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I recently saw on Twitter the retweeted tweets of someone I would clearly never follow, lamenting how terrible the movie Deadpool is. How it glorifies gore and violence and how the rest of the unenlightened audience brayed and laughed like donkeys at these disturbing images while our bold and progressive tweeter looked away in dismay. For them there is no real humor in Deadpool, only crass, baseless violence and the crude approximation of humor. It's clear they felt this is a movie better fit for beasts than humans. Fuck people who think like that. They're self-deceiving mental masturbators.

Violence Is Art

20th Century Fox

Long ago, conflict was described as the central contest in tragedy. Aristotle felt any good hero must have a single conflict, an antagonist. This could literally be a villain, or even an aspect of the hero him- or herself. The classics of conflict are man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, and man vs. society. You have a central figure at odds with something. Like Curious George and a stick of dynamite, or Waldo and his inability to remember where the fuck he is.

Skip ahead to modern times, and I invite you to look at the last 20 years of entertainment in its various forms. The rise of MMA as a legitimate sport. The primacy of the superhero film genre. Hilarious fail videos on the Internet. Grand Theft Everything. Fuckin' Shark Week. I defy anyone to suggest, with a straight face, that we are beyond or above or even adjacent to violence as a species. We're staring it in the face, one hand balled into a fist, the other digging into our popcorn.

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Even our snacks are created by violent food mini-explosions.

If conflict is essential to good storytelling, then violence, devoid of context, is entertainment, I would argue. How often do people stop to watch a fight? Kids in a schoolyard congregate like ants on a Twizzler when classmates throw down. Internet videos of fights are hugely popular. We don't need to know what instigated the fight, but we'll watch it play out if we can. It doesn't even need to be humans. How many nature shows are based on the circle of life, stoically narrating friendly meerkats being eaten by ravenous meerdogs? It's engaging to watch two things struggle, violently, against one another. There's a reason Floyd Mayweather can afford to be so obnoxious; people like watching him kick other people's asses.

Humans Are Violent ...

Marvel Studios

What makes a human aggressive? You may be surprised to learn there isn't a thing -- a switch, a gland, or a little rager spot in your brain -- that controls it all. Aggression is a nuanced, contextual response that cannot be pinpointed and explained away. People want science to work that way; they want a gay gene and a fat gene and an aggression gene, but at best what happens is neuroscience may discover a section of some people's brains that in certain instances seems to promote certain reactions that make it more likely for you to be obese, or an alcoholic, or violent. But it's never 100 percent. It's just some people. Sometimes.

John Mcallister/Hemera/Getty Images
"He didn't tell me they charged extra for guac. I regret nothing."

Chimpanzees are pretty closely related to humans, and they can be extremely violent as well. But why? Studies of violent behavior in chimps come up as empty-handed as studies of violent behavior in humans. Violent chimps don't have an advantage in mating, or food gathering, or anything. Just like humans. Do violent dudes get their pick of the ladies for mating? Quite the opposite, sometimes.

And yet we do violence. We cheer action heroes. Hell, we call them heroes. Being heroic involves overcoming a great adversity that often in fiction literally means killing something. The hero slays a dragon or some terrible beast. Iron Man dukes it out with The Hulk and gets his ass handed to him, but triumphs in the end. The hero has violence done unto him and then doles out even more to balance the scales for the side of justice. Justice is being killed the right way, in this instance. Maaaaaybe being imprisoned, but only after the bad guy was beaten so badly he couldn't run away if he tried.

Marvel Studios
"Half of my leg bones are currently leaking out of my asshole."

The Mawe people of Brazil famously weave bullet ants into gloves that are worn on the hands of young men as part of an initiation to become warriors. This is an isolated tribe of about 10,000 people with no modern technology, no cares for the world the rest of us live in. This is what they feel is part of becoming a valuable member of society, a ritual of pain. Endure, and you prove yourself. You become the hero. The warrior. The man.

Humans, as I understand it, were not particularly violent in their earliest iterations. It was only when we started forming agrarian societies and living in groups that violence became a prominent part of life.

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... But Not By Nature

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So are we dumb monkeys, is that what I'm saying? You're a big, dumb ape; you should love Deadpool because he gets shot in his ass in one scene? Laugh and throw your poo? Fuck no. Bonobos are as closely related to humans as chimps, but, unlike chimps, bonobos are extremely nonviolent in their societies. In fact, bonobos tend to engage in a lot of weird, pervy monkey sex rather than go ape-rage on each other. How did that happen?

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I mean, other than the obvious.

Like the mighty, sexy bonobo and the mighty, bitey chimpanzee, humans are not violent by nature. We simply possess the ability. We have a violent acumen, if you will. It's in our skillset. So when the circumstances are such that we feel the need to be violent, we are. And this can be both right and wrong. Because there's more than one kind of violence.

