Gallery H

Movie Violence

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Modern American Heroes Condone Torture

By James Donahue

Perhaps we should not be surprised to learn that our last U. S. President, his Vice-President, some top members of his cabinet and staff, right down to the Central Intelligence Agency and top military officials, tortured combatants deemed possible terrorists. When our contemporary American heroes, mostly images projected from the silver screen or football players slamming their bodies against other team members, commit violent acts all the time. And when they confront the bad guys to the extreme, we always applaud.

Time was when we watched the old black and white western films depicting such hero types as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tom Mix, John Wayne and Audie Murphy. Murphy was an actual war hero, earning the Medal of Honor and numerous other decorations in World War II. He returned home to star in various Hollywood films where he continued depicting the role of the American hero.

Those heroes always captured the crooks, they usually did it in some clever way, rarely killing anybody, and sometimes the films ended with the bad guys saying they had learned their lesson. It was easy to tell the good guys from the bad ones in those early films. The good guys wore white hats and the bad ones didn't shave and wore black hats.

I believe Clint Eastwood was among the first of the Hollywood hero types who changed the dynamics of the eternal struggle between good and evil in the moview. First appearing in films like A Fistful of Dollars and Dirty Harry, Eastwood shocked movie audiences by breaking all the rules to overcome great odds and defeat evil.

As the movie industry evolved, the dynamics of the stories have moved into even more realistic images of both evil and “good” guys locked in variations of that eternal struggle. And it seems there are no holds barred when it comes to what the police and military personnel can and will do to win the struggle. Sometimes it is almost impossible to determine the good guys from the bad ones. 

If you think water boarding, sleep deprivation, or just having a prisoner’s head slammed against a wall in an effort to make him talk, look at some of the creative torture methods used by our movie heroes in contemporary flicks.

I watched a film this week where a desperate father was racing against time to rescue his daughter from a gang of crooks out to sell her into sex slavery. To make one of his victims talk he tied him to a chair and a post, then hooked electric wires to his toes and various parts of his body. He turned the juice on and off with a light switch while the man’s mouth was plugged with a dirty cloth. Every once in a while he turned the power off, pulled the wad out of the man’s mouth, and gave him a chance to talk. Once the villain talked, our hero turned on the juice and left the room.

It struck me as I watched that scene that if the torture critics are right, excess torture like that probably produced bad information. Thus it was probably not a good idea to “juice” this informant, at least until after the information he gave was checked out.

But in movies, the torture techniques seem to always work. Our heroes always win, sometimes by the skin of their teeth. Every move has to be calculated, and the information received via torture has to be right or the plot falls into chaos.

Our point is that with Americans being fed this kind of entertainment on a regular basis, it is easy to understand why we are finding it easy for our leadership to lose their sense of moral responsibility when it comes to real world affairs.

While they are exciting and fun to watch, these films also tend to cheapen the value of life.

It also has occurred to us that the movie plots may not be influencing our behavior at all. They may, like all art works throughout history, merely be reflecting society as it really is.

While I have no problem remembering right from wrong, and see such films as fictitious entertainment, there is concern that for some, the line between reality and non-reality is so thin they are finding it difficult to discern the difference.