Britain appears to be gulping down entertainment values wholesale
from a Hollywood intent upon mining the profit margin from barbarism.

BEWARE BATMAN DARK KNIGHT

Little boys have always played with swords and guns.
But they did not always play at beating a prisoner's genitals with a rope,
or stitching a live bomb inside a man's stomach.
For that innovation we must thank Hollywood,
the industrious factory of dreams,
now frequently devoted to churning out nightmares.

Beware of The Dark Knight
letter-to-editor, National Post, Aug 6, 2008

In reading various views of The Dark Knight  (Torture Porn Aimed at Kids, National Post, August 2) it appeared unlikely that this film would be suitable for children. Not wishing to comment without seeing it, I went. In the audience there were many young children accompanied by their parents.

During my 30-year career as a child psychiatrist, I saw quite a number of child casualties of frightening movies. One nine-year-old boy was coerced by his peers to sit through the horror film Halloween. It took six months for his anxiety to abate to the point where he was able to sleep in his own room again. Some kids refused to take baths or enter swimming pools after seeing Jaws. Certain film images combined with a child's fertile imagination can be psychologically devastating.

The Dark Knight  is a particularly frightening movie, with horrific images too gruesome for a child's mind to comprehend and process. Parents beware.

Robert Krell
Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry
University of British Columbia

Torture Porn Aimed At The Kids
by Jenny McCartney
National Post (from London Telegraph), August 2, 2008

If I were 10 years old, would I be badgering my parents to take me to see the new Batman film, The Dark Knight ? You bet I would. It's the latest and biggest release in the superhero genre, which children instantly understand as a direct appeal to their special interests. It's also touched with the alluring suggestion of forbidden fruit: the maniacal, deranged face of The Joker, grippingly played by the late Heath Ledger, leers from posters all over town.

If I were the parent who relented and took a 10-year-old child to see The Dark Knight, would I be sorry? Once again, you bet I would. It's different from other superhero films, as fans are quick to point out. Certainly, there are surprises in its swooping camera angles and darkened, ominous screen. But the greatest surprise of all even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.

I will attempt to confine my plot spoilers to the opening: the film begins with a heist carried out by men in sinister clown masks. As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point-blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown The Joker stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee's mouth.

After the murderous clown heist, things slip downhill. A man's face is filleted by a knife, and another's is burned half off. A man's eye is slammed into a pencil. A bomb can be seen crudely stitched inside another man's stomach, which subsequently explodes. A trussed-up man is bound to a chair and set alight atop a pile of banknotes. A plainly terrorised child is threatened at gunpoint by a man with a melted face. It is all intensely realistic. Oh but don't worry, folks: there isn't any nudity.

What's the problem? I can already hear some people asking. It's all a comic-book fantasy, and comic books are well known for their surreal, cartoonish bursts of violence. But the director, Christopher Nolan, hasn't sought to ramp up the cartoonish aspects of his superhero story, as other directors before him have. He has tried instead to make the violence and fear as believable as possible, and in this he has succeeded.

The Dark Knight, however, has been rated 12A by the British Board of Film Classification, which means that although the BBFC believes it is best suited to children aged 12 and over, any under-12 can see it provided he or she is accompanied by an adult. Cinemas are even holding parent-and-baby screenings....

As a reviewer, I naturally understand that a degree of violence is an unavoidable force in cinema, as it is in life, and that a talented director can employ it to say something meaningful. Yet since 2000, when I first began reviewing films for The Sunday Telegraph, sporadic scenes have brought me up short, because they seemed to signal a sudden, significant shift in the director's moral perspective....

Once, Quentin Tarantino was the edgy enfant terrible of Hollywood. Now he is a member of its establishment, encouraging younger, mainstream "torture porn" directors such as Eli Roth to push the boundaries of explicit, ingenious cruelty ever further. Increasingly, extreme screen violence is used not as a necessary adjunct to a greater point, but as the pleasurable point in itself. Wanted, this summer's otherwise risible action blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, has as its theme the murderous adventures of a fraternity of assassins. McAvoy, again the hero, is portrayed as a hopeless nobody until he "finds himself" by unleashing his killing streak and is thereby empowered.

The Joker, too, croons over his own penchant for knife killing: "Guns are too quick. You can't savour all the little emotions." He's not officially the hero, but he might as well be: next to him, Batman pales into insignificance.

Britain appears to be gulping down entertainment values wholesale from a Hollywood intent upon mining the profit margin from barbarism. America, for all its manifold strengths, is still a country in which the population can be roused to a frenzy of condemnation by the sight of Janet Jackson's escaped nipple on the Super Bowl, but views the sight of a bound man being torched to death as all-round family entertainment.

Just as notable as the burgeoning violence in popular entertainment itself, however, is the rage directed at anyone who dares to question it. Earlier this year, I wrote what I thought was a fairly balanced piece criticising not all video games, but extremely violent ones such as the 18-rated Manhunt 2, which the BBFC repeatedly attempted to ban before being over-ruled in court. The gaming websites went wild with furious responses. There was a smattering of well-put points, but numerous other responses were intent upon telling me variously to "f*** off"; that I was a "silly c***" for raising the issue, or that I deserved my "skull caved in Manhunt-style". It was clear that, whatever the constant playing of violent computer games had taught many such enthusiasts, it was not the ability to engage thoughtfully with a differing view. An echo of the same phenomenon can already be seen in the US, where any film critic who expresses measured dislike of The Dark Knight faces hundreds of intensely hostile online responses. The more violent the source of entertainment, the more vitriolic its fans grow in defence of it: there is a whiff of the enraged mob at Tyburn, furious at anyone who attacks its right to thrilling, primal pleasures.

Is there a link between screen violence and actual violence? Fans of violent films will tell you frequently in the most aggressive terms that there is not. Yet we know that children are, to greater and lesser degrees, highly imitative of what they see. We know that there is escalating public concern about violent crime, particularly knife crime, among teenagers. And we know that entertainment aimed at young people is becoming markedly more violent. My generation was terrified by the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; the current one is diverted with torture and agonising death.

Little boys have always played with swords and guns. But they did not always play at beating a prisoner's genitals with a rope, or stitching a live bomb inside a man's stomach. For that innovation we must thank Hollywood, the industrious factory of dreams, now frequently devoted to churning out nightmares. The poet WB Yeats once wrote, "In dreams begins responsibility", yet Hollywood will never take responsibility for its most brutal dreams so long as the paying public still flocks to the theatre of cruelty.

Batman film breaks box office record ($400-million in 18 days). BBC, Aug 6, 2008

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16.Ministry of Truth and 25.Prolefeed and 30.Love Instinct & Family and 39.Torture and 34.Ministry of Love (Torture) and 35.Big Brother Brotherhood

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

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