Readers may find parts of this article distressing.
I walked out of The Hateful Eight.
Women are punched in the face; the “n–” word is thrown about like it’s going out of fashion (hint: it has); and there’s a graphic rape / murder scene. Death, death, death… Lots more death, a bit of pain, some mayhem, slaughter, and havoc, served with a garnish of carnage.
Are we having fun yet?
And it’s not alone. Judge Dredd, Sin City, Hansel and Gretel, Fury, Machete… All present an unremittingly bleak world, full of violence and cruelty.
Seen Snowpiercer? People are axed, shot, stabbed, impaled… Early on, a character’s arm is frozen and smashed with a hammer. There’s a slow motion massacre halfway through the film. All of humanity except an Asian woman and a black boy die by the end – and, it’s implied, they’re about to become a snack for a polar bear.
And the cinema audience finds this hilarious.
They howl with as much glee at the bloody spectacle as their ancestors did at Tyburn or Newgate or the Colosseum.
I came out of The Hateful Eight wanting a bath, a brain bleach, and an ounce of civet to sweeten my imagination.
The highbrow arts are no better. Regietheater productions of opera bear no resemblance to the original work; characters in trench coats wander around a lunatic asylum, choruses of giant rats wave placards and banners with political slogans or squirt syringes of blood all over the stage, Don Giovanni dies of a drug overdose, nuns are raped, the heads of Buddha and Muhammad are thrown onto the stage, and the thing ends with a 5 minute film of a decomposing rabbit being eaten by maggots.
Directors see classical theatre as a vehicle for political propaganda. Katie Mitchell’s Oresteia (London, 1999) and Iphigenia at Aulis (London, 2004) comment on the Balkans and the Iraq war; Annie Castledine’s Trojan Women (London, 1995) and Peter Sellars’s Persians (Salzburg, 1993) offer nothing more uplifting than the idea that war is bad and America evil. What this has to do with Aeschylus or Euripides is unclear.
Then there’s poor old Medea! Not only has she been abandoned by her husband, she now appears in avowedly anti-male productions such as Tony Harrison’s Medea: SexWar (London 1991) or Brendan Kennelly’s misandric translation (Dublin, 1998).
Charles Mee’s productions of Greek tragedy rejoice in the violence they claim to criticise, and “offer entertainment comparable to the killings enacted to amuse the populace in Rome”.
THE NEXT 2 PARAGRAPHS MAY DISTRESS SOME READERS
His Hippolytus (New York, 2001) contains “a meditation on a father molesting his daughter, an electric masturbation with car cables, and a lemon pie ground by an actor into an audience member’s crotch”. Robert Woodruff’s Orestes (1992) features “an anal violation of Pylades by Electra wearing a dildo”.
(See Simon Goldhill, How to Read Greek Tragedy Today, University of Chicago Press, 2007; and Marianne McDonald, The Living Art of Greek Tragedy, Indiana University Press, 2003.)
Performance artists are even worse. Karen Finley covers herself in chocolate and stuffs yams into her bodily orifices to show the degradation of women. Oleg Kulik stuck his head in a cow’s vagina in an attempt to be born anew; unsurprisingly, he wasn’t. “Inside the cow I realised that there is no reality, and that means that reality is still to be discovered.” Miss Crash sticks needles through herself and hangs herself from the roof by hooks in her knees. Killian Skarr makes torture devices and uses them on naked women.
SAFE TO READ NOW!
These artists claim that the world is a horrible place, and patrons must suffer and recognise their guilt. “Generating shock remains the duty of anyone who aims to reflect the world back at itself”; they have to “rape the audience into independence”. “We are only reflecting the brutality of the world,” curator Peter Eeley says, “and your complicity in it”.
Okay. Deep breath.
Let’s assume for a second that this is a realistic reflection of life, and that the world is as nasty a place as these artists claim.
What, then, is the point of these works? The world is full of hatred and brutality. Basic human values — love, kindness, compassion, courage, honesty and empathy — are absent. Why would anyone care about such a horrible place, let alone have the courage to make it better?
Instead of criticizing violence, as they claim, they contribute to it. The issues that they claim to be angry about are only an excuse to wallow in violence – certainly in the case of Tarantino, whose films use historical atrocities – the Holocaust, the slave societies of the American South – to justify carnage and wholesale massacre, show different races as enemies, and revel in the “n” word. Their only answer to a problem is violence. Watching people die is fun, and killing someone is acceptable. Is it any wonder that gun violence has increased?
But, of course, this reflection of life is not a true one. Life is not a vale of tears and suffering, from which death (preferably by hacksaw, with maximum splatter) is a merciful release. True, the world does have problems: climate change, militarism, religious fanaticism, the divide between the developed and developing worlds, oppressive regimes, threats to the environment and to other species, inequality, bigotry and homophobia. But we are aware of these problems, and are working on solving them. The future could be better than we think. The vast majority of people are not sociopaths but well intentioned and fundamentally decent. Life isn’t always sunshine and music and wonderful roses, but they exist.
Such works are destructive. While they claim to represent reality, they distort it. They show life as much uglier and harsher than it is, while taking away our hope to do anything other than inflict pain and kill.
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out!
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?