Philip Palmer glorifies violence

Paul Raven @ 14-07-2010

It’s not my accusation, mind you; he’s claiming it himself. Sf novelist and screenwriter Philip Palmer’s had it up to here with people bemoaning sensationalist violence in cinema – don’t they realise that sensationalism is the entire point of the medium?

What I’m saying is; let’s stop pretending.  Of course violence, when it’s in fiction rather than in life, is fun.  It’s part of the imaginative experience; imagination is our way of living other lives, and since we can do so without incurring actual injury, the more violent the better.  It’s cathartic, it’s exhilarating, it can be beautiful; but the key point is; IF YOU’RE A SANE AND MORAL PERSON, WATCHING VIOLENT MOVIES DOESN’T MAKE YOU VIOLENT.  Reality, fiction; fiction, reality: two different things.

[…]

Hell, I read this stuff all the time, and what I write is often WORSE in terms of gruesome barbarity. […] So does that mean I have calluses on the tenderest parts of my mind, the bits that are used to focus empathy, as Adam so beautifully if cruelly phrases it?

Well perhaps so.  But on balance I feel that constantly wallowing in imaginative violence has made me not one whit more aggressive, or capable of violence. I remain as timid, fearful, and cowardly as I have  always been. I would happily slay a Barsoomian plant man with my long sword; but I am not in the habit of mugging elderly ladies, or randomly shooting people in pubs.

[…]

But why, I am forced to ask, does violence in fiction appeal so strongly, to me and to so many of you?  Why do we not daydream about peaceful characters, who broker peace and leave a trail of concord and amity behind them? Why do we prefer the Man with No Name, or Conan, who are more inclined to leave a trail of corpses behind them?

I guess the answer is obvious; we’re never more alive than when we are in fear of dying. And to experience that intensity of life while reading a book, or watching a film, and without any ACTUAL possibility of dying, is vicarious ecstasy.

Having met Philip in person a couple of times, I struggle to imagine a less aggressive or more softly-spoken man (with the notable exception of his part in discussions regarding the funding models of the film industry); having read a few of his books, I can also assure you he’s not overselling his own pleasure in writing (and by extension consuming) media with violent content..

For my money, I’ve always been opposed to campaigns against violence (or sex, or controversial topics) in media, not so much because I feel that they aren’t at all problematic, but because I believe that censorship is far more problematic to society than the media it seeks to control. The internet is something of a vindication to me in this case; as ill-informed and banal as some of them can be, the fact that we can (and do) have passionate debates about what art and entertainment should and shouldn’t say is one I take great comfort in. Let those who want to watch violent movies do so; if you don’t like ’em, don’t go see ’em. Censorship starts and ends with your own thumb on the remote.

That said, I’m not at all fond of gratuitous violence in movies. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve lived without a television for over a decade (and have thus become resensitized), but really graphic violence physically unsettles me to the point that I can struggle to watch a film that has more than a few moments of it*. But perhaps it’s as much to do with being more of a reader, too; strong fiction writing is all about implication, letting the reader’s mind fill in the nastiness in the gaps, and I still find implicit violence in cinema or television far more effective at generating a brainkick without booting me out of the narrative completely.

But what about you lot – are you gonna follow Philip down to your local multiplex for a ninja-swords gorefest, or stay at home and put your feet up with something more subtle?

[ * – My ex-girlfriend convinced me to watch P2 with her last year. Half way through, I had to leave the room. If you’ve seen the film, you probably know the scene I’m talking about; much as I understand Philip’s argument, I don’t know how I could justify the graphic nastiness of that particular bit of cinema on any level that makes a real difference to the story being told. And don’t even get me started on the Saw franchise. Your mileage, of course, may vary. ]


Quicklinkage: writers on writing, Godin on slush

Paul Raven @ 22-03-2010

Some quick links collected in a spare segment of a manic Monday, in lieu of our usual fare (i.e. me waffling on about stuff): here are some science fiction writers going all meta on our arses and writing about writing:

And to close up with a topic for discussion, here’s Seth Godin’s take on the oft-reported death of the slush pile:

If you have something good, really good, what’s it doing in the slush pile?

Bring it to the world directly, make your own video, write your own ebook, post your own blog, record your own music.

Or find an agent, a great agent, a selective agent, one that’s almost impossible to get through to, one that commands respect and acts as a filter because after all, that’s what you’re seeking, a filtered, amplified way to spread your idea.

But slush?

Good riddance.

What do you think: is this a case of Godin just not understanding the way fiction publishing works, and hence applying an inappropriate business model to it? Or is he prophesying the unavoidable future of fiction publishing? Your thoughts and opinions would be appreciated.