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Life Imitating Art?

Friends,

There is a long-running debate about whether or not violent media perpetuates violence in real life.  I remember this debate hit home with me as a child when I would read my GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly magazines and they would have letters, editorials and articles about the state of game-related legislation, ratings and content.  As a child who could feel his rights and freedoms potentially being infringed upon, I took the position that there was no harm in violent video games and for the life of me I could not understand why my parents reacted so irately when I told them I had seen the coolest game (Mortal Kombat) at a friend’s house.  It was them after all, who allowed me to watch Conan the Barbarian.

conansnake

This was okay

tumblr_lcbreasrBs1qcmiwko1_400 This, not so much

Now I don’t think I need to point out to you the conflict of interests I had in this regard as a child; how could I acknowledge any harm in sexy/violent games if I wanted to keep playing them with impunity?  Well, now I don’t have any such conflict because my video game playing is minimal and I’m like 28 now.  So what do I think now that I have the benefit of more experience and knowledge?  Have I recanted my juvenile assertions about the harmlessness of violent games?  Have I become the responsible adult hypocrite my childhood self would beat the shit out of?

Hardly.  Adult Me would beat the ever-living fuck out of a chubby bitch like Childhood Me.

Picture 2

Less of a beatdown and more a rape, really.

However, my views have evolved some.  For one thing, you may remember me making reference to root causes at one point.  Or perhaps you remember another time when I talked about how we need to view violence in a broader context, because the currently-received narrow viewpoints don’t actually do anything to reduce occurrences of violence.  I gotta be fair and apply the same logic to my previously-held viewpoints regarding video-game (media) violence to see if they hold up.
So according to my own currently-held understanding of the world, does violent media have an effect on violence in the real world?  
Yes, but not in the way they say it does on the news or in parliament.

See we tend to frame the debate about video-game violence (all media violence really) on how it figured into the lives of school shooters or whatnot.  Everyone knows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played Doom prior to shooting up their high school back in 1999.  But you could easily make the counter-argument that not everyone who plays Doom shoots up their school, so it can’t be the game’s fault.  Whatever side you subscribe to, I think both sides miss the point.  You see it isn’t the digitized blood and guts of early first-person shooters that make people wanna kill people.

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Does this make you go into a kill-frenzy?

I think the larger problem is that video games like Doom tend to reinforce a good vs. evil duality.  This is really a structural problem and one I have alluded to in the past.  Often we tend tend to frame our conceptions of conflict in terms of us vs. them.  And since our side couldn’t possibly be the wrong side, and furthermore because our perfectly empirical objectivity (especially during times of emotional turmoil) would never allow us to take a flawed position, we tend to see the other side as more wrong, bad and irrationally evil as their opposition to us becomes more and more staunch and pronounced.

If you think about it this same type of duality is reinforced in much more (seemingly) benign ways than violent video games.  I remember watching cartoons like Care Bears as a kid, where you had evil assholes like No-Heart

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Pictured: Asshole

being absolutely evil for no reason.  We never see any depth to the character or find out his motivations (beyond the fact that he has no heart).  Now you may say that as a kids show we can afford to be light-hearted and vague about the antagonist’s motivations because important lessons are being taught.  Well, if you maintain that important lessons are being taught, you are implying that children’s programming serves as a kind of well…programming.  So while the kid is learning that he shouldn’t be an evil douche like No-Heart, he is also being programmed on a more sublime level to believe that evil douchebags like No-Heart exist, that is to say, people who do what we would call “evil” for no apparent, justifiable reason.

Think about it next time you are watching your favourite programming.  So often television shows and movies paint the antagonists as evil for evil’s sake.  Or if they are shown as having legit motivations, their actions in search of retribution are always shown to be disproportionate to the initial slight.  It’s hard to get on board with villains like this because evil is something morally upstanding people like us just don’t understand (Hint: because it doesn’t exist)

So when we watch media like The Sopranos, or Breaking Bador any number of other examples where the evil characters are shown not just to have motivations, but defensible motivations, we are shown a more realistic perspective.  We laud these shows because they show the causal chain which leads an evil character to do evil.  We see characters like Tony Soprano living the only life he has ever known while at the same time trying to do right by the people he cares about and stay afloat amongst the various everyday pressures of his line of work.  He is never irrationally malicious; on the contrary, when he is malicious, reasons are always given or implied.  Rather than being seem as a rake, we see Tony as an endearing, likeable character.  BUT HE KILLS PEOPLE (DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY) ALL THE TIME.  

