There’s been a lot of foolishness talked about violence lately; I would like to sort it out. In my view, most human beings (especially males, but not always) are born with violent tendencies. Most are able to express these violent tendencies in socially acceptable ways – i.e. through sporting events, war, minor scuffles etc. There are, however, instances in which people commit acts of extreme and random violence – murder, or mass murder, for no apparent reason. At least there seems to be no reason, until the pundits come along and link the violence to some social ill.
A perfect example is the alleged rape of a girl in Steubenville Ohio in 2012. It recently received extensive media attention because the boys accused of victimizing her apparently joked about the rape in a video that has gone viral. The discussion after the incident was much like the one that followed the 2011 Tucson shooting (involving Congresswoman Gabby Gifford and 18 others). In both of these cases -- as in the case of the Montreal massacre -- extreme, senseless violence was related to social ills. In the case of the alleged Steubenville rape (and the Montreal massacre) a connection was made to societal misogyny -- and in the case of the Tucson shootings, a link was made to right-wing extremism. To some degree, these links are alluring simply because we crave an explanation.
Unfortunately, most random acts of violence simply have no reason; a sociopathic or psychotic personality has committed them. But the ‘expert’ explanations for such incidents are deeply compelling because they drive us to ponder the nature of modern society. As the boys and men from Steubenville continue to disavow responsibility for abuse, piously mouthing phrases like ‘That’s disgusting,’ and ‘I would never do that to a woman’ the paradoxical power of the boys’ words on the viral video rings all too true. One of the boys says, in effect -- ‘if it was my sister I would still think it was okay if she was raped.’ In other words, though men in our culture may pretend to respect women, misogyny is here to stay. Hatred of women and right wing extremism are both rampant in North America. However, they are not the cause of violent acts. But when extreme violence occurs we feel guilty about repellant cultural attitudes that may never change.
Since the tragic murders of the children in Newtown, there have been calls to regulate the sale of automatic assault weapons (which I support) and to censor violence in Hollywood movies (which I would not). Many have pointed out that only a month after Newtown, the biggest grossing movie of post-holiday weekend was Texas Chainsaw 3D.
What’s the big surprise? The hypocrisy of our modern, decadent culture is quite literally beyond belief. Texas Chain Saw 3D is endlessly seductive, featuring big boobs (both male and female) and a campy, immoral tone that implies its violence need not be taken seriously. But most important -- and most attractively for young people terrified of being ‘different’ or having an outrageous thought -- this movie says nothing, means nothing, and does not threaten the vacuous ‘twitterverse’ they live in. The movie is bereft of ideas. We are raising our children in a world where capitalism has taught us only these values: survival (in a recession) or luxury (in a boom). Instead of wondering ‘Why am I here?” “What is right and what is wrong?” “What is real and what is an illusion?” or even “What is love?” young people are trained to unquestioningly consume the banal content that comes to them from itunes, google and eBay. They are told they will find salvation in consumerism, marriage, and God.
As we continue to mouth impotent platitudes our culture ceases to be about anything, and (as Adorno predicted) the Hollywood films we watch are basically the movies that movie executives want us to see. Decadence is not the decline of religion, or morality, or chastity, it is about a culture that no longer thinks, questions, explores, or creates.
Modern decadence does not cause random violence. But the ‘social ills’ so many people find shocking these days -- well I find them to be – if you closely examine our values -- not much of a surprise.