Wednesday, October 25, 2006

R-rated genes?

A film called Saw was advertised in Sunday's NYT with a full page ad. Rated R: "Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language." On the evidence of print and TV ads, this seems to be typical of the horror genre today: gratuitous violence of the most graphic sort, usually directed towards scantily-clad beautiful young people. It is simply inconceivable to me that any parent or guardian would accompany a child to such a film.

Then there's the video games, which kids are playing pretty much without adult supervision, and which are getting more graphically violent all the time.

What is this taste we have for gore? Is blood lust part of human nature? Certainly, it is nothing new. The Romans turned torture and carnage into mass entertainment.

I wrote about the violence of the Roman Colosseum in my novel Valentine (due out here and in France early in the new year), but if the novel were made into a film I would have to skip the screening. I walked out of Gladiator. If you asked, I would say that I wrote graphically about Roman violence as a dispassionate literary examination of human nature. My hero, Valentine, a physician, throws up on his first and only visit to the amphitheater as a spectator.

But maybe in writing the book I was satisfying a blood lust of my own in a self-deceptive, vicarious way. I don't underestimate the influence of genes, especially when it comes to a male preoccupation with sex and violence. One need only open the newspaper on any day to guess that the sex chromosomes carry some fearsome biological baggage that expresses itself almost exclusively in males.

Each of us, male and female, lives our life with an angel on the right shoulder and a devil on the left, and we are still a long way from knowing what part of either voice is nature or nurture.