Thursday, October 28, 2010

Accidental Profundity, or, How a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Makes You Realize Horror

I've played violent video games my entire life which, according to the Parent's Television Council makes me something of a monster. While some of my more cherished video game memories include harvesting tomatoes and tending to my cows, I've also killed thousands and thousands of men, women, maybe some children and quite a few dogs. My tools have been jack knives, katanas, FAMAS rifles, proton torpedoes and probably a nuke or two. By the numbers, I'm a genocidal maniac.

Even so, every once in a while I realize how not desensitized I am, even to fictional violence. Playing
Heavy Rain on the PS3 put me in some uncomfortable situations of killing: I killed a man I had every right, as an officer of the law, to shoot. I felt really bad about it.

This guilt compliments a similar stress I felt when editing the final shootout of
The Wild Bunch into 2 1/2 minutes of pure carnage. It's tough to watch, and it seems bizarre that video games and movies should make me feel the weight of violence so heavily.

That is, of course, the power of visual media. The neat thing about narratives is they can enhance who we are, freeing us from the bad wiring we have in the monkeysphere. Which is to say, it's hard for us to wrap our minds around human suffering not immediate to us.

Allow me to demonstrate. These are the statistics of how many Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Polish-Soviet area






Czechoslovakia (in the pre-Munich boundaries


Hungary, including northern Transylvania










The Netherlands




Romania (Regat, southern Transylvania, southern Bukovina)






Total Loss


This table is from Judah Gribetz with Edward L. Greenstein and Regina S. Stein, The Timetables of Jewish History: A Chronology of the Most Important People and Events in Jewish History. (New York: A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, 1993.) p. 479.

Keep in mind, this doesn't include gays, gypsies or any other victims of the Holocaust. Now, just imagine how many people died in military actions (not combat, as many civilians died, too) during WWII.

Can you wrap your mind around that? If you can, it's not easy since these are numbers, the kind we learned in high school. Now, a visual.

That cattle car is full of paper clips. Around 11 million (11,000,000) paper clips.

That sort of idea hits me pretty hard, but I recently saw this and it stopped me cold:

Yup. Raphael socking Hitler. See, when I described this to friends, I stopped and said, "because, Jesus, Hitler killed millions." It struck me. And worst of all, the worst punishment meted out for something like this is paltry violence.

"...for the millions!"

It's absurd, but a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic made me a little more human.

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