And lest we forget that shows like this have pretty mature themes and are not designed to appeal to children.  No, these shows are marketed to adults who have already been programmed since their childhood to view things in terms of good and evil.  But instead of having the desirable effect of educating people that there is no such thing as a good vs. evil duality in real life, I find the more common outcome is that people tend to idolize characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White while still viewing real-life transgressors as evil.  Essentially they have learned nothing from the truth lurking in fiction and have instead built a fantasy around someone who challenges the status quo in ways they do not.  Interpretation fail.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a purpose to having character’s who are good and evil.  In summer blockbuster type movies for example, where there is an emphasis on special effects and plot is relegated to afterthought status, having too complex a villain can take away from the enjoyment of having the CGI Low-Orbit Ion-Cannon destroy him and his base.  After all, if empathy is generated, you might feel pangs of regret seeing him destroyed so roundly.  As an aside, this was actually one of the cooler aspects of 2012’s Dredd 3D.  The villain, MaMa, gets summarily wasted by

behind-the-scenes-footage-of-dredd_1320

Dredd at movie’s end but as you see her fall through the window to her death it’s hard not to consider her horrible past which the narrative had earlier gone on at length to divulge. She is most certainly a sympathetic character (although she is admittedly vicious), and her summary execution at the hands of Dredd seems like it was a conscious decision by the filmmakers to be an indictment of totalitarian law enforcement as well as our “punishment” approach to crime.  Here was a rare example of a blockbuster style of movie that also did enough character exposition to paint morality in shades of grey.  Great Job!

I hope my point here is clear.  There’s is a reason why TV Tropes tells its contributors not to use real life examples for the good/evil alignment page.  In their words:

“Due to the controversial nature of this trope, and not to mention, it’s considered shoe-horning  to categorize people with these kind of tropes, there will be no real-life examples under these circumstances, since it invites an ‘Edit War.’  

I feel that bit about shoe-horning is particularly important as labeling someone with either a positive or negative distinction negates the whole system(s) which contributed to their disposition and actions at any given time.  You may notice this is me up to my old tricks again, but I really can’ t talk about this shit enough.  Really look at the entertainment, news stories, and opinions you take in and make an effort to scan them for signs of superstitious concepts like good and evil.  You may find they are more prevalent than you would assume in a technologically and scientifically advanced society.

Let me wrap up by explicitly relating the perpetuation of the good vs. evil duality to the proliferation of violence.  To do so, I want to cite Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman’s book, On Killing.  I found one of the most profound parts of that book was where he talked about how militaries around the world have traditionally coaxed young men into killing other young men by establishing some distance or separation from the enemy.  This separation has been along many lines: while Bolshevik leaders may have played up socio-economic distance to incite the oppressed poor of Russia to kill their fellow Russians, the Nazis emphasized genetic and religious distance to dehumanize the Jews and ultimately make the prospect of executing them more palatable to the wretched post-WW1 German population.  At the most basic level, if you want to create distance you play up the good vs. evil angle, painting your side as good and the other side as evil.  If you want to see the ultimate outcome of dehumanizing people like this look no further than the news, where undoubtedly there will be a story somewhere about one group of people killing another group of people for supposedly righteous reasons.

Insofar as our video games reinforce a clear line between good and evil they are harming us by encouraging us to see the world through the lens of duality.  But I think the premise that digitized blood makes people kill is flawed.  By my rationale, my parents should have been less concerned about me playing Mortal Kombat, with its largely morally-ambiguous characters, than they should have been about me playing Super Mario Bros. where the message that evil, giant turtle-dinosaurs are laying in wait to kidnap and rape my girlfriend was constantly being hammered into my head.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

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Ugly People

There is a saying: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  That’s a bunch of bullshit and we all know it. If that were the case there wouldn’t be websites like uglypeople.com and there would be no cosmetic surgery industry.  We should stop deluding ourselves with the idea that ugly doesn’t exist so that we can address why it does.

