Desensitization and Projection

Just watched a video where visual effects artists critiqued the CG and practical effects on some show called The Boys.

Well. So this is what the kids are watching these days. Further evidence they’ve lost their minds.

I turned 12 in 1970, so, in some way, movies from that decade were among my first experiences of grown up story telling. This one movie I remember from early in that decade had an antihero who casually murders or leaves to die a number of people. The one that sticks: some woman was gagged, bound, and thrown into the trunk of a car; the protagonist walks away as the car rolls into the water and sinks.

12 year old me was shocked. I might have missed what that women did in the movie that might explain the antihero’s actions, but I couldn’t fathom just letting her drown.

And so on, movie after movie. Between the lack of patience I developed from attempting to watch irrational TV shows and the horror I felt at some movies, I all but stopped consuming those media. When my then girlfriend dragged me to see Star Wars in 1977, I went only because she insisted. The last movies I can remember seeing in a theater before that were Andromeda Strain (1971); 2001 (1968); Towering Inferno (1974); Afterwards, I caught Close Encounters (1977) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and I think I saw Rocky (1976) later. As far as I can remember, anything else I saw from the 70s was on TV or in an arthouse at later dates.

The Towering Inferno (1974) | Disaster Movie World
Not just a metaphor for the modern world. This was not a good movie. Robert Redford was in it = totally forgot that.

You probably noticed that I skipped all the supposed classics from that era., sometimes called the greatest era of movies in history. Some were easy to miss, since I didn’t drive for the first half of the decade and so was limited in my opportunities. But even after I got my license, movies were way down my list unless they had an interesting Sci Fi premise or tie-in. I just didn’t find ‘serious’ portrayals of casual murder attractive; hated it, in fact.

Star Wars did blow my mind. Given the level of dreck passing for great movies – oops, I mean, cinema – at the time, my expectations were below low. But it delivered, visually stunning (we forget how awesome it looked. Jaw dropping.) with characters you cared about and a story that, as a fairytale, made sense.

Yes, millions of people die in that movie, mostly on Alderaan and the Death Star, but plenty get shot or otherwise disposed of. But, in keeping with the fairytale style, you know, where a hundred perfectly fine princes can die trying to rescue the princess before the *right* prince comes along, death is treated rather impersonally. Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen are hardly spared a glance of mourning, for example. Hey, Luke has a beanstalk to climb! No time for emotions! And the deaths are mostly highly sanitized, again, after the fashion of the genre. No spurting blood or long death agonies; no twitching storm trooper corpses.

Recently rewatched Rocky (picked up a DVD for $1) and it was kind of painful. The pacing is odd; in between the fairytale, dark stuff is going on. But – when I first saw it, I was excited – the good guy has a satisfying moral triumph, loyalty and effort are rewarded, we even get a little true love. Beautiful. The contrast with the usual 70s fare was enough to elevate it for me.

Basically, my movie tastes have not changed since then, except that I’ve seen A LOT of kids movies: I want cool premises, characters I can care about, and, well, stuff that blows up. I don’t want nihilism, bad guys that are just misunderstood, and definitely don’t want ambiguous or our and out evil endings.

So, back to the video. The Boys contains several spectacular scenes where – heads explode. Lots of heads explode. In gruesome, exquisitely-filmed detail. Of course, I have no context, and, of course, these scenes were chosen for the quality of their effects, not their morality. But it’s hard to imagine a context that would make them any more palatable. Part of what makes the scenes shocking and horrifying is their otherwise pedestrian normalcy – a woman is having a calm discussion with two other people – and her head explodes; there’s some sort of town hall meeting taking place when, one after another, heads explode, blood and flesh are plastered all over the people and walls…

Exploding heads were not the worst of it. The most horrifying scene these visual effects artists reviewed was of a protest rally, thousands of people in the street with signs, etc., protesting, it seems, the extent these superheroes/ supervillains use their superpowers to do stuff outside any control or rules. So, in flies the local Superman-equivalent, in red, white, and blue, planting his landing right next to a woman being heckled by the crowd. Somebody flips him off. He reacts by using his laser visions to slice the guy in half – and to mow down hundreds of protesters. The camera lingers on the mangled, bloody corpses. The VFX dudes admired the artistry of it all.

