The Clare Spark Blog

February 14, 2013

Is there a “culture of violence”?

Tintoretto Origin of the Milky Way

Tintoretto Origin of the Milky Way

Ever since the Newtown massacre, in addition to calls for “gun control,” pundits have been tossing around the term “culture of violence” as yet another way to blame mental illness on the modern world, in this case, popular culture as manufactured by Hollywood, the music industry, and television producers.

This blog looks at some of the “culture of violence” explanations, criticizing them as ideological and non-explanatory. My villains are academics, pundits, and other “experts.”

The Marxist-Leninist slant: violence is built into the relationship between capital and labor, or employer and employee. The big guy confiscates the product that should rightfully belong to the little guy, who are not only the victims of (usually finance capital), but who are thoroughly alienated from the work process. Some call this “the Marxist theory of alienation.”

The Frankfurt School critical theorists (synthesizers of Marx and Freud): mass culture destroyed the radical will of the working class, bourgeoisifying what should have been the vanguard of the communist revolution and corrupting them with desires for material comfort. Erich Fromm, for instance, complained about The Escape From Freedom, and blamed the rise of Hitler on working class authoritarianism. More Eros recommended, but only a moderate amount. Tame that [Puritan] superego that sends revolting children off the deep end!

Antisemitic populists: Hollywood and the mass media have wrecked the family, particularly respect for paternal authority, aided by feminists. Male Jews are primarily blamed for their worldliness, love of gold (gelt), unleashed aggressiveness, thuggishness, and insatiable desire for the flesh of female Christians. This sounds weird and sick, but it is probably the most widespread form of protest today, though few will cop to it.

Cultural historians and the New Left. Only a follower of the famous German sociologist Max Weber would be so dopey as to find culture the route to understanding the emotions, expunging economic and political factors and substituting the power of myths, symbols, and [mis]representations in general that have fooled the masses into believing that we have a functioning democracy (I have some sympathy for this view). The entire cultural studies gang will describe America as possessing a culture of violence, for there can be no escape from the past in which prior white Americans slaughtered native Americans, raped the environment, prolonged chattel slavery, stole the Southwest from the Mexicans, marginalized women and gays, etc. etc. Thus violence is built into the American character.  To deny this is to align oneself and one’s associates with the most heinous characters in world history. 1930s Communists had a more favorable version of American history, seeing the bourgeoisie as having developed the productive forces that would enable working-class control. Some Progressives agreed with them, and feared the worst. (See the followers of Frederick Jackson Turner and his frontier thesis for this scenario. See )

Clare’s musings: There is no such thing as a culture of violence. Horror movies are probably deployed to serve as catharsis for necessarily repressed rage against the parents who have the thankless task of socializing their children from narcissistic little savages, into citizens prepared to participate in a democratic republic, to earn a living, and to rear responsible citizens of their own. However, our species is also suggestible. I do not know how those suffering from mental illness process the gory images so omnipresent in movies and crime shows on television. It would be a fine thing if “behaviorist” psychologists and psychiatrists tackled such problems, and were less attuned to labeling the various “disorders” in order to satisfy the FDA and other regulatory agencies, plus the drug companies who are sedating millions of Americans. (See, for its critique of behavior modification, the parent of cognitive psychology?)

terrier valentine

Liebestod. Happy Valentine’s Day and welcome to our Brave New World.


  1. Clare, you are correct that there is no “culture of violence.” We are not Spartans, and we do not condone fighting except in very controlled ways such as contact sports, martial arts courses, and, to a limited extent, gun range target practice.

    I agree that horror movies are repressed expressions of teenage rage. Stereotypically, the murderous villain punishes teenagers engaged in sexual or moral violations. More recently, however, horror has focused on random attacks or attacks on innocence or goodness. Only the most wily escape, and even then, not always. I recently saw Patrick Stewart in “The Green Room,” a story of a leftist punk band falling victims in a neo-nazi night club. The order of the deaths of the band members, and the neo-nazis, made no logical sense, and there was no sense of satisfaction at the final death of Patrick Stewart’s character. In fact, there was no dramatic tension. The choices made by the band and the neo-nazis were logical, predictable, and non-heroic.

    I interpret this culturally as a realization by today’s youth that the threats they face in real life are, in fact, divorced from morality or choice. Death and danger can come at any moment, and any outcome is possible. There are no heroes, and the villains are equally left with no choices.

    And I am concerned at how the mentally ill view movie violence. A normal person can process horror stories as fables, but a mentally ill person will let the acts of horror build up new fantasies of possible behavior. I was shocked to find my mentally ill teenage daughter watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on HBO late one night. Later, it was clear that her fantasies of killing shown in her drawings were mimicking many of the images in “Chainsaw”. Given that the images of live people being murdered in hideous ways is easily accessible to anyone, I worry that even mentally healthy teens are affected by feelings of hopelessness and repressed rage.

    Comment by stereorealist — June 21, 2016 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

  2. Love it. Esp. Clare’s musings! Laughed out loud on that. So true. Esp. the use of the term “savages,” so un p-c, so gauche!

    Comment by Terbreugghen — February 14, 2013 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

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