By looking at the title of this post, you might be already thinking that not everyone enjoys violence in their stories. Let's be honest, though, whether it's violence in the extreme sense of an airplane crash or a murderer on the loose, we as human beings love strong conflict in a story. Without conflict, we might not even have stories.
Instead, we would indulge in tales of two men sitting on a porch swing discussing how great life is. Of course, even discussing the serendipity of life can be difficult without discussing the obstacles we overcome in every day. A story about mundane tasks without any extremes or criticism is boring. If we read about someone sitting at a cubicle each and every day, there better be a thought or two about blowing up the place of work , as we see in books such as Fight Club.
While we might be able to agree we like an element of danger in a story, the question remains why we tend to like violence in our fiction.
Preparing for the Worst
In previous posts like this one and this one, I wrote about wanting to start up a zombie novel. Since then, I've started the pre-writing stage. However, my original plan was to provide a decent zombie novel that went against the popular rom-zom-coms that are plaguing our media; as a measure to prevent the misuse of paranormal creatures such as the vampire. Now I realize there might be another reason I like zombie stories.
In this article, Paul Bloom's argument about zombies and How Pleasure Works insists the zombie tale isn't something we necessarily enjoy for the gore and possible threat of a zombie invasion in real life. Bloom suggests we love zombies stories because they are about strangers breaking into our lives and they are about betrayal.
Zombie tales provide a sort of insight to human relationships. None of us enjoys a stranger emerging into our set lives and stealing away all we've ever worked for. Think about: In zombie tales, even the most fortunate souls are brought down to mediocrity. Their money no longer matters. Their legacy pales to the need to survive at the most animalistic nature.
Also in the case of zombies, there's always that secondary character - usually someone's best friend of sidekick - who is infected and then attacks the protagonist. This emphasizes betrayal. We've all been betrayed in our lives on some level, be it a lost friend, loved one, or coworker. We need know what it's like to love someone one moment, have them turn their backs, and then wish their death. Violence, in the sense of zombie stories, teaches us about strangers and betrayal.
But what else can we gain from violent texts?
Dealing With Death
Violence in stories can also teach us how to handle death in real life. Whenever we speak of violent tales discussing how to deal with death, we have to look no further than the Harry Potter Series for a basic understanding.
This isn't a new discovery of the Harry Potter background, but it's exemplar for how fiction can teach us how to cope with death.
In fact, J.K. Rowling has had plenty to say about death:
"I know it's unfashionable to use this word, morality, and I never set out to preach, but I think the books do explore the misuse of power, and there's an attempt to make some sense of death. That said, when a plot is going well, you can't imagine just what fun the stories are to write. I mean, it's indecent the amount of time I spend thinking up wizarding ways to subvert arrogant Muggles."
While exploring betrayal, strangers, and death is important to psyche development, it is other worth noting what else can be can from acts of violence in fiction. Sure, some stories may scare us or dive into the depths of the unknown extremes, but what sort of messages might we gain beyond simply exploring the subject matter?
Taking Nothing for Granted
In this article, I think Disney films are a perfect example.
Although they've been criticized for depictions of sex, racial stereotypes, and sometimes over-glorified violence, I think there's some sort of purpose.
During my linguistic studies at Ball State, we often analyzed popular films and ridicules their makers for such scenes as Mufasa's death in The Lion King. Why does the scene have to be so long, and why do we need an exaggerated close-up of Mufasa eyes right before his slow-motion death-trample?
You could argue forever about the scene being a bit too dramatic, but I think what we are supposed to gain from the moment is Simba's world coming to a standstill. Moments before, he was meandering and singing about how much he wants to be an adult and how he is sick of being told what to do. At the sight of his father's death, however, he discovers he should have listened and he discovers the new feeling of regret in his life.
Moments like the aforementioned are great for teaching us not to take everything for granted. Sometimes we think we have it bad until we face unfortunate extremes. While perhaps violence is not the best illustration for morals in fiction, it takes us straight to the core of the matter.
Violence will always be controversial as it is depicted in media. However, it goes without much argument that it is a beneficial tool to show us how to deal with important matters in our lives and how to cope with even the most dire of situations.
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