Thursday, August 17, 2006

1984 and the Culture of Today (Part 1)

I recently started reading 1984. I've been meaning to read it for years, and have fairly recently discovered that most culturally important older works can be read for free on the internet; the copyright has long since expired. I'll be commenting on various things as I go along.

The thing that struck me in the first chapter is the "movies" party members are expected to watch. This one in particular involved a military force destroying refugees in the Mediterranean. the viewers laughed at the whole thing, and particularly enjoyed the sight of a fat man wallowing in the mire, to be blown apart by bombs.

It reminded me of a form of entertainment I've seen people enjoy. I haven't hung around such people in a long time, so I don't know if it's just pre-teen boys who are like this, but I have often watched boys laughing at depictions of human suffering and death. Some guy gets blown up, some guy gets his head chopped off, and it's the funniest thing in the world.

I remember watching kids play games like Doom. I understood the fun of playing the game with the safeties off... The challenge of survival is always fun. But these people would turn "god mode" on and just watch blood and gore splatter on their screen. There was no challenge, no game, just watching things die, and, as the games got more graphically sophisticated, watching things like limbs going flying, blood splattering. etc.

I'm hardly innocent here. I remember well playing Lemmings and laughing my ass off after hitting the "nuke" button, hearing hundreds of lemmings cry "Oh no!" and then watching 'em pop like popcorn.

The thing is, what, exactly, is funny about watching helpless creatures die at the hands of a malefactor? From the child that derives the greatest of enjoyment from watching an insect sizzle under magnified sunlight, to the teenager who laughs giddily as Freddy Krueger or Jason slashes through yet another witless victim, to the full grown adult who still rolls on the floor for a good crotch-hit and glories in the destructive power of modern weaponry, it seems to be a pretty universal experience. It wouldn't be hard for a powerful government with skilled propagandists to turn genocide into a comedy routine.


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