My Friends,
   I was working at a trade show this past weekend and it proved something to me which I have suspected for a very long time:  This life takes its toll in some very unexpected ways.
   First, a thought experiment: Imagine someone widely regarded as pretty.  Say Brad Pitt:

At his prettiest in Thelma & Louise if you ask me

Now I would argue that Brad Pitt is physically attractive because he has gentle features, all his teeth, a chiselled physique and eyes that twinkle like Paul Newman’s when he smiles  
No Homo

On top of that I have heard him in interviews and when he is not coming off as lovably, charmingly bewildered, he does seem very coherent and affable.  And as if that weren’t enough, I’m sure he smells good too.  These non-visible cues tend to add to his physical appeal and I would argue that this holds true for all physically attractive people.
   However, working at a trade show all weekend I saw lots of people who fell short of the Brad Pitt standard of physical beauty (imagine that!).  On the whole it was an average looking bunch, but there were many incredibly ugly, disfigured, wretched people who came by and more often than not their behaviours, whether obnoxious, creepy, inappropriate, spiteful or aggressive, matched their appearance.  Now I say this with no malice, for I love my fellow man, but it occurred to me that these folks were living portraits of what this life can do to people.  
   Science has shown us that from a behavioural perspective, people are shaped by their environments.  It has been posited, and I would agree, that behaviours are a reaction or adaptation to one’s environment.  This is not to say that there is no genetic component, but the genes simply determine a range of possible behaviours while the environment dictates where a person falls in that range.  The best analogy I have heard is that human beings are like computers: the genes are the equivalent to hardware and the environment is the programming.  
10 years of running a bad program called “Crystal Meth”

   I guess I never stopped to think deeply about the ramifications of this principle on physical appearance, but if you think about it, the way someone looks is both a product of their genes and their environment.  If they did not have the genes to look at a certain way, lets say morbidly obese, they could not possibly look that way.  But just because they have the genes to look a certain way, again morbidly obese, does not mean they are going to look that way if their environment doesn’t reinforce that predisposition (i.e. exercise, proper nutrition, etc.).  In the above before & after picture, the woman obviously has the genes to look both ways, but her post-meth appearance was by no means pre-determined by genetics.  Rather it was a possibility which became reality due to environmental factors.  
   On a sadder note (yes, sadder than meth addiction), look at this little girl.
Not only is she going to be physically ugly for her whole life (scientifically provable based on the labels pointing out her defects), but she is going to be so very wretchedly so due to environmental factors imposed upon her by the indiscretions of another.  For she suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, meaning her mother drank while pregnant with her.*  Often we think of life beginning the moment you are born, but we forget that the newborn has already been developing in its own unique environment for the previous nine months.**  
   So when I saw so many sloppy, ugly, slouchy, slack-jawed fucks this weekend (again, said with no malice, but ironically love), I couldn’t help but wonder how much of their appearance was a direct result of bad programming or environmental factors.  And of course, to what extent, if any, are these environmental factors a result of socio-economic status?  
   Now before you protest what you think I might be getting at here, watch this video:
Now I axe you: do you think the majority of people in that video were from relatively high or relatively low income brackets?  I would hazard a guess that they were mostly po-folk from shit-kicker American towns reduced to poverty after the mill/plant/factory closed down.  
   Now I am not saying that the people I dealt with this weekend were as wretched as the Wal-mart all-stars (thankfully I saw no butt-crack), but many tended toward these appearances (obese, unkempt, misshapen) and behaviours (general apathy toward outward appearance, rolling around on scooters).  And while I believe it is wrong to judge someone based on socio-economic standing, the affluent and the downtrodden are by and large very easy to pick out.  The wealthier, or at least comfortable have a certain carriage and deportment which is reflected in their attitudes, behaviours and appearances.  This is not to say that they always behave better; on the contrary, they can quite often be insufferable assholes and preening douchebags, not to mention misshapen and physically ugly.  However, in my experience they tend to carry themselves with a confidence and deportment that poorer types lack.  I can only attribute this to some sense of self-worth that they have, although I don’t pretend to know where they derive this sense of self-worth from.
   On the contrary, more poorer types in my experience tend to behave more erratically, being often unpredictable and squirrelly, not carrying themselves so much with confidence, but with a mixture anxiety, fear, desperation, or even malicious cockiness.  To me, these seem like symptoms of someone with little sense of self-worth.

I’ll just leave this here…

I don’t pretend to know why their sense of self-worth is so low though.

   Of course there are exceptions to these observations, and I find it fascinating and encouraging to see someone of modest means who carries themselves with dignity.  Again, I don’t pretend to know where their sense of self-worth comes from, but I do know where it doesn’t come from: their bank-account, for we already established that this person is not affluent.

