The Art of Normalising War

​In the lead-up to the UK election, with political leaders boasting about their promise to spend £100 billion on Trident nuclear weapons of mass destruction, it is interesting to notice how the entertainment industry ‘normalises’ war through countless violent movies, television shows and gory interactive video games.

Like Comment

Like most couples we enjoy snuggling up together with a good movie. With rental services bursting with tantalising movies, it’s hardly worth venturing to the cinema these days. Home entertainment, along with the Internet, is the new conspiracy to keep us isolated and socially disconnected within our own four walls.

However I’m more disturbed by a conspiracy of another kind: Hollywood’s indoctrination of the masses to accept violence and war as ‘normal’.

It was my turn to choose a movie. Sultry screen siren, Catherine Zeta-Jones and swarthy hero, Antonio Banderas offer the perfect combination of romance and swashbuckling action in The Legend of Zorro. But I felt cheated with a massive dose of macho violence and just a tiny splash of feel-good romance.

Another night, I wanted to see the tiny-waisted Nicole Kidman in the sweeping epic, Cold Mountain and unwittingly unleashed endless scenes of Civil War butchery in our own living room.

I succumbed to my husband’s choice of the crime thriller, Man of Fire because it starred the yummy Denzel Washington. Imagine my shock when that same sweet guy systematically sliced off the fingers of a crook and in another gruesome scene rammed an explosive up a bloke’s rectum and we watched him explode.

But don’t worry, as the ultimate action hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger explains to his incredulous wife in True Lies, when she asks if he’d killed anyone,“Yes, but they were all bad.”

I usually like the laconic Kevin Costner, so we got cosy with the old Western, Open Range. The pleasant vistas of rolling plains and peaceful campfires abruptly ceased when the cowboys, driven by revenge, got down to the serious business of killing. The classic show-down is no longer restricted to just two gun slingers. This shoot-out escalated into a massacre. But don’t worry, they were all bad.

These are just a smattering of the countless movies laced with toxic violence we have endured in the name of entertainment. I’m not squeamish about blood and guts. I know it’s only clever special events; that no one REALLY gets hurt…and besides, they’re all Baddies. But what does worry me is the pernicious underlying themes we are relentlessly spoon-fed and mindlessly swallow.

We, passive consumers of Hollywood pap, are being indoctrinated to accept the notion that violence, more specifically, warfare is a natural part of life. The message is loud and clear; war has always been around and always will be. Moviemakers are on a mission to normalise war. For goodness sake, don’t protest. What are you, some kind of naïve wimp?

Furthermore violence is pleasurable. We are meant to enjoy seeing multitudes of fellow humans stabbed, shot and mutilated in various fascinating ways. Insidiously mix up romance and violence and you can capture the female audience too.

We are being educated to enjoy, not just the odd murder, but MASS slaughter. Sophisticated Computer Generated Images (CGI’s) serve up a feast of gore. What about the graphic battle scenes of the “historic” flick, Kingdom of Heaven? God help us if that’s a glimpse of the afterlife.

Even the acclaimed CGI masterpiece Avatar has its obligatory spectacular battle scene.

The mega scale of death and destruction has reached giddy new heights. We are privileged to see buildings demolished, cities crumble and the whole world destroyed in such doomsday celebrations as Armageddon, War of the Worlds and Independence Day.

Don’t you just love bombs? We know from real-life tragedies in Bali, Baghdad and London that bombs inflict the worst possible injuries on fragile human beings; searing flesh with agonising burns, blowing off limbs and deforming those who have the dubious luck to survive.

And here is the concept I like the most. Put aside your conscience and any moral compunction or Sunday school echoes of that quaint old-fashioned rule “Thou Shalt Not Kill” because these enemies are not REAL people.

Using the ever-reliable psychological device of demonising and dehumanising the enemy, governments have license to kill. More than squashing the odd pest, we can invade countries and eradicate, not men, women and children, but “vermin”. It is a simple trick. You just have to label people Jews, Commies, Terrorists or Muslims and they are no longer human; they are pests to be exterminated, a hideous idea Adolf Hitler insidiously peddled in the Second World War.

Moviemakers have all the fun. They can invent aliens, monsters and even machines that the Good Guys get to slaughter by the truckload. Like those grotesque mud-formed Orcs in Lord of the Rings and the legions of metallic villains in I, Robot.

Self-righteous vengeance is another reliable theme that works a treat on the human psyche to justify and rationalise murder. There’s nothing more satisfying than a good revenge movie where the hero, enraged by the killing of his wife and kids or other outrageous offences, blasts to bits the low-life scum who crossed him. This is apparently Mel Gibson’s and Liam Neeson’s speciality.

And if invincible, virtuous heroes are not wreaking revenge, they are “protecting” America and the rest of the civilised world. For such a noble cause, anything goes in movies and in real life.

We were led to believe that the war in Iraq 12 years ago was necessary to protect the rest of us (although oil and profit from weapons were the real prizes). The death toll for the Iraq war is 1.5 million men, women and children (but this shocking figure is seldom released in the mass media) with countless children maimed and orphaned and millions still displaced and living in camps; their homes and villages and ancient culture destroyed.

Be warned contented movie buffs: don’t dare question wars in far-flung countries. While Hollywood grooms soldiers to commit atrocities, the rest of us are being groomed as enablers, as we sink into our comfy chairs and enjoy a feast of violence. Don’t worry. It’s just special effects…and they are all Baddies anyway.

If adult minds are meant to discern between movie fantasy and reality, and this is debatable, can the impressionable minds of children and teenagers discern the difference between the non-stop screen violence they consume from movies and video games and real life? When are the boundaries blurred? When does the real blood of real children spill onto the streets? Fantasy becomes reality when the child grows up and picks up a weapon.

Don’t believe that violent movies are harmless entertainment. Your sensibilities, your conscience and your humanity are being dulled with every violent movie you consume. We in the developed countries are all enablers in the triangle of perpetrators who victimise the poor in the lucrative Business of War.

It is time to wake up from our pleasant mindlessness on the sofa in front of the Big Screen and take a stand against the insidious indoctrination by Hollywood. Lets all get educated about the atrocities happening every day in the real life drama of our precious world.

Diane Priestley

Engaging storyteller, Prolific Journalist, Empowering People Matters

Hello Psychologies Tribe, Let me introduce myself! I'm an experienced journalist with a career spanning more than 30 years writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Australia and the UK. I write about relationships, health and humanitarian issues. I'm a qualified Counsellor and Workshop Facilitator. I moved from Australia to the UK in 2009 and now live near the beach in Folkestone, Kent and part of the year in Kenya doing community work.