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Visions of Violence

Posted Mar 10 2008 1:49pm 5 Comments

To see and listen to the wicked is already the beginning of wickedness. - Confucius

Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba is credited as the author of aphorisms taken from lectures and poems that would eventually be compiled into The Art of Peace. Ueshiba's message herein is that non-violence and compassion are the utimate hallmarks of the warrior. It's ironic that the O'Sensei took this stand, given his own teacher was a ruthless butcherer who would cut down anyone who crossed his path. Fortunately, he had the wisdom to not emulate his master and cultivated a different way.

Is it really conceivable to transcend violence when our culture is so immersed in it? Everyday we're bombarded with news reports of civil unrest, terrorism and otherwise ordinary people gone berserk. Nathan Teodoro posted an account of a young couple who were responsible for the massacre of a family. What's so unsettling is that these sort of grisly events have become the norm in the news. Sad was a word Nathan used in his summation to describe this horrible story. What's really sad is how we as a society have become so desensitized to these things. Violence, bloodshed and mayhem exist not only in newscasts, but perversely in our entertainment outlets: graphic martial-art video games, rap music that espouses gang violence, and movies that depict torture scenes just to name a few.

Like Ueshiba, are we capable of seeing the folly to all of this, or do these gruesome images take their toll on us in some way? Research has shown that extended exposure to violence leads to brain activity patterns that may be characteristic for aggressive thoughts. Monkey see, monkey do so to speak. Not that we're incapable of separating fact from fiction or putting a horrific news report into its proper perspective on a conscious level, but rather that we are affected subliminally.

It seems nearly impossible to have any faith in concepts such as non-violence and compassion when we're force-fed a nonstop barrage of man's inhumanity to humanity. Should the media take more of an active role in not sensationalizing bad events? We too have the choice to not partake in a pop culture that glorifies violence and even murder. I'm not suggesting that we cut ourselves off from reality or view life through rose colored glasses, but we need to realize that the constant depiction of violence in our daily lives can have profound ramifications on us, and especially our children.

Comments (5)
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I wholeheartedly agree. I fully believe we should be more careful about what we expose ourselves, and especially our children to via the television. And movies in particular, where violence is for entertainment purposes. A funny thing has happened to me since we made this change some years ago. I'm more sensitive. I'll inadvertantly wander across something online or on TV and I find myself being....dare I say it? Squeemishly human again. It's like making a conscious choice to not be conditioned by television violence, so that I can still see it for what it really is, and NOT as entertainment. That doesn't mean I'm watching PG cartoons all the time (well aside from having kids!) but that I look for something with more substance. Or better yet, turn the TV off altogether.

I disagree with this to a certain extent. I think that sometimes, films and music that depict violence have a transcendental message that points to the absurdity and pain that are part of the human condition. I especially find the execrations against hip-hop music to be somewhat inappropriate and almost always taken out of context when we have purported pundits like Bill O'Reilly slinging the stones. I happen to listen to hip-hop music so I take offense when people reduce the entire genre to bling-bling anthems glorifying violence, when there are so many conscious rappers out there, as well as rappers who use the occurrence of violence as a springboard to address hope and transformation within a community. Then there are television shows like "The Wire," which are excruciatingly violent, but in no way is this violence that is glorified or given a Hollywood sheen. The show is about the institutional decisions that are very much tied up with violence in the inner city, and while it can be difficult to watch at times, the situations that are depicted are often poignantly and sensitively rendered. I think that when people who produce images of violence are very conscious and intentional about what they want to convey, the result is very different from watching a Hollywood blockbuster or coming across disturbing images taken out of context online, for instance.

I know that the larger issue you're addressing--the ubiquity of violence in our culture and the desensitization to it--is an extremely important issue. And I agree that we also need to consider their ramifications--parents, especially, should be very open in discussing the media with their kids. But all the same, like I said--there is a huge difference between films and music that glorify violence and those that draw our attention to the stark realities that may inform such violence. And that's also something that I think kids should learn to train a keen eye upon at an early age.

I was told a story at at yoga center I go to. Swami Vishnu-Devananda, who used to fly around the world for peace, went to a horror film once with some of his students. They were shocked that he laughed at the film. He said it was all make-believe and there was no reason to get upset about it.

The one thing I like about yogic philosophy is there is this concept of Shiva as the "destroyer." In this mythology, destruction is part of the cycle of life and is seen as part of the whole, not something to be shunned and avoided.

Now, I'm not saying this justifies human cruelty. But I do believe there are parts of ourselves, the shadow, as Jung I believe called it, that need an outlet for these destructive impulses. Not a glorification, but a recognition and acceptance. I love playing violent video games, which may seem strange since I am a) a female and b) very spiritual and a healer. But I can sit down with a friend, and we can run around in a virtual world and shoot each other and laugh and have an amazing time. It's not real. It's an outlet.

Why is it that we love big explosions in action films? Why do they always show the demolition of old buildings on the nightly news? It's because we have Shiva the Destroyer within us, and we know that everything will pass someday eventually. Seeing something blow up is a release of energy, a spark of the creative being reborn. From the ashes something new will rise. That's the circle of life happening.

Nirmala, I like what you had to say and agree with that. It goes along with the idea of Siva the destroyer. An important thing to remember about the concept of Siva as the destroyer is that it stands for the destruction of ignorance. That is why Siva is said to be the Lord of the yogis. Not destruction for the sake of destruction, but destruction of the old, to make growth for the new, destruction of old conditioning and understandings to make way for truth. Violence has it's place when it brings about new understandings, new growth, new truth. It does not have a place, in my opinion, just for the sake of destruction. That is why aspects of Siva and Kali are venerated instead of despised, that their destruction serves a bigger purpose.
I echo Candice's and Stephanie's sentiments. I started to think about this more and I, too, sometimes find myself drawn to things like violent video games, not because I'm a victim of the media blitzkrieg but because there are times when this violence can serve an almost transcendental purpose. Thanks, Stephanie, for bringing up the Shiva archetype. This also makes me think of Carl Gustav Jung's idea of the shadow--I'm especially interested in how the depiction of violence and the grotesque in art can serve as a pathway to illuminate those "darker" aspects of ourselves that must be owned and loved. I think that when cruelty enters the picture, it's usually in a different context altogether. But life isn't all sunshine and butterfliess, and there are many grey areas in which I think representations of violence can show us core truths about ourselves.
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