bell hooks and Beyonce-gate

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In May 9th, 2014, bell hooks reached headlines for calling Beyoncé an anti-feminist and a terrorist. More to the point, she called Beyoncé’s way of sexualizing her body in the media for financial gain as anti-feminist and terrorist. hooks went on to criticize the wealth-oriented media that glorifies money, success and beauty. While the criticism is justified, younger feminists posted heated blogs criticizing the choice of words and target of hook’s criticism. (like here: http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2014/05/20/on-bell-beyonce-and-bullshit/ ).

I feel like the discussion gained so much attention because of three different things: 1. Choice of criticism target (Beyoncé), 2. A mixture of discussions around sex, sexuality, body image, race, visibility, and marketing; and finally 3. the T-word. First, Beyoncé. It is strange in a way why Beyoncé was the one criticized; I would think that there are other mainstream black singers that are much more “out there” with their visual eroticism and song choices. (For example, Rihanna.) Singers, who have not been so vocal about their feminist beliefs and who have not given finances for feminist issues. Singers, who do exploit their bodies for financial gains more than trying to empower their fans, who starve themselves and cut up their bodies to become more of an construct that Beyoncé ever was or is. Singers, who indeed are controlled by their white male producers. So, as a choice for target, Beyoncé was perhaps not the best one. While hooks was right to be concerned about the visual pressures that sexualised images of any female singer’s body ensue, there is a line in the sand of where it comes from. It is also true that Beyoncé’s songs discuss things like domestic abuse, sexualisation etc. but I cannot see this as a bad thing. It is popular music’s job to discuss through music what seems to be lacking in non-musical discussions.

Secondly, I agree with most of the critics that hooks represents a branch of historical feminism that disagrees with current discussions of sexual empowerment which makes female sexuality visible and acceptable, the best example of this being the (in)famous Slut walks. Where current feminists more or less agree that women decide what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to showing their bodies or not, hooks represents an older (not to say prudish, but older) generation of feminists who are more concerned with the questions of power and representation, mainly, who decides how women are represented, and is it for feminist empowerment or financial gain to male producers. Further worry is presented when the female body in question is black, due to loaded history of representing black women as “Mammies” from Gone with the wind, or sexual simpletons. Their worry is that mis-representing the female (black) body has finally done its brainwashing, with the result of more and more women representing themselves as sexual objects rather than smart, empowered women. The jury, needless to say, is still out on this debate; both sides have good arguments going for themselves.

Thirdly, the T-word. To call someone a “terrorist” even when September 11th is more than ten years behind us is, in my opinion, simply disrespectful and sensational, when it is used to describe someone NOT running around with machetes and killing African babies, recruiting eleven-year-olds into military, or blasting up cars in suicide attacks down in mid-town Bagdad. As much as I admire hooks as an academic and as a person, this particular word was, in my opinion, a faux pas. But, in fairness, it is good that the current pop music culture is discussed in feminist context. Just that this case seemed to miss the point slightly.

/AEP

The pressures of being a researcher

What is rarely brought to the fore when talking about research is the high amount of creativity that it requires. Huffington Post recently posted an excellent article about how highly creative people differ from others. Without considering myself as more than maybe slightly more creative than average (that equalling, if you read HuffPost, slightly more “crazy”), I must say I could tick almost every box, so to speak, in the aforementioned article.

However, the downside to being a creative and smart person seems to be the lurking feeling of not being good or creative enough, not writing out your ideas clearly enough or managing to argue your ideas convincingly. As my colleagues testify, we all experience a certain sensation many times a day, that is: my writing sucks, my argumentation sucks, I have no idea what I’m doing, why would anyone care about what I’m researching, what’s the point and yes, I will fail, so this has all been a huge waste of time. Oh, and other researchers are so much more intelligent and capable than I am. And then there’s that nagging feeling of fear in the back of your head: when will I be outed as a fake researcher, i.e. when will the others realize that I actually know absolutely nothing?

In Finland, the feelings of insecurity are maximized by the lack of available research funding and the high competition for obtaining it, at least in the field of humanities. If you didn’t get any money, well, then your research is worthless – or that’s how it feels anyway. So once you do get funded, you are constantly trying to prove you were worth investing in.

Researchers concentrate very much on themselves (as this post testifies) because writing is lonely work – you have to talk to yourself and focus on validating your arguments by using your own brain. No one is going to come and write your thesis or paper for you. Of course one can say that you should not take your research that seriously or should not consider the eventual critique as personal (how many times have we heard “it’s about your text, not about you” – and yet fail to internalize it?).

