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)
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Media Review – “Brave”

IMDB

Kilts and Red-Heads and Bears, Oh My!

“Brave,” the new Disney Pixar film receiving rave review,  is being enjoyed by kids, parents and analytical college students everywhere. From immature kilt jokes and straight-on shots of cleavage to touching moments between mothers and daughters, human or not, “Brave” is sure to be a family favorite.

This past Tuesday, Nicole and I went to the Pearl Theater at Avenue North in Philadelphia. As we hurried up the large staircase to reach theater seven, the promotional posters for “Brave” drifted back and forth above our heads getting us more excited to see the film. When the opening credits began to roll, we both took out our notepads and prepared to scribble away. Here are those very scribblings decoded and our thoughts about the movie:

Communication:

  • ~Curiously enough, Eilnor, the mother, and Merida, the main female protagonist, have to develop their own language to communicate after the mother loses her voice, her primary power. They create a hybrid language of physical gestures and vocal sounds. Much like a secret bond mother and daughter would create in real life anyway, whether or not one of them turned into something other than human…

Gender:

  • ~Merida kicks butt in a dress without being sexualized! She never wears pants. She let’s her hair grow wild and free. She practices archery, but she has a chosen gender-specific femininity about her yet doesn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. WHOOOO!!!
  • ~All the non-royal women in the film are either idiots or passive-agressive. I’m looking at you, childish serving wench. Your hysterical screaming fits were funny, but in a pathetic, tiring, I’m-dealing-with-a-three-year-old kinda way. While she’s not an idiot, the Witch was a Bitter Spinster full of malice and ill intentions. I guess these characters do serve as a contrast to Merida and Elinor, but barely hold up as additional foils or even supporting roles.
  • ~”Hyper-masculinity”:
    • ~The adult male characters are obsessed with physical prowess and strength whereas women are associated with communication/vocalization. The husband and wife are the perfect example. Fergis is always gesturing with his arms, touching his wife, grabbing a spear, pounding tables, etc.  Elinor, the mother, is incredibly still. She doesn’t move unless it’s for a specific purpose (this is when she’s a human).
    • ~King Fergis does not gender-type his children. He teaches Merida the bow for God’s sake. He actually says in the very beginning something like “it’s good for a girl to learn how to fight” (not exact quote). His problem is that he can’t choose between his wife and daughter, and honestly, that’s probably good. He loves them both but he doesn’t want to take sides. The other three clan leaders, however, are caricatures. They are chest-pounding manly men, however, their sons are are their dynamic halves. The way the movie redeems itself is making the children unconventional and then contrasting them with their traditional parents. In that way, I think the film shows itself to be smart and very aware of gender roles.
    • ~Apparently, violence is funny. The Stooges showed us, Tom and Jerry showed us and Jackass and Steve-O showed us. But is it really? Sure it’s an animated kids movie, but violence is never funny…because it’s violent.

Class:

  • ~While the story is about a royal clan, it is unlike any other royal group in Disney movies in that they are self-made royalty. The parents have earned their power through bravery and strength. In this story world, class is not set in stone. There is both upward and downward mobility. Fergis has moved up, but he could easily be moved back down if he offends the other clans, which all together could overthrow him. Each clan is a check for the others’ power. There is certainly not absolute power invested in one person.

In conclusion, Nicole and I seem to disagree on one point: who is the villain? She believes that the mother is the bad guy, but I’m not so sure. Personally, I think that the villain is as the Witch puts it: Pride. Nicole goes on to say “that instead of like in Tangled, where the step-mother was a crazy possessive psycho bitch, Mother Elinor in “Brave” is a complex character. She is the one I feel the most empathy with as a viewer. She has a real dynamic change throughout the film. That’s what draws me to this movie and makes me want to say it is groundbreaking for Disney Pixar. The characters are complicated. They are not black and white, good and evil. Sometimes they’re damn dangerous. Throughout her transformation, mother learns to be more free and physical with her self-expression. Merida meanwhile learns to be more restrained and to vocalize her feelings in a more articulate way better, to stretch beyond her physical nature. Here’s the thing: buried deep in this film is the gender-typing idea that men aren’t good communicators and women aren’t physical beings. Merida and Elinor challenge and successfully break the typing. Ultimately, I think “Brave” acknowledges gender stereotypes and then says that they aren’t unbreakable. The shot at the end with mother and daughter riding says it all:  Elinor’s hair is free from those plaits and is flying in the wind, but they are riding together, not in competition with each other. They have learned to transcend the categorical restrictions imposed by gender. I think this is a positive message for women, that does not necessarily deny men or lay blame on them.” I too agree, and want to argue that there is perhaps a socio-cultural-political message in this movie that is telling women not to compete with each other or even to attack men as a common enemy in the name of seeking equality. Instead, this film is trying to tell women to ally themselves with each other for the bond between women, young and old, black or white, rich or poor, makes us more powerful together than separate. Overcome our differences for the empowerment of all.

And last, but not least, as the icing on the Scottish cake (movie reference intended), “Brave” is proudly directed, written and produced by women, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi. That’s freaking fantastic when so many of Hollywood’s blockbusters are only overseen and creatively controlled by men. We Fatal Femmes acknowledge and commend the beautiful work created by Ms. Chapman and Ms. Mecchi.

Want our thoughts on another aspect of the film that we didn’t explore? Just comment below! Thanks for reading! Come back to for more media deconstruction each week! Go feminism!