1. bdw8

    bdw8 Member

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    Ethics of depicting violence

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by bdw8, Jul 29, 2019.

    Violence is far from the only type of conflict, and yet so many stories depict it. Especially with movies, it's the rare breed that doesn't include violence.

    We also know that fictional stories have, on more than one occasion, been blamed for real-life tragedies. Two prominent examples are the Aurora, Colorado shooting which was inspired by The Dark Knight, and the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan which was inspired by the film Taxi Driver.

    As writers, how do we navigate such a socially complex subject? Do we not let it affect our writing, figuring that bad people will do bad things with or without our inspiration? Do we make the effort to always paint violence in a very real and tragic way? Should we just avoid writing violence entirely? Or, are there other perspectives I'm missing?

    My work in progress has a moderate amount of violence in it -- in fact, it needs it for the theme. But, although I think it's a very positive theme, I'm beginning to doubt whether it's worth finishing simply because I'm beginning to question how harmless it really is to depict violence so often... Please let me know your thoughts!
     
  2. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I believe that serial killers and deranged people have always existed and acts of domestic terrorism may be inspired by movie scenes but are not caused by them. If the Colorado shooter had never seen Batman, he still would have had a mental break and hurt people. It is not the responsibility of creators to consider if someone may be inspired to act out a scene. The Columbine shooters would have still gone through with it whether or not id ever released DOOM. Sometimes drama requires violence and I don’t believe in tiptoeing around the darker elements of human behavior.
     
  3. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I have misplaced my pants.... Contributor

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    Exploit the topic and cash the check?
     
  4. RobinLC

    RobinLC Active Member

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    I've written a pretty intense sexual assault scene. There are women daily being attacked whether I ever publish the story or not. I hope that if I do though, my story will open up a discussion and help people get out of potentially harmful relationships and situations. I hope it inspires those who feel they can't to actually do!

    There will always be violence. It's part of human nature unfortunately.
     
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  5. Gary Wed

    Gary Wed Active Member

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    When I write into a violent scene, I feel an obligation to depict the violence graphically, much of the time because I feel the real danger is sanitizing it. For example, we put people in cages on our border and hold them for days. We don't feel the desperation of their lives and the horror of being treated like animals until someone takes a camera in and points it at them. Violence is real. It exists. It affects real breathing people. We tend to think of it like a game of chess. I am no longer participating in that coverup.
     
  6. bdw8

    bdw8 Member

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    Thanks everyone! Your perspectives have been very helpful and reassuring. I've read a little on the topic of violent crime, and in many areas it seems that half of all homicides, for example, are perpetrated by a very small number of people -- typically associated with gangs. These people are growing up in a rough environment where they're already exposed to violence first-hand, and it's doubtful a book or movie will have much influence compared to their own experience.

    There are some studies that show certain people -- although not most -- can become more aggressive after watching movies with violence in them. It's unknown if these people also gravitate toward violent movies, but my gut says yes. At this point, I'm leaning towards including some violence, but depicting it in a very real and tragic way -- which works quite well with the theme.
     
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  7. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Violence as part of the story is good, but violence for violence' sake is not. I had a fair amount of violence in my book, but as part of the story, not to shock people. And my wife @K McIntyre published Ruby, a gut wrenching tale of a women was abducted and raped as part of the introduction to sex-trafficking, along with other women. She fell down the stairs and broke her leg, only to have it set by hand by her captors, leaving her crippled. But Karen did it very well, and it became a story of endurance, resistance, escape and recovery, and has had great sales and reviews
     
  8. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I wouldn't say it's a rare breed of stories that don't include violence. The majority of stories I read don't. Same with my writing. We make choices what to write about. Just handle it well and tastefully. Leave out injecting any shock value because it's probably already built into a violent act.
     
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  9. Gallogladh

    Gallogladh Member

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    Well, this is meta. My story concerns a fratricidal family of bastardised tribal nobility functioning as warlords, fighting an anti-colonial war in the midst of lawless anarchy. Violence is a big part of the plot. I was initially going to say I've not given a second thought to ethics, because it's not my fault if someone takes the cues of these historic characters (it was actually a real family...) and does something stupid. But then I realised that's what the characters themselves say: that they're borne along by heroic culture, a history of blood feuds, etc., and it isn't their fault they do what they do. The realisation is they had a conscious choice, even if the consequences were dire, to not perpetuate that cycle of violence. The moral I've put into real-life ghosts has, via this thread, prompted me to reconsider my handling of the story they are in, so as to not repeat their mistakes...

