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Violence

graybyrd

Violence: creeping, graphic, ubiquitous, and ... acceptable? In lieu of sex?

And therein lies a perplexing problem: sex vs. violence. (Please note that this comment is made in view of US social attitudes.) Sex is definitively proscribed for young audiences; there's not much argument there. Ref: the MPAA film ratings. What is far less defined is the level of violence acceptable in the US: video games, films, comics, etc. Mutilation, decapitation, evisceration -- all seem to be acceptable content as long as no "naughty bits" are exposed.

Sadly, we're even creeping into a previously unacceptable area where video clips of people being shot dead are prime-time news fodder; will this lead to a new reality entertainment genre?

(Wife & I made a special effort to attend a movie showing of The Big Short last week. Wife was horrified to see the incredibly violent content of the "Coming Attractions" previews, all rated for young audiences. We've not been to a theater for several years; it rather crept up on us.

So (yes, there's a point in here somewhere): One chapter I'm working on will (maybe) include a news clip from an Associated Press story describing in brief but starkly graphic detail an incident in which 129 children in South Sudan were killed in the most horrific manner possible over a period of three weeks.

The point of the inclusion at the beginning of the chapter is to establish plot justification for the remainder of the chapter.

It seems impossible to shock & awe modern audiences; we've become so inured to suffering and death that nothing seems too extreme.

And ... what level of violence is appropriate for teenage readers? Pre-teen readers? For Finestories as opposed to StoriesOnline?

So ... what say you?

Replies:   Chris Podhola  ustourist
Chris Podhola

@graybyrd

Personally, it is my belief that this is not as new a phenomenon as many people try to make it out to be. In general, people like to look at their current society and think, 'if things were only like they were back in the old days'. Well ... no. Not really.

You needn't look much farther back then the original children's fairytales as written by the Brother's Grimm. In the original stories, Rapunzel was impregnated by her prince, the evil queen in Snow White was her mother and she plotted to kill her own child, children played at slaughtering (children butchered a pig, pretending to be a butcher and in the end, one child slits the throat of his little brother). I could go on, but the point is that the Brother's grim versions of modern day stories were very gruesome. The thought being that children should be shown how gruesome the world can be while they are in the safety of their home, so they are prepared to face the real world when they enter it.

So, my answer is as long as you are telling the truth, it is (or should be) appropriate for teenagers. Look at Hunger games. This story is aimed at teenagers and is about teenagers brutally and graphically murdering other teenagers.

Replies:   tppm
Crumbly Writer

Graybyrd, the issue isn't so much how much violence is acceptable, but who are you marketing the story for. As I'm sure you're aware, kids love gore. They adore being terrified. And it's not just little boys playing at being men by lighting their GI Joes on fire to simulate a napalm attack (something I did as a child), it's young girls going to horror films, and the guys who took them, hoping for a terrified cuddle (which feeds into the whole 'terror is sexual' credo which feeds the whole "50 Shades of Gray" aspect of BDSM (i.e. being terrified about what might happen when you place yourself into someone else's hands)).

You've got to ask yourself, are you marketing kids or young adults (who have grown up on video games where you win points for killing prostitutes on the streets of L.A.) or their parents, who want to convey a world innocent of any evil or bad thing, pretending they (and any injustices the parents are guilty of) simply don't exist.

That's why books get criticized for sexual content. Sex threatens parents much more than violence does, while even the very young children gravitate to realistic depictions of violence (anyone want to guess how many preteens regularly watch such violent TV shows as "Game of Thrones" or "The Walking Dead" (which started out as a comic book, freely available to any kid walking into a comic store).

Unless you're selling children's book ("Why the FUCK won't you go to sleep?"), I suspect you'll want to cater to what the kids don't want their parents to see them reading.

ustourist

@graybyrd

Except in rare cases - and I can't think of any - I don't see how a graphic description of violence in either written or visual format helps a story.
It may appeal to those who want 'lifelike' descriptions, but I wouldn't be surprised if their definition of 'lifelike' was created from watching videos, not reality.
To anyone who has experienced life or seen violence it is probably more of a turnoff than anything else, and newsreel or press photos rarely catch the real horror. (One notable exception is the Vietnamese girl who was caught with napalm).
The Hollywood obsession with gore and violence is probably to blame for a lot of the acceptance, but I don't blame the Tom & Jerry or Roadrunner type cartoons because they were bloodless humor, not maiming to shock an audience.
You mentioned video games, films, comics etc., but notably didn't include books. Could this be because generally the descriptions need to be visual rather than written to titillate the audience seeking it? Or possibly that those seeking it don't have a high enough level of literacy to read books?
I can see your point about including an AP news clip to justify a plot, but that may be an exception to the norm. Hopefully graphic descriptions solely designed to shock and with no redeeming value won't ever cross over to the non pictorial format.