The threat of narcissism seems evident, but failure due to lack of self-confidence more likely. Number one qualification for becoming a researcher? Suck it up, and throw yourself out there. If you hit the bottom, then congratulations, you’ve failed which gives you yet another learning experience. If you are not prepared to deal with insecurity, new situations and at times lonely work, then this research business is perhaps not for you. And unfortunately sometimes the pressure can be too much, even for those who generally handle things well. That is why I hope that more researchers would actually share their insecurities and failures with others so we could understand how normal all of that is, and just maybe, maybe that way we would be less scared  of failure. For starters, I thoroughly recommend visiting the PhD Stress blog.

/IR

Multisensory cinema

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A multisensory view on cinema refutes the idea of experiencing films in only mono-sensory way, mainly, through vision only. Researchers in the audiovisual film study discipline agree with this willingly, as their premise takes into account sound as well as vision. Multisensory research, on the other hand, adds sense of touch to vision. While of course touching a film is impossible (we can touch the screen of our TVs or laptops, or the white screen of the cinema, without actually touching anything on the film itself), multisensory film research applies touch as a point of reference within the film or, indeed, as a form of haptic visuality (Marks). While we can research how touch, in all its possible ways, is conveyed within the storyline of the film, haptic visuality brings the experience home to the viewer of the film. It is still uncommon to find multisensory cinema research as applying to audiovisuality as well, however. Only a handful of (music) scholars have made the connection between hapticity and audiovisuality of films. Those include Michel Chion, John Richardson, Anahid Kassabian, and Amy Herzog, to mention a few. Following in their footsteps, my goal is to bridge the gap especially between touch and hearing, if possible, and thus convey a truly multisensoral view on films.

Multisensory analysis of cinema has been discussed since very early writings of film theory. According to Vivian Sobchack (2000), the earlier philosophical and quantitative research on film reception was quite frequent, from analysing Sergei Eisenstein’s films to measuring bodily responses while watching a film. Contemporary film theory, on the other hand, seems to be less oriented to multisensory experiences. According to Sobchack (2000), bodily responses seem to be too crude or banal to be worthy of further notice. There are, however, quite a few scholars that disagree with the crudeness of bodily feedback, and hold it to be an important field of study. They are most often influenced by phenomenology, and use it as a point of departure when approaching the multisensoral aspects of cinema.

Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener (2010, 4) have written their book Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses of different film theories focusing on the triangle between cinema, perception and human body, and how these three are negotiated in specific film study disciplines. They make a case in their introduction that the matters of the receiving body cannot be overseen. From the fact that a human body is usually doing the perception, and that it usually is situated within a certain physical space while observing, to the bodies that are displayed on film, and to the philosophical issues of perception and temporality related to the human body, corporeal realities cannot be left out of the cinematic experience.  Elsaesser and Hagener discuss the audiovisual sphere in a chapter, but leave the connections between the tactility of cinema and audiovisuality untouched. This is understandable, however, as within the space of one introductory book, the task perhaps fell outside of the interest of their book.

When multisensory cinema is in question, quite often there are two ways to approach it. One, a more neutral way, is to perceive and analyse how touch is involved within the story of a film. Is it unnoticeable or made neutral, does touching cause reactions in the actors, what sort of power balances are implied by touching, etc. Another, more phenomenological way, is to interpret the film in connection to the researcher’s own bodily responses. Vivian Sobchack (2000) writes eloquently about her tactile sense understanding the opening scene of Jane Campion’s The Piano before her vision or rational thinking identified the blurry, reddish figures as digits placed on one’s eyes. Linda Williams (1991, 7) considers the “bodily genres” of melodrama, horror and porn as the most affective ones, or excessive, when human responses are concerned. It can happen with crying while the characters onscreen cry, jumping from horror, or getting aroused by pornography. Williams’s three bodily genres of course rely on bodily identification in a wider range of responses, that is, not only through touch, but through affective reactions of the body as well.

Laura Marks (1998) has discussed hapticity in film in particular. She has noted that in the visual sphere, haptic perception of cinema is a combination of tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive functions. In short, haptic perception allows the audience to sense the image in an embodied way, as the image invokes sensory memories of touching and/or being touched. Tactility and hapticity are relatively new terms through which film and music are analysed. They are closely connected with phenomenology, as the experience thereof is always instant and affective, automatic through the senses. The tactile film experience “opens up the possibility of cinema as an intimate experience and of our relationship with cinema as a close connection, rather than as a distant experience of observation” (Barker 2009, 2). Such a view foregoes the claim that film is mainly enjoyed through visual perception, and theorizes how the image on screen can affect the whole body, be it to the skin or on deeper levels.