    ...with the upshot that, unlike them, I'm not a serial murderer. They can get back behind the fifth wall now.

    Oh, and some further thoughts:

    - Violence for violence's sake is not just potentially distasteful: it's also unrealistic.
    - I feel sanitising violence diminishes its impact, and excessively-sanitised violence might as well not be there at all.
    - 'Fair' violence or violence against acceptable targets (e.g. 'no women, no kids') is mostly a literary construct that violent people rarely abide by should the choice be that or saving their own neck. A good scene in Breaking Bad, for me, was when Todd shot that kid, because that's what a character like Todd would do. In contrast, large-scale drug dealer Scarface crossing Sosa over the wife and kids never seemed plausible to me.
    - There are people out there who don't consider the violence they inflict tragic, and never suffer for it. As much as we may not want to represent such a figure, people know they exist, and we shouldn't be afraid to handle them if one could improve our tale.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
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  10. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I would agree with you there. Bernard Cornwell's descriptions of battles are effective precisely because the violence is graphic ... he even describes the smells of battle.

    I had an interesting talk with Jerald Silva, an artist and film buff, about this subject, when I asked him if he'd seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. He said that he hadn't, and wouldn't, because it was just a glorified snuff film. He pointed out that if a film showed the gruesome torture and death of just anybody, it wouldn't have been distributed. (Think of that incident a few years back, where a guy was dragged behind a truck until he fell apart. Would a movie about that, graphically depicting the murder, ever hope for distribution?)

    But since it was Jesus who was tortured and killed, everything was cool, and the "devout Christians" could be counted on to attend the movie in droves. Gibson always had a thing for torture in his films, Jerald pointed out, and now he had carte blanche to indulge it.
     
  11. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I have misplaced my pants.... Contributor

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    download (1).jpeg
     
  12. LucatheRat

    LucatheRat Member

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    I put violent scenes in my writing often and reasons to avoid them fade as life experience grows.

    Everyday we come across something I call "invisible violence": the number of occasions remaining unrecognized, unknown. It doesn't have to be as gory as J.W. Gacy's biography, but that's an accurate example of what I mean. Fortunately these cases are rare and people in general are affectionate and conscious. However, minor acts of cruelty might never come to the surface, moreover, they happen with or without our accidental presence. We can't take the rap for everything personally, but it's naive to think there's no evil if there's no evil seen. Why silence then?

    There's a bunch of brutal content on the Web. Even if someone vows to never mention violence again - most likely it won't influence those who seek and will find.

    Physical impact" can be justified. We have a right of self-defense at least and, to my sight, there are a few human beings who can hypnotize an offender. It's usually a "run or fight" kind of reaction. No morals, just a reflectory response. It also can be the only logical way to develop the plot, if an author wants the story to sound plausible. There are other situations when I can't consider it "bad", but let's leave it to myself in order to avoid a long and questionable discussion.

    Knowledge of violence is knowledge, and it tends to be forgotten. Careless victims, toothless "good" defeated by intruders, non-believers that repeat "this can't happen" like parrots, society that denies realities and many other results of ignorance are already widely presented in literature.

    It's instinctive. So much for "love yourself" talks, so little for accepting and exploring a part of our innate biological feature most people are not comfortable and/or familiar with. The less control they have when flooding feelings take over. One can't manage an MRI scanner if there's no experience in using it. I hope writing and other arts work as a manual here: they build associations that probably will turn on later in real settings, which would help hitting the breaks on time. It did for some people so far.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2020
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  13. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Active Member

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    I personally try to make violence as awful as possible. Not for any ethical reason, however, as art mediums are abused as scape-goats to explain tragic events. I do it more for the sake of honesty. When bad things happen, even to bad people, it is not quick and it is not nice. They will scream and clutch their wounds in horror.

    That said, violence can be set up so well that a single slap across the face is more gruesome to the reader than any prior viscera encountered.
     
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  14. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    You can't live your life fearing strange possibilities. Only a crazy person is going to snap and run amok, and only their therapist can predict the catalyst. Maybe the lunatic in question needed fictional violence to stay sane, and the lack of violence in your story made him snap? He kept waiting for it, chapter after chapter, but you kept cutting away. You stirred his bloodlust! haha. In that case, you're endangering everyone by not writing about violence. Like I say, these weirdos shouldn't make you live as if you were locked in a rubber room with them. You're sane. Your readers are sane. Be true to the characters and the plot and write the best story you can.