Chris Podhola

@ustourist

Except in rare cases - and I can't think of any - I don't see how a graphic description of violence in either written or visual format helps a story.


LMAO!

This is like saying that graphic depictions of sex don't enhance erotica.

Too funny. I hope you meant this as a joke.

Replies:   ustourist
ustourist

@Chris Podhola

Graphic descriptions of sex rarely enhance erotica, they change it to porn.

Replies:   Chris Podhola  tppm
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@ustourist


Could this be because generally the descriptions need to be visual rather than written to titillate the audience seeking it?


In a recent story (the one I'm currently posting) ...

*** Spoiler ***

I've got one chapter where I describe a terrible weapon, which instantly kills millions in an instant.

In order to describe the horror that the rest of the world felt, I had to describe the devastation. However, because I focused on the after affects (the destruction and the number of dead), rather than describing the suffering, I can include the deaths of millions without being overly violent.

*** End of Spoiler ***

How can one objectively do this, and how can someone project this kind of thing onto the world?

Easy, in brings up bigger topics about life, and what the real world ramifications of certain actions are. Sometimes, not acting to a given situation has more dire results than standing up and facing a violent confrontation.

Violence in stories is rarely about the violence itself, it's about the effects of violence on society itself. And kids are drawn (and always have been) to violence, because they're trying to make sense of the violent world around them. Little boys play with guns because they're trying to determine how they'll cope in a violent world, when faced with unwinnable situations (how many times how you seen young boys dying theatrically, making for a "good death"?). Little girls instead focus on being terrified, so they'll (hopefully) be better prepared when they're assaulted by loved ones, betrayed by friends, or abandoned by family.

It's a hard world, and everyone knows it--except the parents who want to hide every evil from their kids--leaving them unprepared for a life where millions of innocent people are killed in wars and unfair oppression every day.

Replies:   ustourist  tppm
ustourist

@Crumbly Writer

Violence in stories is rarely about the violence itself, it's about the effects of violence on society itself.

I would tend to agree, and therefore while the effects may be graphically described, it is different to describing the physical act of mutilation and dismemberment which appears to the intent of the pictorial media.
I have never had a problem with the description of the effects, because - as you point out - it is a hard world. I got the impression graybyrd was referring to descriptive acts of violence itself, not consequences.

Chris Podhola
Updated:

@ustourist

What the hell are you talking about? I have yet to read anything labeled as erotica that doesn't contain graphic descriptions of sex. This includes the best selling erotica series of all time, Fifty Shades of Grey (which I'm not saying I liked, but it wasn't because of the sex).

To remove graphic depictions of sex takes a story out of the erotica category altogether.

I mean, seriously? Go to Amazon and show me where the porn section is. There isn't one.

Ernest Bywater

@ustourist

Except in rare cases - and I can't think of any - I don't see how a graphic description of violence in either written or visual format helps a story.


And thus we come to a core part of the problem. Some people have an issue with little Johnny reading - Fred fired the shotgun when Pete was almost on him. Pete was thrown back, and when Fred examined him there was a hole in his back bigger than Fred fist. - while some won't have an issue with that they'll get upset about something like - Harry walked into the room, and immediately realised the crazed killer can't have left to long ago because the splashed blood was still sliding down the walls and dripping from the ceiling. This is because no one can agree on what is the appropriate gore level for what ages.

What's even stranger is those who allow their Little Johnny to read stories of blood and gore but scream like hell is the story mentions a bare breast.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

What's even stranger is those who allow their Little Johnny to read stories of blood and gore but scream like hell is the story mentions a bare breast.