Utterly shocking. That insult would be met with mass murder is one thing, but the moral inversion is even more stomach-turning, if possible. Making the clean-cut white guy dressed in the colors of Old Glory slaughter people on a whim is another type of fairytale, a demonic one. Like the Handmaid’s Tale (which I have only heard about) and V for Vendetta (which I saw in the theater. Silly me.) the writers invert and project. What was the last time in the West religion used the power of the state for wide-spread persecution? Cromwell? Or perhaps the English persecution of the Irish that lasted well into the 19th century? That one is a bit off base, since it was one nationality/religious group persecuting another nationality/religious group, not Religion beating up on reasonable people as moderns imagine themselves to be.

In the fevered imaginations of the Left, the Spanish Inquisition looms large. Yet, over its whole centuries long existence, the Inquisition didn’t kill or torture as many people as Pol Pot, Mao, or Stalin did in a routine day. And that was centuries ago. Unless we want to consider Communism and its conjoined twin National Socialism as religions – I would be down with that – religious persecutions in the West are ancient, comparatively minor (e.g., Salem witch trials), or both.

But such religious persecutions are the norm under our enlightened betters. That whole liberté, égalité, fraternité crowd were sure into killing people for their religious beliefs. The French Revolution thus set the standard for our self-appointed betters, for how those who worship Reason (at, least, say they do) treat those who worship Truth.

This is not news to anyone likely reading this blog, and, in fact, this sort of moral inversion was well established in Sci Fi by the time The Matrix made it cool. Lest we forget, those ‘lots of guns’ were used to mow down the innocent guards in an office building lobby, and the equally blameless soldiers. We know, because the movie goes out of its way to tell us, that those who are not with us – quite literally, those who are not woke – are the enemy, even if they don’t know it. Thus, guards and soldiers plugged into the Matrix, with no way to know it or even suspect it, are gunned down in cold blood without a second thought, with all the gee-whiz and cool the artistry of the filmmakers can bring to the scene.

Thus, for decades now, with only brief interruptions such as Star Wars, we have been bombarded with efforts to make us see how cool it will be when the good guys gun down all those mean people who don’t agree with us. What started as a casual disregard for life in the 70s has become positive glee at killing off those whose beliefs don’t match ours. And it ain’t the Right doing this.

Lord, have mercy!

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

13 thoughts on “Desensitization and Projection”

  1. Whenever anyone starts whining about Galileo, I like to show a picture of his tomb (shrine?) in Santa Croce in Florence, & then review the execution of Antoine Lavoisier.

    1. Yep. Poor Galileo – after a lifetime of insulting and belittling anyone he saw as a rival or as lacking intelligence, he gets his comeuppance – and is condemned to live out the last few years of his life in his villa in the Florentine countryside. And Lavoisier gets beheaded by those lovers of Reason.

      1. Ah,yes. The Age of Reason set itself in opposition to the Age of Faith. Yet it was the Age of “Reason” that declared, “the revolution has no need of genius.”

  2. I must disagree about Rocky, which is a masterpiece and one of the all-time great films. You are right, though, that in light of its many sequels people forget just how diffetent it was from what became the Rocky formula.

    1. I don’t dislike it, it was just so different seeing it now than it was seeing it then. Our ideas of good pacing have changed over time as well. For example, 2001, which I loved as kid, is a total slog today.

      1. Rocky is a movie that breathes, definitely, but it needs it.

        Even so, the moment when Rocky rises from the ground as Mickey yells at him to stay down is one of the great moments in film history. Every time I watch it I get chills.

        My hot take: Rocky 2 wasn’t that great and it shouldn’t have had any sequels.

      2. There are so many things about Rocky I feel like people just forget.

        Like Rocky’s first reaction to hearing he gets to fight Apollo? He says he doesn’t want to do it, because he doesn’t think it’ll be a good fight.

        Before the fight, when he’s with Adrien, Rocky knows he can’t win doesn’t really even try to pretend he can.

        And the ending really is perfection. Can you imagine the guts they must have had at that time to have Rocky LOSE? But it’s handled perfectly. Rocky doesn’t even listen to the result, because who cares when Adrien loves him?

  3. “The use of fashions in thought is to distract men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is in the least danger, and fix its approval on the virtue that is nearest the vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running around with fire extinguishers whenever there’s a flood; and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gone under.”
    —C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

  4. another type of fairytale, a demonic one

    Sums it up, yes.

    They’re stupidly sawing on a branch they don’t even believe in, with no idea that there’s a fall.

    They just know it upsets people, and that’s something they can feel, so they do that.

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