MCAT CARS Investigates Violence in Movies


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CARS 91: MCAT CARS Investigates Violence in Movies

Session 91

Today, dive into this idea of entertainment focusing on villains rather than the victims. It’s sort of reducing violence to a form of entertainment. Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

As always, I’m joined by Jack Westin from JackWestin.com. Check out all their amazing free resources including a free trial session of Jack’s full course to see how it’s like learning from Jack Westin himself.

The best way to use this podcast is to read the passage we’re breaking down in this podcast before you listen to the podcast. Come to your own conclusions. Understand what the author’s trying to tell you both in the actual words that they are using and the tone behind the written words. And then listen to the podcast to build those skills first and then listen.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

Link to the article:

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/cinema-atrocity

In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil draws an explicit link between aesthetic and physical violence, writing: “Even in my worst moments I would not destroy a Greek statue or a fresco by Giotto. Why anything else then? Why, for example, a moment in the life of a human being who could have been happy for that moment.” In this view, violence splinters the world and leaves trauma in its wake. It is no surprise that proto-fascists like Gabriele D’Annunzio and the Italian Futurists elevated violence to a kind of sublime aesthetic force. For them, extreme actions had become necessary to achieve individual fulfillment in a hopelessly decadent world.

Even today, many artists are tempted to envision a world transformed by dramatic violence. Don DeLillo posited terrorism as “the only meaningful act” in Mao II. Marilynne Robinson has said that her students at the Iowa Writers Workshop often enjoyed punishing their characters. And Ida Jessen, a writer who has translated Robinson into Danish, told me something similar last fall: that the highest aspiration of modernism is cruelty. Even Krasznahorkai’s latest work often falls prey to a spiteful irony, where no good intention exists but to be thwarted. Weil seems lonely in her avowal, “To sully nothing, even in thought.” Anyone who makes violent art, no matter how finely wrought, runs the risk of creating a demon.

This is especially true when that art deals with real-life atrocities. In an interview around his 2012 film Amour, the Austrian director Michael Haneke presented a critique of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and other films about the Holocaust. To create suspense around whether gas or water will come out of a showerhead, according to Haneke, is an “unspeakable” act that reduces human suffering to a form of entertainment.

I returned to this interview a few months ago when Amazon released the neo-exploitation series Hunters on its streaming service. Hunters reimagines the hunt for Nazi fugitives as a kind of high camp, its cast stocked full of every imaginable grindhouse archetype. Every gesture seems secondhand. But as it cuts between 1970s New York and the death camp at Auschwitz, the show descends to a level of stupidity not even camp can justify. When a band of Jewish musicians switches from Wagner to folk music, they are executed on the spot. A chess prodigy is forced to play against an SS commander, with Jewish prisoners as the chess pieces. And the entire plot hinges around a maniacal Nazi, the Wolf, a genius so devious he spends the entire show hiding in plain sight.

I’m not the first person to find the show distasteful—the Auschwitz Memorial registered a complaint early on. I’m not even the first to note how incredibly tacky it all is. But it occurred to me recently that the outrageous images in Hunters serve as a kind of shield against the true horrors of the Holocaust. The show elevates the perpetrators of this world-historic crime to the status of fascinating arch-villains, while reducing its victims to plot devices. It is unspeakable, to use Haneke’s word. It is also ridiculous.

[02:25] Don’t Get Too Excited!

Are you the kind of student that when you click the button to go to the next page, you get so excited because you think you know the answer to it? But you don’t want to get excited. You also don’t want to get too low to say you hate the topic.

An emotional student never does well. They’re not going to get a 129-130 if they act like that, or if they think that way.

On the other hand, high-scoring students look at the passage and think about what they need to learn from what they’re reading. They don’t comment on the question being hard or easy because that’s distracting.

So just read the passage. If you find that there are certain passage topics that you’re weaker on, don’t neglect them. Don’t shrug them off and brush them under the rug. Do something about it. Read more of those kinds of passages. You shouldn’t have those kinds of feelings of weakness.

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No one’s going to be 100% prepared. But there is a threshold or a baseline where you’re unhappy with a score. So you have to get to that before you take the test.

[06:25] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil draws an explicit link between aesthetic and physical violence, writing: “Even in my worst moments I would not destroy a Greek statue or a fresco by Giotto.

Jack says:

We’re given a piece of work since Gravity and Graces is in italics. We’re given an author here, Simone Weil and what she’s writing about the link between aesthetic and physical violence.

The author seems to be presenting a dichotomy. In this case, we’re talking about the aesthetic and the physical actual violence. It does say, “in my worst moments, I would not destroy a Greek statue.” So that seems like the physical, a Greek statue or a fresco by God. We know exactly what’s going on, but you just have to keep greeting, and hopefully it clears it up for you.

[08:00] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

Why anything else then?

Jack says:

It’s a very short sentence to really glean anything from although she’s setting up this question.

[08:20] Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

Why, for example, a moment in the life of a human being who could have been happy for that moment.”

Jack says:

As long as you know that we’re still focused on the physical and the aesthetic kind of connection, that’s enough. Let’s keep reading.

