Was it really necessary for Oedipus to gouge his eyes out? I mean, couldn’t he have just said a half million Hail Athena’s and called it good? The Romans, of course, you know all about: steeped in violence, from the Emperors to the Plebeians. They invented “torture porn,” (and you thought it was the “Saw” franchise) whilst toasting Christians to a light golden-brown or feeding them in convenient, meal-sized portions to the lions. And don’t even get me started on Seneca.
In Shakespeare’s day, death was a door-to-door salesman, selling something nobody wanted but was nevertheless obliged to purchase, at out-of-this-world (literally) prices. Life expectancy was about ten minutes after baptism, and the bard himself lost many a child and sibling to the plague, poor sanitation, or Warwickshire’s Got Talent. Despite this, people showed up in droves for public executions, which included all manner of barbaric rituals, from drawing and quarterings to hangings and beheadings. It just didn’t feel like Jolly Olde London without a few heads rotting away on the bridge. Gruesome spectacle? Read ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore or The Revenger’s Tragedy.
And on and on, up through the French Revolution, where it was a far, far better neck they chopped than they’d ever chopped before, up through World Wars I and II, in which we explored evermore fiendish ways of killing larger and larger amounts of people, in more and more painful ways, for less and less reason. It almost seemed as if we did these things to sell newspapers and magazines, because nothing makes a headline like violence and gore. Think I’m kidding? I’m sure you can find a disturbing image – or ten – at CNN.com, if you search hard enough.
Which brings us to today: violent videogames, television shows, movies, books. And I’m as susceptible to the Grand Guignol as anyone. I loves me some Game of Thrones and Vikings (Bloody Eagle, anyone?). What I don’t love, however, is the way people act like this violence is new or revolutionary in some way. Come on, people, read a book – preferably a history book.
Why do we love violence? I don’t know. But I’d sure as hell rather read about it than experience it.