There's More Than One Kind Of Violence

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

We're told so very often growing up that violence is never the answer. But what about when it is? If Adam Brown steps into the ring against Ronda Rousey and spectators have paid $20 a head to watch this debacle and the winner gets a free dinner and a Fitbit, what is it we've come to see? We're all waiting for the show. If neither party fights, then we didn't get what we came for and everyone is disappointed. Violence was the answer, in this case. In pro boxing, in MMA, in the WWE, violence is the answer.

Now, after Adam regains consciousness he's going to be unhappy, we can assume. And before his nerves start feeling again, while he's still numb and full of piss and vinegar, he may want to take out his frustration on poor, innocent Soren Bowie, who bet $500 on Adam to lose in the first round. He may even take a swing at Soren. Was that the answer? No. That violence was not the answer. That was wrong violence. See the difference?


There's structured and unstructured violence. Violence in which we participate willingly and violence in which we do not. Of course we abhor senseless violence, the real kind with real victims who did not ask for it and did not deserve it. No one wants women and children being abused, and any kind of violent crime should be offensive to people in any society. But to deny that we revel in structured violence is to deny our humanity.

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Violence Is Human

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To deny one's impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human. I think Gary Busey said that. It's relevant, though. Research has shown that mice will engage in aggressive behavior for no other reason than the rewarding feeling it gives them. It works not unlike sex or food or drugs on the brain of a mouse. In one experiment, a female mouse was replaced in a cage with an intruder male, leaving the original male to fight it. When the intruder was removed, the home mouse was given a little target to poke that would bring the intruder back. And can you guess what the mouse did? It poked the shit out of the target as much as it could, indicating it looked upon fighting the strange mouse as a reward. Mice understand Fight Club.

Like mice, humans crave violence. That's science, people. And that's what's enraging about these pseudo-elitist, advanced humans who look down upon the sweaty masses and their bloodsports. There's nothing wrong with bloodsports if they fall under the structured, planned violence label. Much like alcohol and drugs can be abused, a car can be used as a weapon, and you can use fire to cook a tasty burger or burn down an orphanage, violence in general can be abused. To lump it all together under one banner as bad, or subhuman, or crass and bestial, does a disservice to humanity and insults us all.

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Save those labels for where they belong: politics.

Consider the role justified violence plays in our society. Things like contests and even in instances of self-defense. The act of violence ends with a reward for one participant. You get something out of being violent. You win a boxing match and are rewarded with literal prizes. And even if someone tries to mug you, if you fight them off the reward is a win; you have triumphed and protected what is yours. That's an undeniable rush. And it's physiological, too.

The fight-or-flight response releases a juicy cocktail of good-time chemicals into your body, including norepinephrine, adrenaline, and various endorphins. This gets you primed and ready to kick ass or at least run away like a gazelle. After the fight, the feeling of glorious victory is bolstered by serotonin, dopamine, and the happy-time chemicals your brain likes to dole out when things are awesome.

Violence Should Be Fun

20th Century Fox

Why is it wrong to enjoy violence? That's the general opinion, an unspoken sort of rule in modern, North American society, despite all the hypocritical ways we ignore that belief. We say it while ignoring it. We tell kids fighting is wrong and then enroll them in martial arts classes so they can learn "discipline." We say it never solved anything and then spend billions of dollars more than any country on Earth on our military so that we can solve all kinds of problems in fiery, concussive ways.

josephgruber/iStock/Getty Images
"Thank you for your sacrifice, so that we may continue to argue about comic movies
like our founding fathers intended."

I think it's a refusal to acknowledge, at the very least, a dichotomy of violence. Of good and bad violence. We're willing to accept all manner of other "bad" things from smoking to drinking to bum fiddling groups of strangers, and we just tell people to do it responsibly. Why can't we beat the shit out of people responsibly? Don't answer; it's a trick question. We already do. In wrestling, in boxing, in any place someone agrees to throw down just for the hell of it. Violence is OK. It's thrilling and fills a need, a hunger that humans have inside them. This conflict and struggle entertains us. The creative ways to dispatch a foe in movies and video games thrill us. And why not? You could read detective fiction and get a thrill from pretending to solve a crime, or you could watch Deadpool and get a thrill from pretending to hack a dude's head off.

See why violence in movies can be totally off the mark in 23 Lies Everyone Believes About Violence (Thanks To Movies), and check out video games that make Deadpool look about as violent as two pillows hugging in A History Of Violence: 6 Old-School Games As Brutal As 'GTA.'

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see why it's important to chill about violence in media in Why Violent Video Games Don't Cause Violence | Today's Topic | Geek Week, and watch other videos you won't see on the site!

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