by Libby Hellmann
I saw the film Eastern Promises, a dark story about the Russian mob, the other day. It was excellent... excellent but violent. There were several scenes of graphic violence, usually involving fighting, blood, and guns. While the first instance made me flinch, by the end of the film I was taking it all in without even a grimace. Which made me start thinking about violence and how I view it.
I used to criticize the depiction of graphic violence for all the reasons you’re supposed to: It’s sensationalist. It’s a wretched role model for kids. It’s a simplistic, cruel resolution to conflict. It wreaks unnecessary destruction and damage. Like most of us, I bought into the moral constraints. Konrad Lorenz might remind us of our animal instincts, but surely, as civilized beings, we could understand the price of violence and tame those primate brain stems.
Recently, though, I’m not so sure. It’s not just all the violence we see around us. Or the excuses (religious, protective or whatever) that some members of our society use to perpetrate it. The problem is that it’s getting personal.
I write crime fiction, and violence is a major plot driver. It’s hard to imagine a crime fiction story in which the protagonist does not face specific violence or the threat of it. My protagonists have had to learn to use knives, guns, and their fists to protect themselves. It doesn’t matter what their moral code is. It doesn’t matter whether they have an aversion to blood or guts or bruises. They either learn to use violence to their advantage or they don’t survive.
Some of that attitude has washed over me. A year ago I wrote a blog about shooting– I go to the target range occasionally – and I love it. I find it an incredibly empowering experience. I’m probably going to apply for a FOID card. I’ve also learned a little about knives and have found a knife – the Hideaway – that I’m considering buying.
Which raises an interesting issue: let’s assume that we can strip away all the moral strictures and guilt surrounding violence. All the “shouldn’ts” and “wouldn’ts.” Who among us wouldn’t want to blow someone away if they ticked you off badly enough? If you knew there would be no consequences, would you refrain from using violence against another person?
Or what about a situation in which someone’s coming at you with a weapon and you don’t know if they’re friend or foe? If you had only an instant to decide, would you
shoot first and ask questions later? I think I would.
My friend, Zoe Sharp, who’s been staying with me during her U.S. tour for Second Shot (a great book btw) says there’s a difference between graphic violence and gratuitous violence. I’m not so sure. Once you cross the line, once you accept violence as an acceptable method of conflict resolution, where do you stop?
I’m not sure where I am on that line. All I know is that I’m not disturbed by violence like I used to be.
And that disturbs me.
PS... On a lighter note, click here to see a music video for CHICAGO BLUES.