north americaeurope


in defence of violence
jason dagenhart
"Honestly, how many would-be brides do you know who've hiked up their skirts and hauled ass out of a wedding after seeing 'Runaway Bride?'

Lately there's been such a storm concerning violence in the media. We've heard the movie industry condemned, video/computer games blamed, and even seen fingers pointed at the music people listen to. Strangely enough, almost no one's mentioned books. It's obvious that books are as popular throughout the world as movies and games are, and violent is as prevalent in this medium as it is in any other, if not more so.

Almost every book in our genre, meaning fantasy, science fiction, and horror, is filled with images and acts of violence, some more explicit then others. For example, Guy Gavriel Kay's storied work, 'Tigana', gives us descriptions of monstrous skywheels, to which offenders are nailed, with their severed hands stuffed in their mouths. C.S. Friedman's acclaimed 'Coldfire' trilogy opens with one of our principle characters killing his children, and then vivisecting his wife. Terry Goodkind's best-selling 'Sword of Truth' saga is fraught with violence, from lengthy explorations into sadomasochism, to strange and vivid tales of bestiality. George R. R. Martin's saga 'a Song of Ice and Fire' has spawned only two novels thus far, yet it's contents are rife with rape, graphic violence, and physical child abuse. Images gleaned from these books are far more vivid and realistic then any images out of the Matrix, or any creations of Marilyn Manson's dubious intellect.

Why then, is violence in books seldom mentioned? It could be argued that because it's not visually represented, it's effect isn't as profound as that of movies, or television. Truthfully however, I've always been of the opinion that human imagination is capable of creating images far more effectively than one man's visual interpretation. Consider also, the lengths of books, and movies. No two-hour movie can contain as much violence as we find in even half of a modern novel. Also, the violence allowed on the big screen is often times mild as compared to it's printed counterparts. I've yet to see anything compare to the pictures conjured by the Lords of the Dreadfort flaying the skin of their still-living victims, and wearing them as cloaks, as mentioned in a Song of Ice and Fire.

We have to keep in mind that the only reason the finger is being pointed at the media is due to a case of unverified correlation. Something like this: Fact: Violence in society has increased in recent times. Fact: Violence in media has increased in recent times: Conclusion: Violence in society is a product of violence in media. And that's how they do it. However, if it works one way, why not the other? Why not the conclusion that violence in media is a product of violence in society. In fact, isn't it true that the number of trees in the world has decreased in recent times? Therefore, violence in society is caused by a decrease in the number of trees. Ridiculous. Numbers prove nothing. National governments simply need a scapegoat, and the media is an easy target. How many of these senators curl up at night with a Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz, or Stephen King novel?

I've often attended lectures, or enjoyed an episode of the Simpsons after reading a gruesome piece of fiction, and been none the worse for it. Why? Because it's just that. I think that any sane person can easily distinguish between fiction and reality. Once you close that book, shut that television off, or leave the movie theater, you're re-entering reality, leaving a world of fiction behind you. Honestly, how many would-be brides do you know who've hiked up their skirts and hauled ass out of a wedding after seeing 'Runaway Bride'? I think it's a safe bet that you probably don't know any. You'd think if movies were capable of driving people to violence, they'd be capable of driving people to anything. Which they're not.

Finally, it's not just Fantasy, or Science Fiction. Every piece of fiction contains violence, simply because it is an undeniable part of humanity. If we wish to accurately portray human society, we can no more leave violence out, as we can omit love, or hate. Violence is an element of human society. A gruesome element, yet an eternal one. Genghis Khan never watched Pulp Fiction, the inquisitions were never started from a catchy song, and I personally doubt Hitler watched Homicide: Life on the Street. Sure, violence is increasing. But looking for a correlation? Consider some more plausible ones. There are more humans alive at this instant than in the history of mankind. We live in concentrations never seen before, and the world as we knew it is slowly being changed from a living entity, into a mechanical one. Isn't all that enough to drive anyone crazy? I doubt a violent movie can really compare to the human condition at the birth of the twenty-first century.