Preposterous Violence: Fables of Aggression in Modern Culture
From Friday the 13th movies to pro wrestling, from Stephen King novels to heavy metal music videos--violent imagery saturates our popular culture, reaping enormous profits for its creators, provoking outrage in its critics, and drawing squeals of delight from its consumers. Why do these entertainments find such huge audiences? Seeking to understand the phenomenon, rather than to condemn or defend it, James B. Twitchell offers a lively look at some modern "fables of aggression" and their historical precursors.
Twitchell begins the story in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the "cheap thrills" available to mass audiences included bull-baiting and other blood sports, Punch-and-Judy shows, penny dreadfuls, and the illustrations of William Hogarth. In our own century, he finds the equivalents of these diversions in everything from the infamous EC comic books of the 1950s to recent television programs like The A Team and Masters of the Universe and the latest generation of video games. Twitchell examines a number of key examples in depth and suggests some intriguing reasons for their appeal. Stressing the outrageousness of the violence depicted (it is usually too ridiculous to be taken seriously) and its ritualistic nature (it thrives on repetition), he argues that it serves an important socializing function for its audience of mostly adolescent males. As he notes, adolescence is a stage in life fraught with sexual confusion and anxiety, which often surface as a craving for violent resolutions. The stylized violence of popular entertainments prepares the teenager, he says, "for the anxieties of competition and then of reproduction." Although these violent scenarios might seem to be incitive--and are in a few cases--they serve, for the most part, as cautionary tales. "Boundaries are only known once crossed," Twitchell writes. "Preposterous violence shows what is over the boundary. 'Enough! or Too Much.'"
While the mass media that provide these "fables" are usually blamed for creating stress, for showing "too much," they are, in Twitchell's view, simply fulfilling the wishes of a ready-made audience, and they have been doing so ever since such audiences could afford such diversions. The mass media translate anxieties rather than generate them, he says. "We may not want to acknowledge it," he concludes, "but these myths of preposterous violence are still with us because there is still so much of us unacknowledged in them."
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The Imaging of Violence in Early Modern Popular Culture
The Motion in Motion Pictures
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