[08:56] Paragraph 1, Sentence 4

In this view, violence splinters the world and leaves trauma in its wake.

Jack says:

The author is giving us their view of violence and trauma in its wake.

[09:10] Paragraph 1, Sentence 5

It is no surprise that proto-fascists like Gabriele D’Annunzio and the Italian Futurists elevated violence to a kind of sublime aesthetic force.

Jack says:

The author is talking about proto-fascists or whatever that means. I know fascists are. So protofascism, I’m assuming that’s pro-fascist maybe. And we’re given a name here and Italian futurists and how they elevated violence to a sublime aesthetic force. Maybe they wanted violence to be seen as good.

Again, it’s linking violence in terms of physical and aesthetic. So let’s keep reading and let’s see if they cleared this up a little bit more. But we know we’re talking about an artist at least to some extent.

[10:25] Paragraph 1, Sentence 6

For them, extreme actions had become necessary to achieve individual fulfillment in a hopelessly decadent world.

Jack says:

They’re talking about how violence was necessary to achieve individual fulfillment. We don’t necessarily know just yet who these people are, whether they’re politicians or artists. But you should know they’re focused on violence and they use violence to further their cause.

No attitude is necessary. All you’ve got to do is just keep reading. And hopefully it’ll clear up. 

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[11:46] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

Even today, many artists are tempted to envision a world transformed by dramatic violence.

Jack says:

Even today, artists are tempted to envision a world transformed by dramatic violence, whatever that means. So it’s like the author here is saying that artists like to portray violence. They’re trying to envision a war world with violence in it.

[12:32] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

Don DeLillo posited terrorism as “the only meaningful act” in Mao II.

Jack says:

It’s just an example of these artists envisioning dramatic violence.

[13:05] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3

Marilynne Robinson has said that her students at the Iowa Writers Workshop often enjoyed punishing their characters.

Jack says:

These are all examples where we’re all in the same direction. So just keep reading and try to visualize it all. Try to understand it, absorb it.

[13:32] Paragraph 2, Sentence 4

And Ida Jessen, a writer who has translated Robinson into Danish, told me something similar last fall: that the highest aspiration of modernism is cruelty.

Jack says:

It’s suggesting that if you’re thinking about the modern era. That if you want to be more modern, you have to be more cruel. So it gets modernity. The idea of modern is associated to cruelty.

[14:11] Paragraph 2, Sentence 5

Even Krasznahorkai’s latest work often falls prey to a spiteful irony, where no good intention exists but to be thwarted.

Jack says:

In some ways, there’s violence associated with it. But again, that’s too deep. Just understand that this is all falling under the same category.

[14:58] Paragraph 2, Sentence 6

Weil seems lonely in her avowal, “To sully nothing, even in thought.”

Jack says:

We’re brought back here to Simone Weil, the person in this Gravity and Grace that we started with. Don’t go too deep into this. As long as you know these are all sort of actually trying to exemplify violence in art today. That’s what the first sentence of this paragraph said. And that’s what we’re trying to continue with.

Unless it says this is wrong in a very direct explicit sense, we could probably assume that this is all falling under the same category so far. Understanding this quote is not worth our time. It’s not worth our energy.

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[16:46] Paragraph 2, Sentence 7

Anyone who makes violent art, no matter how finely wrought, runs the risk of creating a demon.

Jack says:

The whole paragraph was talking about how today these artists are focused on violence. But what is this last sentence convey or point out? Maybe the viewer of the art ends up being the demon. Does that make sense that it causes a negative effect? That’s a typical way of looking at this.

[18:02] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1

This is especially true when that art deals with real-life atrocities.

Jack says:

The author mentions some more artwork and how they’re tied into real life here.

[18:18] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2

In an interview around his 2012 film Amour, the Austrian director Michael Haneke presented a critique of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and other films about the Holocaust.

Jack says:

It’s an example here about real life atrocity, the Holocaust. Schindler’s List is a piece of work since it’s italicized.

[18:56] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3

To create suspense around whether gas or water will come out of a showerhead, according to Haneke, is an “unspeakable” act that reduces human suffering to a form of entertainment.

Jack says:

This ties art into violence and art into this kind of cruelty. This the director here talking about Schindler’s List. If you reduce human suffering, it’s not a good thing. You don’t want to just convey human suffering in terms of entertainment. That’s a bad thing.

How do we know that the author is most likely adopting any key point of view? Well, in the second paragraph, it ends by suggesting that anyone who makes violent art, no matter how finely wrought and in this case, Steven Spielberg, runs the risk of creating a demon. That is the author’s point of view. It’s not quoting somewhere else.

So this idea that if you make art about violence, you do bad things. You’re creating a demon. No one wants a demon. And you can probably assume that the author agrees with Haneke. Or why else would the author bring up Haneke.

Personally, Jack doesn’t agree with the author here. If at all, these movies serve as a wake up call. It helps us understand how we should behave and how things can get real bad if we’re not careful in our opinions and we take it into our own hands.

[22:09] Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

I returned to this interview a few months ago when Amazon released the neo-exploitation series Hunters on its streaming service.

