There is my student’s sister, shot to death in a drive by, and then there are dozens of pretend people and people-like creatures killed on screen in “Avatar.” Thursday I read in a journal entry that my student’s sister died this way, and Saturday I was in a theater with elementary school kids drinking in all that fictional death.
I wondered, as the movie ran, how many of us had real memories of violence, or real reason to fear violence, and who saw that gore as a video-game, Iliad-style hurrah.
I don’t know what it means. For me, violence is nearby, sinking its teeth into some around me, while I am spared. So far. I live with fear of being assaulted or burgled. I live with the fear of the guns that move in and out of our school– thus far without incident. (Guns move in and out of all schools.)
I fear parking lots, my own driveway at night, breaking glass in the dark. I fear reading horrible things in my students’ writing. I fear losing another student to violence.
On the other hand, I love Scorsese movies. The blood in his films is hot blood, and the people want violence like food. I loved “No Country for Old Men,” which tracked a personification of violence down its pathological path. Hiding violence, or its appeal, or sentimentalizing it, doesn’t help anything. There’s something natural and necessary about recreating violence. Scorsese and the Coen brothers said something to me, make me wonder and open up.
Violence, like love, makes us who we are. It has made us masters of animals and science. It has given us time to relax, go soft and contemplate. It’s disingenuous to disown it now, when my town is no longer under Vandal attack. When people whose salaries I pay kill Iraqis and Afghanis in my service.
When “Avatar” ended, I complained loudly about the presentation of killing after killing for an audience of kids. And I made other smart remarks to cover my discomfort. What does it say to use shootings as entertainment? What had I done paying my $10? if i had enjoyed the other elements of spectacle more, I might have felt less moral doubt.
I am willing to forgive much more if I am moved. I don’t need my art to be moral. I don’t think there is such a thing. I do want my entertainment moral, though. Entertainment doesn’t require us to dig deep, so let’s be nice about it. (“Avatar” to audience: take care of earth; people are connected.) If all you’re doing is entertaining, don’t make the murderers look glamorous, don’t show women as objects, don’t stereotype. If you have something to say, I’ll let you in. If you’re digging deep, I”ll explore your tunnel. But if you’re being shallow, you gotta play nice.