Director: Frank Coraci
A new argument is not one that suggests an ethos exists to dissuade both proletarian attention and consciousness conveniently away from the material relations of power. By re-directing angst away from factors of causality and toward issues of more localized proximity is a long-standing tactic employed by dominant class interests. Yet, what is distinct to late capitalism is how violence has increasingly become a more prominent theme of normalization within this equation of distraction. A case has been made that a “culture of violence has become common place in a social order in which pain, humiliation, and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles endlessly circulated through new and old forms of media and entertainment”.1 Taking up increased room within contemporary culture are expressions of ferocity adopted under the pretence of enjoyment and recreational presentation. Grounded in sadistic intensity, mediated spectacles take root through vicariously experiencing the aggressive treatment, if not unconcealed brutality, of another. 2
What is new about the current historical conjuncture is not only a commodified popular culture that trades in extreme violence, greed, and narcissism as a source of entertainment, but the emergence of a predatory society in which the suffering and death of others becomes a reason to rejoice rather than mourn. Extreme violence has become not only a commodified spectacle, but one of the few popular resources available through which people can bump up their pleasure quotient. 3
It is argued that these exhibitions are propagated to excise recognition; to proximally displace focus toward objective distal conditions. Whether this practice is an act of reification that enables the observer to feel as though they are exempt from, or not accountable for, the witnessed brute force, yet able to derive gratification from it, is not known. What is acknowledged is that the participation of observing extreme violence is very much broadening in popularity. Voicing concern over where this culture of violence leads, Terry Eagleton suggests “either the stuff drives us to real-life brutality, or it has exactly the opposite effect”.4 Through the example to follow, a disturbing prediction may be derived and, therefore, in need of address.
Not only are mores of brutality growing in accessibility but they increasingly integrate themes of social acceptability and even economic benefit. In the 2012 release of the film Here Comes the Boom, Kevin James plays a once dispassionate teacher who rises to the defence of his colleagues, students, and school when they are faced with economic duress, declines in educational proficiency, and threats of job-loss.5 The manner through which justice is realized is by the protagonist transforming himself into a successful albeit veracious mixed martial arts (MMA) ring-fighter.
The issue of sport applauding forms of violence in nothing new. In many ways, sport enables its viewers an emotional outlet to celebrate aggression be it through a boxing match or ‘spontaneous’ confrontation between two (or more) opposing players in the centre of a hockey-rink.6 The performance of MMA, however, displays a gravitational pull toward a more organized and premeditated hyper-violent event. Cited as the fastest growing sport in the world, the popularity of caged men and women engaged in blood-filled combat has grown exponentially over the past decade.7 Reminiscent of slave-boxing, the presentation of bodies from a marginalized group being encouraged, out of their destitution, to brutalize their peers for the pleasure of another speaks to the tragedy of social conscience here discussed.8 Nevertheless, the film points to an important subtext (or lack thereof).
Aside from trying to capitalize on the sport’s upward trend, the script does not challenge the political-economic dynamics that negate the value of public education, an ideology that chooses to diminish an informed citizenry, or contest reductions in public expenditure and the State’s purported representational function. To the contrary. Apart from the customary portrayal of the hero being a white-male, the movie takes on another familiar neoliberal tonality of meritocracy where the leading-man challenges himself rather than the powers that created the problem which generated the narrative to begin with. In short, all issues are resolved when the a down-trodden heteronormative figure, suffering from low self-esteem, regains his mojo while being paid handsomely to beat – and be beaten by – other members of the working-class. The storyline is straightforward in its celebration of intra-class barbarity alongside its attention to social nobility and economic reward.
A final illustration of how the movie normalizes extreme violence is highlighting toward whom the film is targeted. Apart from being nominated for Best Film for Families in 2013 by the MovieGuide Awards,9 Netflix currently promotes the picture under a category reserved for Children and Family Movies.10 Such classification only deepens one’s understanding of how young people gain access, become influenced by, and accept cruelty for monetary gain, loving acceptance, and societal affirmation; a ‘gateway,’ it could be said, of-and-for this culture of violence.
A shift has increasingly taken place toward how violence is consumed today when compared to the past. While simply attending a sporting event or watching an action film was once an expression of leisure, more contemporary examples demonstrate a heightened, if not insatiable, appetite for increased and more frequent representations of inter-proletarian belligerence. Philosophically, it could be said that this aggression involves segments of the working-class experiencing an exhilarated elation as they observe the abuse of ‘themselves’. These performances allow large segments of the citizenry, inundated by capitalist aggression, to turn-away from seeing what is authentically true in the present while conditioning their acceptance.11 Henry A. Giroux alludes that this trend toward barbarism has been earmarked by the “degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to delight in dehumanizing most of its population”.12 The current climate does not, then, bode well, as forms of intra-class brutality are celebrated and consumed as entertainment by the very populace repressed.
James J. Brittain is a Professor within the Department of Sociology and faculty member of the Social & Political Thought graduate program at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.
1. Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux. 2015. Disposable Futures: The seduction of violence in the age of spectacle. San Francisco: City Lights Books. p.51.
2. See Chris Hedges. 2015. Wages of Rebellion: The moral imperative of revolt. Toronto: Knopf; 2009. Empire of Illusion: The end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle. New York: Nation Books.
3. Evans and Giroux, 2015 p.11.
4. Terry Eagleton. 2003. Sweet Violence: The idea of the tragic. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. p.154; see also Eric Dunning. 1999. Sport Matters: Sociological studies of sport, violence, and civilization. London: Routledge.
5. Sony Pictures. 2012. “Here Comes the Boom,” no date On-Line http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/herecomestheboom/ Accessed 1 February 2017.
6. See Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning. 1986. Quest for Excitement: Sport and leisure in the civilizing process. New York: Basil Blackwell.
7. John J. Brent and Peter B. Kraska. 2013. “Fighting is the Most Real and Honest Thing: Violence and the civilization/barbarism dialectic,” British Journal of Criminology 53(3): 357-377.
8. Frederick Douglass. 1973. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. New York: Anchor. pp.81-82.
9. IMBd, 2013. “MovieGuide Awards,” no date On-Line http://www.imdb.com/event/ev0001094/2013?ref_=ttawd_ev_1 Accessed 2 February 2017
10. Netflix. 2017. “Here Comes the Boom: Details,” no date On-Line https://www.netflix.com Accessed 2 February 2017.
11. Slavoj Žižek. 2008. Violence: Six sideways reflections. New York: Picador.
12. Henry A. Giroux. 2014. The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking beyond America’s disimagination machine. San Francisco: City Light. pp.57-58.