Tag Archives: violence culture

Necessary Violence?

I’m finally reading The Hunger Games. Only five years and one movie late. No spoilers, please. Oh, and I’m tweeting my favorite lines as I discover them, probably to the chagrin of the handful of people who follow me on Twitter.

mockingjay pin

mockingjay pin

I’ve read through Part I: The Tributes. It was tragic, but not really violent. The violence is yet to come. Ever since I wrote Jeremy Spoke last month, I’ve been thinking and rethinking how violence in our culture influences our behavior. While I don’t retract, “Garbage in, garbage out,” I’m struggling with this in light of our stories.

There is no great, compelling story without conflict and crisis. That conflict is most dramatically manifested in violence. 

Lord of the Flies is violent. So is The Lord of the Rings. The Chronicles of Narnia. Les Misérables. Star Wars. The Godfather. The Matrix. Gone With the Wind. The Gospels. And so on.

Is some violence necessary in our stories? What makes it gratuitous? Should we shield our children? What flips the switch to unleash violent behavior in some people, but not others?

A few years ago I took a film analysis class at church. Yes, church. There’s no better place to consider human culture than within the context of God’s redemptive work for us through the death and resurrection of Christ.

We critiqued the messaging of movies. We examined what a film’s story and cinematography say about God, humans, our society, our destiny. We wrestled with themes Christians might shy away from: violence, nudity, profanity. We found our thresholds to be individual and subjective.

I think the point of a class like that, and a post like this, isn’t necessarily answers. Rather it’s to get us to pay attention.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

We all break God’s law. There is none righteous. No, not one. Left to its natural course, our law-breaking gets worse, not better. We’re capable of horrific behavior. God abhors those who love violence. The One Hope for our depravity is a core change from death to life.

Maybe the message of Heathers was satirical and Pearl Jam’s Jeremy was a warning. Maybe the conflict, crisis, and violence of our stories, fiction and nonfiction, serve to spur us on to the Redeemer.

Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure—
You, the righteous God
Who probes minds and hearts. Psalm 7:9 NIV

The Hunger Games movie site where you can watch the official trailer.

Is some violence necessary in our stories? Where’s your threshold for viewing or reading it? How does violence in our culture influence behavior?

photo credit: damnyeahnich via photopin cc
photo credit: cinderellasg via photopin cc

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Filed under America, faith

Jeremy Spoke

Do you remember Jeremy? Released in 1992, the music video for Pearl Jam’s first commercially successful single ended with a classroom of school children covered in blood.

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam

The song and video were purportedly based on the suicide of Jeremy Delle, a sophomore who killed himself in front of his classmates and teacher in 1991 at Richardson High School in Texas. I never got that, even 20 years ago when I was watching it as the new “it” video in heavy rotation on MTV.

The unedited video shows Jeremy putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger to suicide, but MTV restrictions didn’t allow that imagery to be aired because it was too violent. What they did allow was an ambiguous ending viewers like me misinterpreted as a mass shooting: a closeup of Jeremy juxtaposed with his blood-covered classmates frozen in horror.

This was before Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. 

Jeremy came to mind as I researched statistics about American violence for my post this week for Finding (Un)Common Ground. Our nation is scrambling in the wake of Sandy Hook. One side wants armed guards in schools. The other side wants to restrict the Second Amendment. I argue neither strategy is satisfactory.

Gun violence in America is a symptom of a larger, more ominous problem. We’ve cultivated an environment laced with violence, one in which human life is cheap and expendable.

Winona Ryder, Christian Slater in Heathers

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in Heathers

A friend recently remarked he doubted the student-murdering, suicide-laden, bomb-planting movie Heathers could even be made now. I wonder what kind of criticism a video like Jeremy would draw if it were made today. But Eddie Vedder and Winona Ryder aren’t solely to blame for our culture of violence. Their “art” would probably be considered tame these days. It merely foreshadowed the waves of death we’ve witnessed. What astounds me is our obstinate refusal to connect what we allow to entertain us with the horrific violence in our country. Garbage in, garbage out.

Of course it goes much deeper than that. Violence is the symptom; our disease is the other “s” word, the three-letter one. Sin left unchecked leads to violence. That’s its trajectory. And sin is our nature. The violent culture we live and breathe flows from our human condition. Censorship, armed guards, and national gun databases won’t curb that.

Nothing less than a change of our very hearts is required.

So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Romans 6:11 NLT

Jeremy spoke in class today. The unplugged version.

Read more in my Finding (Un)Common Ground post 
Armed Guards, Gun Control Fall Short in ‘Violence Culture.’

UPDATE 2.19.13: For more thinking and rethinking this topic, please see Necessary Violence?

photo credit: Pearl Jam Official via photopin cc
photo credit: Patrick McEvoy-Halston via photopin cc

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Filed under America, life