialized the most recent season placed greater emphasis on storytelling, while using real world events to maintain their topical edge. Season 20 focused on the presidential race, paralleled with the complications of Internet trolling. The end result was a show that had become self aware, and acknowledged the likelihood of existing, “in the post-funny era of satire.”

The show faced a curve ball when Trump won the election. Since 2008 South Park had produced their election episodes based on betting odds in Vegas. When Clinton lost they had to rework the episode with less than 24 hours to air. But I’m less interested in their portrait of Clinton, as she was depicted in her own likeness.

South Park has taken it upon themselves to include the sitting president, in addition to a number of other politicians, and their depictions, though crude, are fitting for the character they sought to represent. Bill Clinton looked like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush looked like George W. Bush, and so on.

Then we get to Donald Trump, and we’re faced with the complication of entity. The discourse of the 20th season goes back to the first Christmas special, and the first time Herbert Garrison asked if their township could, “get rid of all the Mexicans.” His anti-immigrant sentiments have echoed on, ever since.

Season 19 was the first to implement serialization through the entirety, and that story world was carried over into Season 20. In an early episode Garrison finds himself overwhelmed by the sudden influx of Canadian immigrants, suggests getting rid of them, and declares his desire to build a wall between Canada and the United States. He’s distressed by the fact that Canada has beaten him to punch, by building their own wall between the countries. It’s revealed that Canada has been taken over by a character known as ‘Canadian Trump.’ By the end of the episode Garrison has raped Canadian Trump to death, and begins his own campaign for the top office in the country with running mate, Caitlyn Jenner.

Season 20 began, and Garrison is tanned to a bronzed orange. Topical interviews and dialog are voiced through this character, as a deliberate entity of Donald Trump is never produced. This struck me, over and over as the season progressed. The writers had avoided the low hanging fruit of the previous administrations, rarely depicting any president as incompetent on a consistent basis, so why establish the distance of depicting a candidate by means of another character? Aside from Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner, every other reference to the contemporary political arena mirrored that of the real world. Even then South Park left some of the sensationalism to the media, as their depiction of Steve Bannon showed him looking over a clipboard, and making a simple statement about the transition going smoothly.

It’s sharp satire, because it defies expectations. Such expectations include a Trump figure in the likeness of real world Trump. By having put that agency onto a character already established in the story world, it allowed for the writers to play with the kind of atmosphere that cultivated the results we have today. They made sharper and deeper cuts than their late night counterparts, but were never called out by the Twitter prone President Elect. Though poking fun at Trump, it’s done so through the veiled obscurity of distance, a nuance not employed by late night comedians or other political satirists, which is why South Park hasn’t been on the receiving end of a Twitter rant (or the trolls that follow).

In a time when the President Elect decries negative commentary in the media, the obscurity of South Park has allowed them to make some scathing comments without personal backlash. It could be that South Park is just a silly little cartoon show, while Saturday Night Live is culturally relevant, but I’d argue that the distance established in how Trump has been depicted on South Park is the best bet for artistic media to criticize the coming administration without fear of repercussion.