Explicit vs. Implicit Violence

Published by marco on

On a post on Reddit, someone cited Michael Moore as follows,

“In my first film, Roger & Me, a white woman on social security clubs a rabbit to death so that she can sell him as “meat” instead of as a pet. I wish I had a nickel for every time in the past 10 years that someone has come up to me and told me how “horrified” they were when they saw that “poor little cute bunny” bonked on the head. The scene, they say, made them physically sick. The Motion Picture Association of America gave Roger & Me an R [18] rating in response to that rabbit killing. Teachers write to me and say they have to edit that part out of the film, if they want to show it to their students.

“But less than two minutes after the bunny lady does her deed, I included footage of a scene in which police in Flint, Michigan, shot a black man who was wearing a Superman cape and holding a plastic toy gun. Not once − not ever − has anyone said to me, “I can’t believe you showed a black man being shot in your movie! How horrible! How disgusting! I couldn’t sleep for weeks.” After all, he was just a black man, not a cute, cuddly bunny. The ratings board saw absolutely nothing wrong with that scene. Why? Because it’s normal, natural. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing black men killed − in the movies and on the evening news − that we now accept it as standard operating procedure. No big deal! That’s what blacks do − kill and die. Ho-hum. Pass the butter.[1]

I responded as follows,

We tend to focus on direct and simplistic violence (slaughtering a rabbit or shooting a man) and almost completely ignore the violence of a modern society that leaves its elderly to fend for themselves as if it were still the 1850s.

We feel immediate empathy for a fluffy bunny rabbit, but have been trained to loathe the violent poor person who kills it. We eat chicken and beef by the truckload, but still feel vaguely that the factory farmer who kills them for us is somewhat of a backwoods hick, less morally fit than we are.

Most will viscerally react to the killing of a rabbit. Some are just as repulsed by the shooting of an unarmed man. Very few can condemn those who support or promulgate the violent system that creates these moments. It’s too abstract.

Bill Clinton is documented as having largely dismantled what was once welfare and having grown the U.S. prison system four-fold, but those acts of violence – with much more far-reaching effects than a single bunny rabbit’s death – are barely ever mentioned and certainly not with anything approaching the visceral condemnation we reserve for someone who kills an animal.

The violence of larger societal currents is difficult to comprehend, so it is ignored by people, the media and society. Fish don’t know they’re wet.


[1] I was unable to corroborate this quote with a quick search, but whether or not he said it is irrelevant to my discussion.