Jack says:

Exploitation doesn’t sound like a good thing. And neo, I’m assuming is just a new version of exploitation.

[22:56] Paragraph 4, Sentence 2

Hunters reimagines the hunt for Nazi fugitives as a kind of high camp, its cast stocked full of every imaginable grindhouse archetype.

Jack says:

The author is telling us what Hunters is. It’s the hunt for Nazi fugitives. I don’t know what high camp means. The details here are not that important. As long as you know we’re talking about this new show and how it’s conveying these normal characters, then you’re fine.

[23:50] Paragraph 4, Sentence 3

Every gesture seems secondhand.

Jack says:

It’s probably negative. No one wants to be second-handed.

[24:08] Paragraph 4, Sentence 4

But as it cuts between 1970s New York and the death camp at Auschwitz, the show descends to a level of stupidity not even camp can justify.

Jack says:

We’re getting this kind of idea that the author doesn’t like this show. It descends to a level of stupidity, not even the camp can justify.

“To look for the tone of the author, look for words that give you a big indication that the author is negative in tone. Look for these extreme words.”Click To Tweet

[25:03] Paragraph 4, Sentence 5

When a band of Jewish musicians switches from Wagner to folk music, they are executed on the spot.

Jack says:

The author thinks that this is just entertainment. It has reduced to entertainment, which the author doesn’t like. And Hunters is an example of this.

[25:34] Paragraph 4, Sentence 6

A chess prodigy is forced to play against an SS commander, with Jewish prisoners as the chess pieces.

Jack says:

Again, the author is saying that this human suffering is entertainment.

[25:51] Paragraph 4, Sentence 7

And the entire plot hinges around a maniacal Nazi, the Wolf, a genius so devious he spends the entire show hiding in plain sight.

Jack says:

The genius is hiding in plain sight so it’s fun and entertaining. And the author is negative the whole time. He doesn’t think the show’s doing any good. If anything, it’s actually hurting us. That’s what the author is trying to suggest.

[26:27] Paragraph 5, Sentence 1

I’m not the first person to find the show distasteful—the Auschwitz Memorial registered a complaint early on.

Jack says:

The author is saying that other people don’t like it either. And obviously this official memorial for Auschwitz as well. This further justifies their claim and it validates them.

[26:50] Paragraph 5, Sentence 2

I’m not even the first to note how incredibly tacky it all is.

Jack says:

Tacky refers to the high camp labeled here.

[27:03] Paragraph 5, Sentence 3

But it occurred to me recently that the outrageous images in Hunters serve as a kind of shield against the true horrors of the Holocaust.

Jack says:

“But” is a contrast word. So many times, when students see a contrast word, it’s flipping the idea. So it’s going from a little tacky to maybe it’s not tacky. Maybe it’s actually kind of good. But it could go from it’s a little tacky to it’s really, really bad. You don’t have to contrast to the exact opposite. It could contrast in a more extreme manner.

[28:33] Paragraph 5, Sentence 4

The show elevates the perpetrators of this world-historic crime to the status of fascinating arch-villains, while reducing its victims to plot devices.

Jack says:

It’s shielding away because one, it’s making these villains seem fascinating. It’s painting these villains in a more positive way. So it’s shielding us from the actual horror that you know. These villains shouldn’t be seen in this fascinating way. They shouldn’t be seen as these villains that we can all talk about. We should be seeing them as cruel people.

Going back to this idea that it’s a form of entertainment. It’s reducing it to a form of entertainment and we’re not appreciating the actual whore. We’re not actually taking that into account.

Let’s go back to the previous sentence talking about the true horrors. The author is saying that we need to remember the true horrors so that we don’t repeat them basically. So this sentence saying it’s reducing its victims, again, reducing is not a good thing.

The plot is not focused on the victims. It’s focused on the villains. These victims are not really appreciated. They’re just there to further the plot. And that’s what the author is trying to say.

You may not agree with the author at all, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t understand the author. So many times you’ll have students who will read something they don’t like so they’ll just keep attacking it. But you want to understand it fully and then make your decision on it.

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[31:25] Paragraph 5, Sentence 5

It is unspeakable, to use Haneke’s word. It is also ridiculous.

Jack says:

It’s very obvious the author does not like it when we use violence for aesthetic purposes, especially life atrocities. That’s the main idea. And if you know that this is about reducing it to a form of entertainment, then even better.

[32:09] Final Thoughts

Especially if you know the tone is negative, you’re set. And the hard part is deciphering that. When you read the first two paragraphs, they are nonsense. They are really hard to understand.

But notice the end of the second paragraph where things started to make sense. That’s typically what happens if the paragraph is deep. That doesn’t mean you should give up.

Usually, the last sentence summarizes what they care about. Or midway through, they’ll start talking like a normal person. 

It doesn’t mean you should skip the first two paragraphs. Instead, it means that you should not give up. And if you keep reading, you’re going to start noticing what really matters and that’s the key.

Links:

Meded Media

Jack Westin

Link to the article:

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/cinema-atrocity

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