Monday, February 18, 2008

Another Sort of Shock

Saturday's post on YA shock got a lot of response. Since I took my sixteen-year-old Little Sister for a driving lesson and to the movies yesterday , I decided to ask her about YA books, which she still sometimes reads, and about her response to a movie we recently saw together, Untraceable. These reactions turned out to be related.

Untraceable, in case you don't follow current movies, concerns a website that kills victims in real time. The more people who access the website, the faster the victim dies, since the hit counter is tied into accelerating torture: releasing more acid in the water the victim is forced to sit in, for instance. The torture scenes are graphic and, to me, intensely disturbing, so that I spent about a fifth of the movie with my eyes closed. Also disturbing is the movie's contention that millions of people would hit the website, knowing what their access does. Abby, however, was not disturbed at all. I asked her why. She gave two explanations: "I know it's not real, just actors," and "Kids see so much of this all the time on-line and in video games and at the movies. It's only your generation that gets upset about it." She said essentially the same things about the graphic violence and often brutal sex in some YA books.

Now, Abby is only one teen, not a statistically valid horde. But she is smart, she's articulate, and she reads a lot. I said, "But while the movie or book is going on, until it's over, isn't it real enough to you that you're disturbed by the nastiness?" She said no.

I think -- it's hard to remember so long ago -- that at her age, I was disturbed by such images. I still am. So maybe Abby's right (my son and daughter-in-law agree with her) and it is generational. Or maybe I'm just a wimp.


Carmen Webster Buxton said...

This brings up an interesting point. We tend to lump sex and violence together when talking about what's "appropriate" for teens. If anything, American movies can get away with more violence than they can sex, which I think is weird. Why is full frontal nudity worse than spewing blood and body parts?

I suppose with your Little Sister, Nancy, the question is, are she and her generation desensitized to violence, or are they simply good at compartmentalizing fiction and reality? I suppose the answer could be found in how disturbed they are by news footage of massacres and school shootings.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

No, I beg to differ with your Little Sister. When I was a teen (in the 1980s) I used to watch a lot of bloody, nasty material (Freddie Krueger, anyone?) and file it away under Make Believe.

At 36, I find that I am a great deal more squeamish than I was at 16. When I watched the first SAW movie, I was fairly well grossed out.

And I've noticed that I tend to avoid horror films these days.

So, I don't think it can be pinned to generational issues. The other thing is that folks do change over time.

S. F. Murphy

bluesman miike Lindner said...

You're not a wimp at all, Nancy. You're a kind woman appalled at the way our popular culture's going down the tubes. See, there's a =reason= the cops don't give all the details about sadistic murders: fear of imitative crimes. Hey, why not? What would that feel like? Nothing else to do...

The most monstrous story I've ever read (might have been in SHOCK ROCK, I don't recall) went like this:

A guy--a =good= guy--is on the case...

I watched the video again, trying to find a clue. What could motivate an animal like that? The woman was tied down and bleeding and begging with her eyes. The kinfe came down again. And again. And again. Cutting and sawing. Her screams of "Daddy! Daddy!" through the gag...

I just didn't get it. How could anyone take pleasure in that? What could they get out of it?

But I had to understand this guy to find him. So I hit replay.

I must have watched it a hundred times by now.

James A. Ritchie said...

I think she is right, and I think that's the danger. It's much like drugs. Start small, but sooner or later it takes more and more, stronger and stronger, to get you high.

Same with sex and violence in books and movies.

It isn't generational, it's societal and cultural.

David B. Ellis said...

I tend to agree with Murphy. I'm 36 and recall when I was in high school how casually most of the other kids enjoyed watching gore movies and the FACES OF DEATH series. I think that's an age where people (including the girls) see the ability to watch gore and violence with a nonchalant attitude as a mark of maturity (and I agree with Murphy that its actually the opposite).

Personally, I was appalled even then by the idea of the FACES OF DEATH. I've never watched one nor had any desire to.

And I try to avoid today's crop of "torture-porn" movies---though I did see the first SAW movie and thought it pretty well-done.

Even so I have no desire to ever see it again. Or any of the sequels.

none said...

Reading Ross Leckie's Hannibal recently (not a YA book), I became aware of how much more sensitive I've become to pointless cruelty. Some of the scenes in that book are horrific--the more so because (presumably) they're based on real events.

I keep wondering what the hell is the point of it all, and all the more so when it's made up for my "entertainment". Definitely a function of growing older in my case.

Dolly said...

Your blog, and comments that followed brought many questions/concerns/issues to my mind. First of all - while you didn't come out and say it, I would have to ask - do you consider this "entertainment"? It certainly seemed to me that Abby did. And as a teen if this is her idea of "entertainment" I would strongly agree with ritchie - it isn't generational - it's societal, and cultural. And if these are the future leaders of America? I for one, am concerned.

While it does seem according to these posts, this type of 'enjoyment' may be "outgrown" with age - but I truly wonder how many teens today will outgrown that attitude. The movies and video games seem to encourage this type of behavior and attitude, as attested to be the rash of school shootings, and racial slurs that are flung around like silly string.

I don't understand something though - Bluesman - you stated ..."our culture is going down the tubes." But, yet you also stated you watched the what seems to me a horrific movie seen a hundred times by now. Am I the only one that questions WHY on earth would you watch that again even once???

Are these types of movies "entertainment" that which holds the attention so as to bring about pleasure? To me, and this is my own personal opinion - these types of depressing, horrific movies, are not 'entertainment', but clearly they are to someone - as if you look - they are typically the longest lines at the box office.

David B. Ellis said...

To those alarmist who think the world is going to hell in a handbasket and that the next generation is off its rocker, I'll just remind you that pretty much every older generation has said that about the next one.

That, and recommend this short essay/review by David Brin as a much needed dose of perspective:

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Dolly, I apologize if my post was ambiguous. I was describing =a story=, not what I've seen myself.

I would =never= want to watch something like that. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

And David B., you're certainly right about "every new generation going down the tubes," in the eyes of the previous generation(s).

Dear I getting old? Say it ain't so, Joe!

"It's so, kid..."