That's because (in my opinion) because little boys have always been fascinated with violence (it doesn't change over time), but parents (and mothers in particular) have an overwhelming desire to prevent their little babies from growing up and distancing themselves from their parents.

In the first case, nothing has essentially changed, other than the degree, while in the second, it's a matter between keeping your baby innocent, or watching them begin their own lives while they're still young.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


That's because (in my opinion) because little boys have always been fascinated with violence (it doesn't change over time), but parents (and mothers in particular) have an overwhelming desire to prevent their little babies from growing up and distancing themselves from their parents.


The funny thing is (and this includes both gore and sex), that parents wrongly believe protecting their children from these things is beneficial.

Sex for example. When I grew up, my parents taught me to respect, honor and cherish women. I was taught that a man should essentially put women on a pedestal, opening doors for them, buying them flowers, being a gentleman in all regards. They told me that a woman could never respect a man who took her virginity before marriage and I was given the impression that all women wanted to wait until they met Mr. Right before they had sex. That they wanted to be carried across the threshold and carried to a bed of roses on their wedding day.

This teaching was furthered by the romantic portrayals I saw on television growing up. What my parents told me was supported by these romantic stories.

Unfortunately, applying this to my love life growing up resulted in absolute failure after absolute failure in dating. I wasn't a bad looking kid growing up and I could get dates easily. I'd ask a girl out and as long as she was single, she virtually always said yeah. I would go into the date trying to be Mr. Romantic, following all of the rules I was taught and fell on my face every time.

As it turned out, these girls just wanted to have fun. It didn't matter if I asked out a religious girl, a girl from where I worked, or a girl I met through a friend or at a party. They all wanted the same thing. They wanted me to show them a good time. They wanted me to act with confidence, have a sense of humor, not be too serious or try too hard. It took me a long time to figure this out, but once I did, I started having more success. I quite often got laid on the first date and I didn't have to stare into their eyes and recite poetry to them. lol... Nope, reality and fantasy are two very different things and parents who try to pass of fantasy to their children as reality are not doing them any favors. I had to ignore what my parents taught me to find success, not listen to them.

I'm not suggesting (by the way) that a man should be an asshole to women. All I'm saying is that a man shouldn't put her higher than he puts himself. Seeing her as an equal is what they want. They don't want to be higher, or lower (Some may want a man that they can look up to, slightly). It was when I started keeping women in 'friend' status at first, that I started having more success. I quit worrying about trying to make them my girlfriend right away and just started going on dates with the attitude of, 'let's just have some fun tonight', that I started having more success, but I also specifically had to discount what my parents said, because it just wasn't the truth.

graybyrd
Updated:

First, a comment about social hypocrisy. I remember the newsreel footage following World War II, with graphic scenes from Okinawa where Japanese troops were shown being burned alive by US troops carrying flame throwers. That was followed by horrific photos of blast victims from the A-bombs. That was bad enough, but then we had the Vietnamese colonel shooting the spy in the head (remember that?) and of course, the screaming girl from the napalm attack. There has been an endless succession of horrors since.

But all through this, we in the US have never been shown the actual carnage of the battlefield, suffered by both sides, American soldiers and the enemy. The actual, horrible carnage of facial obliteration, dismemberment, mutilation, the body parts and heads and entrails laying about the field. We live in a sanitized and carefully controlled setting where government rules and social tastes prefer not to disturb the public acceptance of the glory and heroism of Johnny Gone to War.

All of the made-up violence, the Hollywood special effects, the "harmless" violence of the Roadrunner and Coyote, the Grimm's tales, the video games of carjacking and combat role-playing... most are simply tasteless and mind-numbing but are not generally life-altering.

Written descriptions can be powerful, depending on many factors involving audience sensitivity and writing skills. Before the mind-numbing effects of video overload, written scenes could have a powerful impact. Some were memorably adapted for screen scenes. For years, I had shuddering nightmares from a killing scene in "Shenandoah."

To my dismay I happened upon a small photograph taken somewhere in the Caucasus region of an eight-year-old girl, laying sprawled on her back on the ground, blown open with her intestines draped around her.

I wish I had never seen that.

I wish the world could stop for a moment and grieve for that little girl, her dead parents, her bombed village.