    If there is one thing I don't care for though, and which I do find irresponsible, it's sneaking out-of-place elements into other genres. Especially, kids genres. Those wink-wink moments in Pixar movies that the studio knows the kids will see, but only mom and dad will understand them. That kind of thing is tacky, IMO. Don't trick the audience, and don't assume kids are too stupid to catch on. (Note: I'm not talking surprise elements that work. "Parasite," for example. That was a great movie and its genre allows the violence and the sex. Kids genres don't.)

    But do give the audience what they want. If they want violence, they get violence. If they want sexy time, they get sexy time. If they want vampires who twinkle, they get a super buff werewolf. Just be sincere.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2020
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  15. Fervidor

    Fervidor Member

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    I don't think it's fair for us artists to be held responsible for the actions of other people. Really, are we that powerful? The morality and mental health of our readers is neither within our power to control, nor something we can be reasonably be expected to account for. People shifting the blame for violent crimes and tragedies unto whatever movie or video game or music genre the perpetrator happened to like just want a simple solution to a very complicated problem: Something they can ban so they can feel a little better about it all, rather than looking at society as a whole and asking what really causes people to end up that broken.

    As for fictional violence, all we need to concern ourselves with is how we use it and what we're trying to say with it: What meaning or values we aim to express, or what questions we want to raise. That is up to each writer to decide for themselves, and I don't believe anyone else has the right to do so in our place.
     
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  16. Belinda R

    Belinda R New Member

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    I think it depends on yourself, and how you feel. If you feel the story warrants violence and you feel okay writing it, then go ahead. People will always look to defend their actions. "I saw my dad beat on mum, therefore I beat my wife" or "I wouldn't have ever shot people if I hadn't practiced in video games".

    Personally, I used to write violent scenes, because I thought it was the only possible way to ramp up the drama. I used to play violent video games and watch violent movies. These days? Well, I've had too much violence in "real life", therefore I avoid violence, now. I think there's quite enough violence in the world, so I'd prefer to support books/movies/games that don't go down that path.

    But that's just me. I think it's important you do what YOU want to do. Unless you're adding violence for violence sake. That's just lousy writing. :D:D:D
     
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  17. Fervidor

    Fervidor Member

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    ...I really hope nobody has ever actually said that.
     
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  18. Belinda R

    Belinda R New Member

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    Not in those exact words, but yes, they have. Probably with some prodding by exceptionally lousy mental health "specialists".
     
  19. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Amateur Human Contributor

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    There is a book about how to make bombs. There is a book about how to commit suicide. Both books are frequently banned in libraries because of its "how to" nature out of the fear that people will actually use it for nefarious and harm ful purposes.

    HOWEVER, as librarians, our job is to provide access to information. We are not responsible for how you use or interpret that information.

    I kind of see it in terms of writing too. There are a lot of things that are written that I don't agree with. That are too violent, too sexually explicit, to ideological, too political. But I don't HAVE to read it. There are sick people out there who will get their hands on the type of information they feel suits their agenda, it matters less about the writer and more the information (religious texts come to mind). Unless the authors intention is to create discord (manefestos to incite violence), then I don't think writers should censor their creativity because they are afraid people with do it. If it is a concern for the writer, then the writer can make the decision not to do it.
     
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  20. shiba0000

    shiba0000 Member

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    There's an undercurrent of violence that runs through reality and into fiction. No amount of warping fiction will change real-world human behavior.
    I include violence in my writing because it's as much a part of life for humans as breathing, but I try to pretty it up because I think beauty is necessary for art to be enjoyed.
    [​IMG]
     
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  21. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    I don't agree that art can only be enjoyed if it is beautiful. Art isn't necessarily about beauty, and not all beauty is about prettiness. Pablo Picasso's paintings aren't beautiful as I would define the word, but they are art nonetheless. If you've ever read a text that made you laugh and cry at the same time while your mind burst with the vivid scene, you know what I mean.

    Sorry, back to topic :rolleyes:. Just had to get this one off my chest.
     
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  22. shiba0000

    shiba0000 Member

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    I see that all art has 3 pillars of merit: beauty, relevance, and skill.
    Art should be beautiful so people would want to look at it.
    Art should be relevant so people would remember it.
    Art should require skill so it's unique.

    I think Picasso sacrificed beauty to increase his art's relevance, but I'd prefer to maximize all three if possible.
     
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