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when violence is not entertainment

November 3, 2011

I don’t know how anyone watches this [triggering] video without feeling a visceral and unsettling sense of dread. It shows a man cruelly beating his teenage daughter with a belt.

Watching it, I was struck by the absolute nature of the father’s (a Texas judge) control of the moment and the ways in which the daughter tries to regain power over her own body (by resisting, submitting, crying, negotiating). Even the mother tries to access that control by participating in the abuse and trying to negotiate the level of violence (“I will hit you once if you…”). It’s truly frightening.

We sanitize violence by entertaining ourselves with it. We gain pleasure from witnessing these performances of violence. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. It allows us to stretch out our thinking (pleasure involves the brain too) around violence in a safe, consensual way.

However, I do think it’s useful to remember that we consent to the process of entertainment violence, and that we control it. Among other things, violence, is loss of both those agencies — consent and control.

Real-life footage of violence changes us from being mere consumers of violence to witnesses of violence. The difference is palpable.

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