Please join in the discussion with my Guest Today; Author Mark Stone
Violence in Literature: When is enough, enough?
Lions and tigers and gore, oh my!
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. Considering that my own work has enough violence to quell the bloodlust of Tarantino fans everywhere, it’s a good question and a very simple one. So let’s start this thing off with a bang (okay, pun intended).
Cast your mind back to, oh, let’s say….2500 years ago. Ancient Greece, home of the cool looking outfits called chitons and peplos. When men were men and women were tired of all the spear flinging and sword swinging. It was the time of the blind genius poet Homer and his creation of the two of the greatest literary achievements known to the Western World, The Odyssey and the Iliad. Good times had by several.
You see, those two works not only shaped the very foundation, the essence, of literature as we know it, but they were, are, two of the most blood soaked, violent, hard-core, no-nonsense books in literary history. For those of you who haven’t enjoyed them, trust me…when Homer describes a spear tearing loose a warrior’s diaphragm when pulled out, it’s a tad disconcerting and probably not suited for children under 13. Or many adults, for that matter. Is it too much, though? Is the description of blood, bone and brains splattering the landscape gratuitous? Not according to English Profs the world over. They say that those two works, admittedly filled with descriptions of brutal battles, cannibalism, and horror, have touched us even to this day.
Take Bill Shakespeare. Arguably the greatest playwright ever. Sword fights, bloodletting, betrayal, drowning, mutilation, poisoning and suicide. Wow…and that’s just in Hamlet! Hang on, it gets better…head on over to Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet and Henry V (to name but a few); talk about a cornucopia of blood and gore soaking the pages! But all that violence was carefully camouflaged behind flowery iambic pentameter that had Lit Majors the world over scratching their heads in puzzlement. I ask you, however, did old Bill go overboard with the violence, even in his romances? If so, when do we say enough? When do the pages become so slick with human-juice that we just have to put the book down so we can barf day-glo?
Here are the nuts and bolts of the matter as I see them: It is merely a matter of taste, not boilerplate judgment or law…that’s it, no shit, Kemosabbes.
Does that sound like a cop-out? Of course it does…but it’s not. Really. Consider this, if the whole world thought that stomping on frogs was an artistic endeavor, then it would be so. If people believed that bulimia was merely an expression of appreciation for a fine meal, then it would be so. It is called perceptual reality; the universe exists only because we perceive it does. Funky, huh?
Some people dig porn and, hey, who am I to judge? To some it’s art and a form of expression that enlightens and empowers. For me, not so much, but that’s my hang up. Some people find professional wrestling exciting and downright fun. Once again, for me not so much. I perceive, therefore the world is what I think it is.
At any given time we can put down the book we are reading and say, “I don’t like it.” The opinions of all those authors out there (myself included) don’t really matter, not one whit. What matters is YOU…you and what you judge to be important in your life. If the violence in the book, magazine, article…whatever…is too much, put it down and go play with your kids, or go play with yourself, hell…just go out and play. Have a good time. You are the judge of what is enough, not us scribblers.
As for me, I’m going to keep writing books so violent they make Reservoir Dogs look like Mr. Magoo.