That is violence, senseless carnage, a life-altering impression. And all the phony, toxic, mind-numbing games, the entertainments, government propaganda sanitizing, and skin-chilling thrill-horror scenes actually do an incredible disservice to us as writers, readers, and humans.

It desensitizes us to the inhumanity of the real thing.

That is why I thought to begin a sad chapter with an actual news report of the real thing. To place the children who are running for their lives in that story, in their true setting, in a story of that very war.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola

@graybyrd

With all due respect. The games, stories and etc. do not do disservice to anything. As a war veteran, I have seen the types of things you refer to first hand. These are images which are forever burned in my mind. These things give me perspective on what can happen during war, but does not prevent me from liking a horror movie, a violent video game or wherever else a graphically violent scene can come. As humans, we have the propensity for violence and it is only natural for this to be reflected in our entertainment, whether that is a movie, a game or a book. Enjoying these forms of entertainment does not necessarily destroy a person's ability to feel empathy or compassion.

Daydreamz

For violence I always think of that sweet family film Uncle Buck. Uncle Buck the hapless but well-meaning role model, kinda, who threatens a much smaller youth with an AXE and locks him in his car trunk. Way to protect his niece.

Not sure about the evidence for the effect on kids, but I do feel it's wrong to present violence as the solution always. Same with that woman who learns martial arts to turn the tables on the abusive man, really.

Most of the time there are social solutions, but they're much harder to write.

Daydreamz

For violence I always think of that sweet family film Uncle Buck. Uncle Buck the hapless but well-meaning role model, kinda, who threatens a much smaller youth with an AXE and locks him in his car trunk. Way to protect his niece.

Not sure about the evidence for the effect on kids, but I do feel it's wrong to present violence as the solution always. Same with that woman who learns martial arts to turn the tables on the abusive man, really.

Most of the time there are social solutions, but they're much harder to write.

tppm

@Chris Podhola

Look at Hunger games. This story is aimed at teenagers and is about teenagers brutally and graphically murdering other teenagers.


I haven't read it yet, or seen the movie, but my impression has been that the games are of children, not teenagers, killing each other, on a "Last Man Standing" basis, the sole survivor wins the prize. And that Katenes volunteered to participate in order to save her little (preteen) sister, who had actually been chosen to represent their district. And that the judges debated accepting her as she was at or near the upper age limit for participation.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola

@tppm

To correct your wrong impressions, the kids are aged 12 through 17. Katniss's younger sister, Primrose was 12 when her name was pulled, but there was no debate as to whether to accept Katniss as a volunteer. I highly recommend the series. It is a good read and a compelling story. The prose is a little bit simplistic as Susan Collins wrote it with the idea that Katniss Everdeen, an uneducated woman, wrote it herself from her own perspective.

tppm

@ustourist

Graphic descriptions of sex rarely enhance erotica, they change it to porn.


A distinction without a difference.

richardshagrin

Lets ban Orchestras. They contain sax and violins.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
tppm
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


*** Spoiler ***

I've got one chapter where I describe a terrible weapon, which instantly kills millions in an instant.

In order to describe the horror that the rest of the world felt, I had to describe the devastation. However, because I focused on the after affects (the destruction and the number of dead), rather than describing the suffering, I can include the deaths of millions without being overly violent.

*** End of Spoiler ***


"If only one man dies ..., that is a tragedy. If millions die, that's only statistics."

--- Joseph Stalin

Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

Lets ban Orchestras. They contain sax and violins.

I take a different approach to my 'action' sequences. Instead of showing the violence in a clear series of actions, I try to depict the confusion and portray the scene as chaotic and disorganized. Often, those attacked have no clue as to what is going on, or why they're being attacked. Even if one side is the victor, they rarely escape unscathed, and are usually left scratching their heads and they try to pull themselves together, prepared for something else to occur.

In short, rather than feature the violence, I show the random, unprovoked nature of violence. Generally, it's only a couple chapters later they begin to figure out what the hell happened. That's a very different perspective than that portrayed in video games of films, where one side sets out to attack the other, and everything seems very orchestrated.

By the way, despite how violent it is, I LOVED "The Revenant", mostly because the violence, while graphic, conveys this sense of chaos and portrays everyone in the movie as grasping for life with both hands, never knowing when death will come calling.

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