The Cultural Dog Fight: Violence in the Media

A few weeks back I was watching the Sons of Anarchy season finale with my cousin and her friends, when I quickly put my hands over my dog’s eyes and told her not to look. The guys from SAMCRO had stumbled upon a dog fight — pitbulls were ripping each other apart. We were all aghast, as were the guys from SAMCRO. They even took the losing pitbull home — dog-lover and straight-up-psychopath Tig, saved the dog from the owner who was about to kill it — stitched him up, and now the guys of SAMCRO (murderers all!) apparently have a new club mascot.

Now, let’s be clear: this is a violent show, where minor characters die is ghastly ways all the time, and where major characters often reach heartbreaking ends. In this past season we saw the daughter of a major character get burned alive, and then another major character get his head bashed in while in prison (this after his wife and father died at the hands of “the bad guys” in his beloved club). Yes, we were all horrified by these scenes, but we also cheered when villains finally met their makers at the hands of the people they’d wronged. (Some people even make mildly deranged YouTube videos about it.)

The people in this show are awful human beings who often operate by a “code,” which serves to make them more likable to the audience — which can’t get behind things like killing women and children… or, apparently, dog fighting. This reminded me of a scene in The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, where a soldier (clearly suffering from PTSD) shoots a water buffalo. We know that this soldier has recently watched his best-friend blown to bits while they are both in-country in Vietnam.

I remember talking about this scene in college. I remember crying while reading it. And mostly I remember arguing with a supremely stupid girl (I also had to fight with her when she insisted “Hills Like White Elephants” is not about an abortion) about how this juxtaposition — the death of the water buffalo vs. the death of the friend — is intended to show us how numb we can be to violence. After all, I cried when the water buffalo died, but barely flinched when the friend was killed.

At least I understood how dumb my reaction was. Continue reading

Bad TV!

I’ve often admitted to liking bad television, but not having cable is teaching me something about myself. It’s not that I liked bad TV, it was simply that I was conditioned to it.

I started pondering this while listening to the commentary on “Freaks and Geeks” and hearing one of the writers talking about how after he left “Dawson’s Creek” determined to never work in television again, he saw the “Freaks and Geeks” pilot and was lured back in. The conversation went on to discuss how the network didn’t understand character development, and that they like shows that allow viewers to tune in one week and know what’s happening without needing to have seen the previous show. This reminded me of the commentary on “The Wire” (yes, I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to the commentary, mostly while doing something else that doesn’t hold my full attention) where the creators talk about how they really require viewers to tune in week after week — to pick up a  thread from the beginning of the season and tie it in a knot at the end. Continue reading