A man enters a room with a machete. Two mobsters turn and begin to raise their guns. Before they can aim and pull the trigger, they’re both split in half at the waist in one mighty swipe, their top-halves sliding away from their legs as intestines pour out.
But what’s this? One henchman manages to survive! And it’s just long enough for the man with the machete to stand over him, say something badass that ties back to the plot’s inciting incident (“How’s that for a fifty-fifty split?”), and then drive the sharp, metal, blood-dripping edge straight into the center of his face.
There are two ways people seem to respond to that: either with utter disgust or restrained glee. I fall into the latter category. If you fall into the former, that’s totally fine, but when you accuse others of being sick, sadistic or wrong for enjoying a good old-fashioned bloodbath, you fundamentally misunderstand the role of gore and greatly exaggerate its relation to any kind of psychological problem. Far and away, the greatest argument used against gore and gore-lovers is that depictions of gruesomeness will ignite in viewers some kind of hidden, dormant violence that was just waiting for the right spark.
Specifically, some people believe that watching and enjoying violent movies or playing certain video games can make people violent, especially children. I can concede that developing minds might not benefit from gore. I should never have seen Deliverance (and, subsequently, Ned Beatty being raped at gunpoint), when I was eight. But my mom sat me down, turned the movie on, and said, “You gotta watch this shit.”
I’m kidding. It came on TV. She never would have allowed it, and, retrospectively, I should have run it by her first. I’ve seen the movie since, but any time it’s brought up, my mind flashes to my head almost exploding as a child as I watched something that took me a long time to comprehend. You should obviously have a say as to what your child does or doesn’t see when it comes to pure entertainment, but there is literally zero evidence to suggest that viewing these materials early on will whet children’s appetites to commit actual violence against the neighborhood squirrels and cats. If that were the case, you would know.
You know how you can stick your hand out the window to see if it’s raining? You can also stick your hand out the window to see if violent video games and movies turn children into violent adults. Was your hand chopped off? Then it’s not true. Too many people grew up playing and watching them for that to be true.
It’s reasonable to assume that those with a propensity for violence are also likely to play violent video games and watch grisly movies. But that’s a small fraction of the fanbase. Picture me (mid-twenties, chubby, untrimmed beard, mouth slightly open, eyes red) and some random person playing the same violent video game and living in the same crummy apartment building. I pause the game to start drinking alone. He turns off the game to pour gasoline on the floor and throw a match behind him as he leaves everyone in the building to burn to death. You could not then say it’s the video game’s fault. Clearly one has a problem. (And the other burned down a building—zing!)
Not only have I never burned down an apartment complex, I’ve never shown any sign of deviant or violent behavior. I’ve never been in a fist fight. I’ve never fired a gun or had any desire to. But I have witnessed real violence firsthand on more than one occasion – its stomach-turning effects still linger in my psyche; the recall still keeps me up some nights. And that violence absolutely pales in comparison to what many, many others here and around the world are subjected to. No violent movie has made me feel the way real violence made me feel. Ask any combat veteran if there’s a movie or video game that accurately represents what it feels like to be there. They would have every right to be offended by the question.
You know when you can be disgusted by my love for gore while we’re watching a movie? If it’s a documentary. If I’m watching footage from Vice News of carnage and I’m delighted by it, please, I’m actually asking, forcibly place me in a mental health facility. But if we’re watching, like, one of the fucking Hostel movies, what do you want from me? Besides, the dude who shot John Lennon was obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye. Here’s a wild speculation I’m pretty confident about: the more violent you are, the less likely it is that you’ve read that literary classic.
I mean, what’s next? Banning books? That would be ridi— Oh, wait. They do that too. We’ve been more than subjected to the moral whims of people who interpret the value or non-value of a project by filtering it through a highly subjective worldview. Enough is enough.
Some of the most important films ever made are designed to make you uncomfortable. Schindler’s List (1993) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), for example, are both violent and difficult to watch. But it would be tough to argue the fact that those movies inspired peace, love, and understanding rather than violence. In both cases, violence was portrayed to demonstrate the absurdity of historical events in a world where history too commonly repeats itself. So, when it comes to violence in movies, where is the line? When does important violence become obscene gore? Better yet, why is the very violent Passion of the Christ (2004) is okay while Juno (2007) gets protested?
The point is, if you prefer Martyrs over The King’s Speech, you’re not a freak, you just have good taste. Same goes for preferring Fallout over Animal Crossing. And it shouldn’t be up to fans of those types of games and movies to prove that it doesn’t make us violent. We prove it every day by being nonviolent. It’s up to you as the accuser to prove it. So far, the evidence is weak sauce drizzled over baseless, bullshit-berry pancakes.
If you do read a book, listen to a band, watch a movie or TV show, or play a video game that depicts violence, and then go out and kill people, you’re just a violent individual disturbed by something much more affecting that fictional gore. Violence in America is a very serious mental health issue that isn’t solved or even slightly curbed by censorship. It’s cured by medical attention, diligent grassroots programs, awareness, and empathy. But for those who show no psychopathy, we could probably give them the benefit of the doubt. On multiple occasions, I’ve been asked, “How could you like that?” after calling a scene like the one described in the beginning “awesome,” or outright laughed at the crimson showers. I like it because it’s fun. I watch violent, gory movies to unlock the most harmless version of the savage instinct we all have because we used to need it when we had to keep our eye out for sabertooth tigers and weren’t at the top of the food chain.
If you’re doing something that isn’t even hurting yourself much less other people, it can’t be harmful. Mutual enjoyment is utopian. Period. If you’re doing something that is inarguably not hurting anyone, don’t let anyone tell you it’s “wrong.” It can’t be.
Now, who wants a hug?