Entry from June 4, 2002

A Dr. Weevil of http://www.doctorweevil.org writes:

I”m 90% sure that you were the one who wrote a piece I read a few years ago arguing that America”s teenagers do not need less violence in their movies, but more, as long as it is “sensible violence”, and specifically recommending The Sands of Iwo Jima. Am I right about that, and if so can you provide the exact reference? A search of your site hasn”t found it, and I don”t recall what journal it was in.

I ask because it”s very pertinent to an argument going on at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, where Eugene Volokh seems to have come to the same conclusion independently. See, for instance,


By the way, I just noticed that your “Diary” feature is more or less a blog.

Dear Dr. Weevil,

Yes, I did write a piece on this subject in the New Criterion some years ago, though I don”t remember recommending The Sands of Iwo Jima in particular — not that I would quarrel with that recommendation. I don’t have the piece in electronic form anymore, but if you need it I can dig it out and fax it to you. My contention was that the very concept of “violence” is useless for any moral or intellectual purpose without further context. In other words, the who and the where and the why of violence is not just sometimes but always crucial to making any moral judgment about it. The violence of a mugger or a rapist is not treated by anybody in the same way as the violence used by a policeman in restraining him. What, then is the point of talking about “violence” — in the abstract — on TV or in the movies?

What people are really complaining about, I think, is the fact that, unlike the violent movies and TV shows of my youth, in which you always knew who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, those of today tend to treat criminal and legitimate violence as being indistinguishable. This is part of the more general detachment of art and entertainment from the real world and its deliverance into the kingdom of fantasy. In reality, it is hardly ever the case that we don”t know which kind of violence to approve of and which not to approve of; it is only in fantasy-land that we are prepared to look at generic violence, violence without its natural moral context, and say “cool!”

Yeah I know. I might as well admit to being a blogger. I find myself a practitioner of what is rapidly becoming the new national pastime, media criticism. In fact, I have professional status, which might or might not indicate that I am particularly good at it. Certainly, unlike baseball, media criticism does not always reward its best players with the most money. In fact, you could almost say that at this stage of the league’s development, the best are also the most likely to be paid little or nothing for their thundering round-trippers while those who make the big bucks are usually over-the-hill and hitless in many, many at-bats. But thanks for linking to me as a “Miscellaneous Site” anyway.


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