When the auditive side of films is concerned, nothing comes as close to multisensory (or touch – vision –related) cinema as Michel Chion’s concept of rendering. Sound effects, sometimes accentuated to the point of sounding inauthentic but naturalized in the audiovisual contract and synchronisation, bring about an effect what Michel Chion (1994, 109) calls “rendered sounds.” Rendering is the phenomenon of sound editing that emphasizes not only the “naturalness” of a sound effect, but also conveys through multisensory perception “the event’s impact and even its very appearance” (Chion 2009, 237). This effect is based on the fact that very few real life perceptions are purely visual or purely auditory, and film production is based on the reconstitution of this multisensory experience. The sound effect is not what it would be in real life, but rather renders what the sound feels like, creating thus an embodied feeling also in the viewer/listener of the film. Thus some sounds can make you shiver with cold (say, a wind blowing), while others render the feelings of pain or erotic touch.

Chion returns to his term also with a more recent article, “Sensory Aspects of Contemporary Cinema” (2013), where he builds a more sustainable bridge between audiovisuality and hapticity of cinema. Chion (2013, 325) argues that a better term for audiovisuality would be “audio-visiogenic”, which – inbuilt with rendering aspects of the film – suggests that cinema “consists of sensations created by combinations of sounds and images, greater than the sum of the parts”. Chion suggests that superimposed on each other, sound and vision reach beyond only hearing and seeing, and enable other sensory responses in the audience. This is of course not a special talent of cinema only, as Chion (ibid. 326–327) points out. It seems to be a common trait of any art that at some point it will try to “reproduce what is sensorily unavailable to it” (ibid. 326): say, a painting depicting a musical event, instrumental music telling a story, or a sculpture depicting motion. These Chion (2013, 330; 2009, 493) calls “trans-sensory perceptions: (…) perceptions that belong to no one particular sense but which may travel via one sensory channel or another without their content or their effect being limited to this one sense”. Trans-sensory perceptions are, for example, rhythm (involving hearing, touch, movement), texture (touch, temperature, balance) and grain. Chion (2013, 330) argues that trans-sensory perception should not be marginalised from scholarly writing of film studies. I read his suggestion as belonging to audiovisual research especially, as the multisensory readings of films need to include sonic aspects as well, before they can truly be called “multi”sensory.

Laura Marks (1998) has written about the hapticity and the erotic potential thereof with film visuals in the article “Video Haptics and Erotics,” where she theorizes how haptic perception can be an erotic experience when conveyed by the visual image of the film. Marks (ibid. 332) begins her theorisation by distinguishing “haptic perception” in three different functions: the tactile, the kinesthic, and the proprioceptive functions. “Haptic visuality” thereby operates with the eyes working similarly to the organs of touch. Seeing a tender touch on film creates not only a visual image in the spectator’s mind, but the kinaesthetic memory of touching and being touched as well. Marks (1998, 337) is wary of calling the haptic perception a feminine modality (which would be justified if theorizing it through Irigaray’s claims of tactility as representing a feminine form of experience; ibid; see also Irigaray 1985, 26), preferring to think of it as a feminist strategy of perception. It focuses on surfaces and texture more than depth or form (Marks 1998, 338). Thus it goes against the formalist masculine, “objective” perception: “Cinematic perception is not merely (audio)visual but synaesthetic, an act in which the senses and the intellect are not conceived of as separate” (ibid. 339). As far as erotics is concerned, Marks thinks that all haptic visuals are erotic despite their content because of the intersubjective relationship between the image and its beholder: “Haptic visuality implies making oneself vulnerable to the image, reversing the relation of mastery that characterizes optical viewing” (Marks 1998, 341). In a way, Marks’s depiction of haptic visuality reminds me of the Romantic conception of art perception, which consists of losing oneself to the beauty of the art and thereby sublimating it to a sphere of eroticism and/or divinity.

