Punching People Is A Bad Idea — A Personal Tale About Desensitization of Violence

As was briefly mentioned in the most recent Fatal Friday post, I punched someone. I am not proud of it. In fact, I am still a little shocked that I had the capability to become so angered by a stranger’s stupid comment  that I used my agency for physical violation. Although Nicole summed up the situation fairly well, there’s more to it than she or anyone else knows. While the moment of violence lasted less then a minute and no blood was spilled nor response made from the punched party, I now realize that although I consume mass amounts of media, I am still not desensitized…as proved by my shock…and I think that is a very important thing to acknowledge.
First things first: on Friday, November 2nd, I went to film class at 10am where I watched the war movie “Brothers” (2009, Jim Sheridan). The film has a brutal PTSD subplot which included the audience witnessing the origin of the main character’s mental disease: a violent murder inflicted on one American solider from another with a rusty pipe.
I winced in my chair and I’m sure other students around me did as well. Later in the movie, this same character cannot function in everyday life as he used to after he returns home, largely due to the emotional stress he’s holding in. Instead, it bubbles up and explodes in the form of a deranged attack on his wife’s new kitchen, a gift from his brother. He smashes it to bits, again with a metal pipe. With his family in terror, the police arrive at his home and he pulls a gun threatening to kill himself. Personally I found this overwhelm hard to digest. (A few days later when we deconstructed the film in class, it was not nearly as striking as it had been when I was emotionally invested.) Nonetheless, when the movie ended on Friday and the credits began to roll, my 150+ classmates immediately got up and exited. I was left sitting alone in a semi-dark lecture hall recounting the story, my feelings about the characters and the apparent lack of sensitive response my peers seemed to show.
About 12 hours later is when I punched someone for screaming, “…and you should’ve sucked his dick too…” in my general direction. Whether or not the comment was for me, I assumed it was and became enraged, throwing my moral and logical reasoning out the window. Almost instinctively my reaction happened, as if I could not find another way in that split second to get rid of the “thing” that bothered me. It’s as if I thought that by punching the guy who said it, the comment would just disappear as if it had never been uttered. I’d like to think I was being defensive, but I was being reactive.
For back-story  I have never been in a fist fight nor have ever found the desire to prove myself in such a way. As an only child, I received a lot of emotional attention and mental stimulation so the idea of physical confrontation has never had much appeal to me. I was always taught to practice civil discussion if an issue came up. I try to be fair and open and listen to all sides, so, in reflection of my actions, I am appalled at myself.
But onward with the night for the tale is not over yet! After a mentally sobering walk to my friend’s place for a get together, Nicole and I watched “21 Jump Street” (2012, Chris Miller, Phil Lord), the stupid comedy about two young cops trying to make a name for themselves by working undercover in a high school to bust a drug ring.
The movie is filled with on-screen death, explosives, vulgar behavior, weapons, drugs, hyper-masculinity and blood…but the catch is that it’s hysterical. Oh the magic of cinema that it can take reality and spin it and interpret it in so many ways! While watching “21 Jump Street” I laughed, snorted even, at the bathroom humor and obnoxious characters. They meant nothing to me. Their failures were my entertainment and for that matter, were supposed to be. The blatant violence was for my viewing pleasure; such an odd phenomenon in our culture.
I still feel the shock of my hit, but I cannot help to wonder why. Is it because I truly do not have a physically violent nature? I think that’s part of it. Or is it because we women are not meant to be reactive, to respond and defend our own honor? And even if the comment was directed at someone else instead of me, would it be an embarrassment that I defended their honor since I am a woman? Perhaps I was not aware how terrible it feels to hurt someone, to see their face offended and their body trying to hide away from the blow. Did I subliminally think that because of all the violence I see in the media that I would feel more heroic? More bad-ass? Is this what violence has become?
The line becomes clearer now: our world is desensitized. To gore. To sex. To anything and everything that used to be taboo. We have gangster rap and kiddie porn, 3D movie theaters and Playboy, non-stop social media and overwhelming advertising. EVERYWHERE. In theory, exposing the individual to constant consumption could begin the proactive dialogue of why the world is the way it is and how our trends and behaviors are created and effect us, but instead we expose society to media without media literacy education, thus the conversation is never had about its consequences, good or bad. This is a problem because real life and what we see on TV becomes blended together in a tangy concoction of moral disregard and confusing agendas. Media is neither good nor bad, but the weight it carries in our world is outstanding.

I am not yet desensitized. I can still feel and hurt and be blown away by something meant to blow me away. The media can frame anything the way it wants, but deep down I know (and sometimes have to remind myself) that the Himalaya mountains will never be as beautiful on television as they apparently are in real life, that physically intimate interactions are at my and my partner’s discretion and will not be acted out “as seen on TV” in sexy soap operas or music videos and that as long as I can actively work on being media literate, I am closer to a human being than any scripted character or photo-shopped model in an advertisement has ever been.
-Darragh Dandurand Friedman (darraghdandurand@aol.com)