Saturday, May 10, 2008

Murder as Entertainment by Louis Evan Palmer

Perhaps in Elizabethan times, murder and violence were prevalent to the extent that their depiction in most of Shakespeare's plays was a reflection of their society rather than a projection. However, in out times, in advanced countries like Canada, murder is thankfully a fairly rare event, and yet, the roster of popular shows overflows with murder-mystery-like stories set in a wide range of locales and exploring a variety of work and social settings. Even shows that purport to be character-based and devoted to relationships will veer into dark and violent realms when their ratings dip. How much of this is giving people what they like and will return for more of versus catering to baser fears and impulses? Can we always prosper financially by evoking the infamous trio of fear, uncertainty and doubt, and regardless, should we?

Now, it appears that we have crossed the (story) line from where murder was evil and its perpetrators deserving of relentless pursuit and justice to where it's offered as a diversion, where the audience gets to play detective. Maybe we can blame Agatha Christie for making murder seem somewhat innocuous and as something that might interrupt an afternoon tea but not much beyond?

In addition, in our collective efforts to produce better literature, writers trying to make their villians multi-dimensional have succeeded in making some of them into cult figures and anti-heros. The absolute glut of books and movies and TV series about serial killers bears no relationship to their numbers or the threat they pose. It does bear a relationship to the fear they trigger.

Fear, the natural safety-enhancing fear we should have, should push us into action to alleviate the causes of our fears. Watching numerous works, both non-fictional and ficitonal, about that which is causing our fears in no way deals with it in a positive way. The other reason to keep watching, reading or listening to these works is because they "entertain" us. This is a choice we should not make as it means that we don't want to solve our fear problem, we'd rather continue to experience it and "enjoy" it as it were even if that enjoyment is negative. The negatives always seem more intense than the positives and we often gravitate towards intensity.

Our entertainments define us as much as anything else. If we "relax" or "unwind" by watching murder stories or playing ultra-violent video games or we get a buzz by betting large amounts of money we can't afford to lose on sporting events then we're feeding the beast in ourselves and in our society. For example, in some parts of Texas, it's entertainment to sit on your back porch and drink beer while you shoot rats. We know because that's apparently what Dubya used to do with some good ol'boys in latter days. To try to categorize any of these types of entertainment as "fun" is to trivialize murder and violence in a way that makes it more likely on our streets and homes. It may even make it easier to start illegal wars - the Iraqis may have begun to look a lot like rats, ripe for some "US of A" shock & awe.

Obviously, we need and want to be entertained but we must exercise more discrimination in what we accept as entertainment and not let jaded, spent hollywood-styled hacks and toadies twist us to their world view. Say no to "murder mystery" fun and to shows that advertise about the terror, horror and fear they will evoke. It's there but let's not make it the main course.

Murder as Entertainment, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright 2008 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


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