As all academic tools, multisensory cinema has also faced some criticism. As a highly phenomenological way of analysing, criticism of phenomenology also applies to multisensory cinema. Criticism usually focuses on phenomenology’s possible slip towards overly personal interpretation, or downright incoherent results that are born of a “narcissistic–autistic interest of knowledge” (Torvinen 2008, 11). Therefore it is important for phenomenological studies to be explicit and inductive by nature (ibid.), but also critical and self-reflexive at the same time. Regarding multisensory cinema itself, it has been criticized as ”…sometimes [being] in danger of celebrating a big-tent, inclusive feel-good-theory of sensory empowerment” (Elsaesser & Hagener 2010, 128). Thus multisensory cinema can be seen as a group of self-involved film critics who take films “at heart” but without ever really focusing on what exactly makes them affectively feel the experience. Perhaps here audiovisual research side can assist multisensory cinema to become more accurate, more event-based and more analytic than merely the vision-touch-related analysis tool does.

Recommended films: Gravity, The Piano, Secretary, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Perfume – The Story of a Murderer, Chocolat, The Labyrinth, Ratatouille, 127 Days

/AEP

Recommended literature:

ž  Barker, Jennifer M. 2009. The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.

ž  Chion, Michel 2013. Sensory Aspects of Contemporary Cinema. In Richardson, John; Claudia Gorbman & Carol Vernallis (eds), The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford UP. 325 – 330.

ž  ___ 2009 [2003]. Film, A Sound Art. Translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia UP.

ž  ___1999. The Voice in Cinema. Translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia UP.

ž  ___1994 [1990]. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia UP.

ž  Corbett, John & Terry Kapsalis 1996. Aural sex: The female orgasm in popular sound. The Drama Review, vol. 40 no 3: 102–111.

ž  Elsaesser, Thomas & Malte Hagener 2010. Film Theory: An Introduction through the senses. New York: Routledge.

ž  Härmä, Sanna & Leppänen, Taru 2006. Miltä porno kuulostaa? Sukupuoli, äänet ja musiikki valtavirran pornoelokuvissa. Lähikuva no. 3: 6–18.

ž  Kristeva, Julia 1980. Revolution in Poetic Language. New York: Columbia UP.

ž  Marks, Laura U. 2002. Touch – Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

ž  ___2000, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. London: Duke UP.

ž  ___1998. Video Haptics and Erotics. Screen, vol. 39, no. 4 (Winter): 331–348.

ž  Richardson, John 2012. An Eye for Music. Popular Music and the Audiovisual Surreal. New York: Oxford UP.

ž  Sobchack, Vivian 2000. What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision in the Flesh. Senses of Cinema, Issue 5. http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/5/fingers/

ž  Torvinen, Juha 2008. Fenomenologinen musiikintutkimus: Lähtökohtia kriittiseen keskusteluun. Musiikki no. 1: 1–17.

ž  ___2006. Musiikkianalyysi ontologiana II. Fenomenologisen musiikintutkimuksen metodologisista lähtökohdista. Musiikki no. 3: 70–92.

ž  Williams, Linda 1999 [1989]. Hard Core. Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.” Expanded Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

ž  ___ 1991. Film Bodies: Genre, Gender, and Excess. Film Music Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Summer): 2–13.

 

Räpin ihonväristä ja tutkijan vaikeuksista

Päädyin some-virtani kautta katsomaan Justin Timberlaken ja Jimmy Fallonin viisi “history of rap”- esitystä YouTubesta (ne löytyvät esimerkiksi täältä  ja täältä). Ne esitettiin Fallonin nykyään juontamassa The  Tonight Show-ohjelmassa, joka perustuu pitkälti sketsi-komediaan.

Pätkät ovat potpureja, joiden aikana räpin ystävä voi muistella ja tunnistaa menneitä ja tuoreita amerikkalaisten räppäreiden hittejä. Periaatteessa Timberlake ja Fallon tekevät shown hyvällä maulla  ilman ylenmääräisiä parodian elementtejä, ja ovat selvästi harjoitelleet esityksiä paljon: onkin täysin mahdollista ihailla molempien musikaalista lahjakkuutta ilman myötähäpeää. He eivät myöskään käyttäneet kertaakaan n-sanaa tai sen johdannaisia.

