Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Games of gore

Last week the New York Times had a full two-page ad for The Game of Thrones, an HBO television series now in its 3rd season. The blurbs were fantastic. Sounded like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

To tell the truth, I had barely heard of the series, which is based on a Tolkienesque series of fantasy-fiction books by George R. R. Martin. We only have television half of the year, and HBO not at all. But I noticed the college library has Season One on DVD and thought I would check it out.

The first five minutes offered two decapitations and a spread of hacked up body parts. That was it for me. I have no stomach for violence.

Is it nature or nurture? Am I missing the slasher gene? Or was I brought up with a wussy aversion to gore?

When I was writing Valentine I became deeply interested in how the so-called "civilized" Romans, masters of literature, law, architecture and engineering could rely for their public entertainment on the butcheries of the arena. I explored this topic in the novel, but found no satisfying resolution of the paradox. If Valentine were made into a movie, I wouldn't be able to watch it.

With the rise of Christianity, the gladiatorial gore declined, but not, apparently, our taste for butchery. Public executions of heretics and criminals continue in many parts of the world. Even in the enlightened democracies slasher movies and blood-splattered video games are hugely popular. Cable television seems intent on pushing the boundaries of violence at far as they can go. The Hollywood moguls seem to know that deep down in some reptilian part of our brain we love the spilling of blood and guts.

With computer-assisted graphics it is now possible to render violence as vividly on screen as in real life. When it's impossible to tell the difference between the real thing and the simulation, is there a moral equivalence in watching? Are we really more advanced than the Romans in our taste for entertainment?

(I know my last two sentences are problematic, but I toss them out there to stir the pot.)