Saturday, August 07, 2004

Simulated violence - can we enjoy them without guilt ?

The New Yorker: The Critics: The Current Cinema

The New Yorker is not one of those run of the mill magazines. I introduced myself to this magazine a couple of years ago and have been reading it on and off. The nice short story, the witty cartoon and movie reviews of a different kind with many insightful articles on politics and current happenings make this a treat.

Just look at the current review of these two movies. The reviewer is definitely learned in his art.

Anyway, coming to the point, the point of violence in movies discussed in this review is something I have thought of many times. We profess non-violence in everyday life. We are, to some extent, horrified by the violence we read about in newspapers. But movie violence is of a different category. We seem to be relishing it. The box office numbers show this to be a fact. But only if the killing(s) are done artfully.

Is this plain hypocrisy on our part ? Or is it one of those sub-conscious instinctive things in us ? We vicariously live through the movie as one or more of its characters and kill or are killed in them. But we do so within the comfortable confines of our movie seats. We pay to watch the movie, are entertained for a few hours and forget the movie eventually. I am sure we will abhor violence in and near our homes.

The point made by Orson Welles reproduced in this review is quite remarkable and goads us to look into ourselves. My take on this is as follows: human society has forever been violent. But in recent years, the conflicts have reduced and have made us see the benefits of peace and living without conflict. But our subliminal desires have to be satisfied in one way or the other. Reading about violence and watching violent scenes in movies may quench this desire to some extent.

The same thought applies in case of violent video games. In video games, we kill virtual characters ourselves. Though these 'characters' are ultimately programming constructs, they are alive as far the context of the game goes. In real life, we wouldn't condone even a thousandth of the violence in these games. But we do not mind killing these virtual villains in a mass of blood and gore. This also has the detrimental effect of desensitizing children's minds towards violence.

I cannot help but think of karma in this context. During a discussion on the Advaita-L list, a list member brought up a similar point and I was made to think more on this topic. Karma accrues when there is doership on the part of the kartA or the doer. While watching a movie or playing a game, we implicitly take on the role of a character in it. We identify with them and engage in some 'action', even if only through our mind. We distinctly remember how we 'killed' a character in the game. If we kill somebody in real life we would still remember that action later. As far as memory goes, there is no difference between those of these real and virtual incidents. Is there any other kind of difference ? One aspect, I must stress, is that we know that the characters in the games are mere virtual constructs. But by choosing to play the game and indulge in violence as necessitated by it, IMO, makes us parties to violence.

During sandhyAvandanam every day, we refer to sins committed by 'manasA vAchA hastAbhyAm'. The above action, IMO, can be classified as a mAnasika action and hence it seems to be the case that sin is definitely accrued.

But another question is one for which I don't know the answer to myself. When is an action deemed to be complete to cause karma ? At what point in time ? During mere contemplation of the action ? After its performance ?

So the point that I wanted to make essentially is that we have to look inside constantly to be on guard for such tendencies. Good actions are to be practiced through good thoughts. Good actions reinforce good thoughts and vice-versa. This is a positive cycle and will cause much benefit.

But thinking is easier than enforcing it in our lives and the latter is what needs to be done.

Anyway, the thesis of this is that we cannot enjoy even simulated violence without associated guilt and karma. If somebody who reads this disagrees, we can definitely have a discussion.

||shubhaM bhUyAt||

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