Kuitenkin viimeistään siinä vaiheessa kun he kerran jokaisen esityksen aikana juoksevat yleisön sekaan nostattamaan tunnelmaa, tulee  mieleen väkisinkin ihonväri. Kaksi valkoihoista esittää humoristisesti afroamerikkalaista musiikkikulttuuria valkoiselle yleisölle. Miksi koen epämääräisiä häpeän tunteita siitä, että pidän tätä mielestäni viihdyttävänä?  Saako tästä nauttia? Valkoisia on syytetty  afroamerikkalaisen kulttuurin hyödyntämisestä, köyhdyttämistä ja muusta omiin tarkoitusperiin käyttämisestä ilman, että alkuperäiset esittäjät ja kulttuurin rikastuttajat saavat kunniaa, pääosaa tai välttämättä mitään osaa. Tässä tapauksessa Timberlake ja Fallon eivät edes ole räppäreitä, vaan vain esiintyjiä sketsishowssa, eli periaatteessa tekevät pilaa räpistä. Cheryl Keyes (2002, 228) avaa räpin ja etnisen taustan/ihonvärin problematiikkaa kirjassaan Rap Music and Street Consciousness näin:

“Ethnicity should not matter when evaluating an an individual’s mastery of MCing or turntablism. Without a doubt, African Americans and their Latino counterparts ‘show much love’ to those who can flow and appear to be down with them and their causes. However, the appropriation of black cultural productions, primarily nonconformist musical statements like bebop, rhythm and blues, rock, and rap, by whites fosters a sense of suspicion and apprehension among its original creators regarding control and, more importantly, ownership.”

Periaatteessa siis valkoisten räppääminen saattaa olla joidenkin mielestä väärin, koska se voi häivyttää räpin juuret ja muokata musiikkia kenties “väärään” suuntaan. Mutta onko räpillä ihonväriä? Tätä mietin usein siksikin, että monet amerikkalaisten tutkijoiden amerikkalaisessa kontekstissa tekemät huomiot räpistä ja hip-hop-kulttuurista eivät yksinkertaisesti mielestäni aina toimi suomalaisessa ympäristössä ja räpissä. Mitä tulee ihonväriin, Suomessa ei mielestäni oikein edes ole  ihonväriin tai etnisyyteen liittyviä käsitteitä: puhutaan pikemminkin siitä, missä maassa tai paikkakunnalla ollaan synnytty ja onko äiti tai isä kenties kantasuomalainen tai muualta kotoisin tai mitä kieltä kotona puhutaan. Voidaan sanoa, että joku on vaikkapa kenialainen tai ruotsalainen – tai savolainen.

Kyseisissä history of rap -pätkissä nähdään myös vakiostudioyhtye The Roots, joka on ollut hyvin tunnettu ns. sosiaalisesti tiedostavasta räpistään ennen pestiään kyseisessä ohjelmassa. Yhtye koostuu kokonaan afroamerikkalaisista muusikoista ja räp-artisteista. Mitä he mahtavat ajatella siitä, että valkoiset tähdet ovat huomion keskipisteessä? Justin Timberlakea on kuitenkin pidetty ainakin joidenkin mielestä artistina, joka on “onnistuneesti” yhdistänyt afroamerikkalaisia musiikkiaineksia poppiin yrittämättä matkia afroamerikkalaisia (ks. professori Joycelyn A. Wilsonin kommentti aiheeseen liittyen).

En koe vielä ymmärtäväni syvällisesti  tätä monimutkaista räpin ja ihonvärin yhteyttä, osittain varmasti siksi, että suomalaisen räpin sosiaalinen ja poliittinen konteksti on täysin erilainen ja Suomessa räppärit ovat muutamia poikkeuksia lukuunottamatta valkoisia. Vaikka olen lukenut Yhdysvaltojen historiasta, rotuerottelusta, musiikkilajien luokittelusta esittäjän ihonvärin perusteella ja siitä miten räppiä ei alkujaan suostuttu soittamaan radiokanavilla, joita valkoihoiset kuuntelivat, en kuitenkaan ole itse elänyt tällaisessa yhteiskunnassa.  Liittyen siihen mitä yllä totesin, enhän osaa oikein edes käyttää termiä “valkoihoinen” kun melkein kaikki täällä Pohjolassa ovat kalpeanaamoja. Aihe vaatii lisää perehtymistä ja keskustelua ainakin omalta osaltani. Ja räpin tutkimus paljon muutakin kuin yhdysvaltalaisia näkemyksiä.

/IR

Violence in the media: thoughts

Reading: Torr, James D. (ed.) 2001. Current Controversies: Violence in the media. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.