To Be Contuvre…

~Random Tangent – Read at Your Own Peril~
   To this last point, there is a Spanish word, Hidalgo, which I am rather enchanted by.  Its actual historical context doesn’t impress me so much, but its literary context, that of a nobleman who has lost all his wealth but still retains the privileges of his class, well I rather like that.  For what more important privilege of nobility is there than knowing your worth; knowing that you are better? Not better than other people mind you, but better than the value society places on you based on your material wealth.  This is the most important knowledge.  A nobleman can be broke, destitute, emaciated and starving but he could still go somewhere and make a demand with the full expectation that it will be fulfilled. He had knowledge of self and that can’t be taken away once it is learned.  The problem is that many don’t ever learn knowledge of self in the first place; they either learn some religious malarky like “original sin” which implies they carry someone else’s sin which they must atone for, or they are just subjected to a society which reenforces subordination to legitimized forms of authority no matter what (don’t question your parents, always co-operate with police, etc.).  This teaches people that they are less than  a human being, they are simply subjects in a pecking order.  So instead of rooting their self-worth in the very fact that they exist, they tie it to fluid and changeable things like money, the opinions of others, etc…  Things, in other words, which can ultimately be lost or taken by others.  This process of acquiring financial means, social capital or other fluid things for the sake of moving up in society’s pecking order is colloquially called “getting ahead.”  So many are caught up in this game when they should be trying to figure out how to get free instead.

Contuvre…  

   When people who root their sense of self-worth in wealth and status which they do not have, I believe they are wont to treat themselves poorly (poor nutrition, deliberately poisoning themselves with alcohol and other drugs, poor posture).  They are worthless in their own eyes when compared to others who have done so much better by the standard which they judge themselves by.  This contributes to a less physically attractive person both superficially (slouched, vacant look in the eyes, slack-jawed) and in the long-term, as certain prolonged diets, vices and lifestyle choices will have irreversible and detrimental effects on a person’s physical beauty (see above photos of crystal-meth addict).
   So back to Brad Pitt, just imagine that he hadn’t had the particular upbringing he had and he had instead ended up as a lower-class worker or homeless person.  He would cease to be the pretty boy we all know and secretly (if you’re a dude) have a crush on.  He would likely be some long-haired, leathery-faced, fat American chain-smoker riding around in a rascal at the Springfield Wal-Mart.
   Conversely, when you look at the so-called ugly people from the Wal-Mart video, or just the ones you see in everyday life, imagine the wasted potential for hotness that their genes might carry but which has been squandered from perhaps as early as their time in utero when their mother may have drank or done drugs, to their childhood where they were perhaps malnourished and not taught their true worth as human beings, all the way up to adulthood where their bad habits intensified due to the ingrained belief that they don’t deserve any better than what they have and society’s persistent reinforcement of this idea.  This wasted potential for hotness is the unsung casualty in discussions about social change.  I truly believe that the further stratified our society becomes and the greater the amount of poor people becomes, the more the average physical attractiveness of the population will go down and the lower the overall number of 5/10s and above will be.  If this doesn’t instill a sense of urgency in you as to the importance of changing the world for the better, you should check your pulse cause you might be dead.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

*By calling the little girl with FASD ugly, I am not trying to be malicious, but honest.  One of the worst distortions of truth is soft, politically correct language because it turns some unfortunate human being’s real problem into some statistician’s quantified abstraction.  We must be precise in language and call things what they are, lest we trivialize the problems of others.  As is often the case, George Carlin had something to say about this:

**One of the important qualifiers for what constitutes life, or more accurately what constitutes an organism is that it has an environment which it affects and is affected by.  In the case of the fetus, its mother’s womb counts as this environment which in my mind pretty much galvanizes the position of the Pro-Life camp that life begins at conception.  However, this realization in my mind does not soundly resolve the abortion debate because if we are arguing the baby’s right to life we must also argue the mother’s right to security of person, which should be just as inviolate.
   I think the oft-overlooked position in the abortion debate is ameliorating the factors which lead to unwanted pregnancy and the desire to abort at a fundamental, root cause level.  Giving out condoms and lectures about safe sex apparently have not resolved matters.  A discussion about abortion is something that merits some attention and I may get to it at a later date but I wanted to clarify that although I believe life provably begins at conception, I don’t think it soundly decides the abortion issue.

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