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Thoughts: Media is certainly filled with violent images. From films to TV to music to video games and beyond, we are constantly bombarded with depictions of violence. Violence is by no means a current phenomenon in entertainment media. Romans and their arena sports, public executions throughout history, public shaming of society’s misfits… All play a crucial part in depicting violence for entertainment of the majority. What interests me in the question of violence is “why” rather than “won’t someone think of the children”, which seems to be the most quoted question when researching violence itself (at least in this particular book). It seems that while worrying about the children we are missing the biggest question in all this: why is it so important to depict violence? Why do some (male) film directors think it “cool” to depict explosions, severed limbs, rapes, beatings etc. during their films, even if they are not at the center of the film’s themes. It is a difficult question that cannot be answered in any simple way.

A discussion of the impacts of this media violence bombardment has been going for years. Arnold P. Goldstern (1996; quoted in Torr 2001, 14–15) has differentiated three impacts which violence in media has been researched to influence its audience:

1. The copycat effect: a minority of viewers gains ideas off media as to how execute violence on others. For example, it is rumoured that the writers of the agent tv-series 24 have been pleaded to tone down their imaginative torture scenes, so as not to give any ideas to actual torturers around the world. While scholars agree that there is a correlation between media violence and actual violence, it is not easy to claim that seeing violence causes violent acts in an individual. Usually the individuals who are inspired by media violence are held to be violent in the first place.

2. The desentisization effect: audiences growing to tolerate violence in media but also in real life. Violence seen through a TV screen seems less real to the spectator even if it was live feed from their own back yard safety camera.

3. The victim effect: images of violence convince the audience of the evils of real world and therefore are more keen on supporting officials, such as police, military etc.  This can be used in propaganda films especially.

While it is true that violence in media has increased within the last 25 years or so, it is difficult to draw lines between responsible and irresponsible depictions of violence. Torr (2001, 17) asks, is there a difference between Casino and Macbeth, or Basketball Diaries and Braveheart? Or, in more modern terms, is Inglorious Basterds historically or culturally justified in depicting mindless violence, since the story is mainly fiction? Is there a difference in depictions of violence and their justification between Basterds and, say, Schindler’s List?

Untitled

I have been thinking of the trope of “funny violence” for quite some time. From a very early age, cartoons teach us that violence is something to be laughed at, that a cat being hit by a hammer, an anvil or a grand piano is perfectly alright if it’s accompanied by a funny sound effect, committed by a mouse, and no one gets hurt in the end. Somehow it’s morally OK to laugh at Home Alone robbers being smacked around, as long as the perpetrator is a kid. Of course, these examples are easily explained by parody of power relationships, a David vs. Goliath story still very much alive in the popular media. It is a narrative that in a way makes the violence acceptable: sticking it up to the Man, letting them taste their own medicine etc. There is also a factor of Schadenfreude, joy in other person’s misery or pain. Perhaps it is telling of the English culture that they do not have a word for it; in Finnish, we call it “vahingonilo”, glee in accident. Then again, Itchy and Scratchy comics in The Simpsons comment on this regularly; I myself have never seen these extreme cartoon violence depictions very funny, but the Simpsons kids (even Lisa!) laugh their heads off while watching them.

Another explanation for this sort of violence is what I call “rhetorical violence”, where the character’s actions depict their inner emotions rather than actual violence. In BBC’s Sherlock there is a scene where John Watson beats up Sherlock Holmes after he reappears to him, two years after Watson thought Holmes died. Holmes gets a bloody nose but is completely fine on the next day. Bickering between friends leading to a bloody nose can be seen also as manifestation of Watson’s anger and thus only symbolic violence, which disappears as quickly as it appeared.

The question of violence in media is one of those topics where it is easy to be in the extreme opinions rather somewhere in the middle. It seems to me that violence is often seen as synonymous of inhumanity, and therefore it is morally just to object to it in every turn. It is however a fact that violence is inherent in human nature, and therefore getting rid of violence in the media will not rid the society of violence or aggression. On the other side of this very black-and-white discussion, restrictions on violence in media is quite often seen as censorship, and restricting freedom of speech. But as we’ve all learnt in the past 5-10 years, with the far right intolerance budding up everywhere, some things might even be left unsaid.

I’ve always been of the opinion that it is better to make a song that has violent lyrics, buy a violent video game, or go see a splatter film rather than venting out one’s own frustrations on actual other people. I believe that expressing your violent nature (we all have one) through art and media is much more beneficial personally and socially than going out and beating up weaker people than yourself. However, sensational violence leaves me still in the grey zone of acceptance. Quite often I don’t see the point of it. Perhaps I’m more suited for Jane Austen films than splatter films.

/AEP