Have Your Rebellion Without Having One

One wonders why conservatives don’t call for the banning of violent sports, such as boxing. Here the aim is to actually hurt people and the result is that people actually get hurt.

Do forms of organized violence as socially-accepted spectator phenomena beget other forms of violence? Conservatives don’t think so. We are told that sports build character. The athlete – the football player, the hockey player, the boxer, the wrestler – is idolized.

If violent sports are unlikely to beget real world violence, then it’s a greater stretch to suppose violent movies do.

All these things – violent movies, music, sports – at best represent the sublimation of the frustration endemic to a modern capitalist life. Rather than translate that frustration into real world violence, workers discharge their frustrations vicariously through fictional or organized violence. That the forms catharsis takes are ever more intense is a reflection of the ever growing alienation capitalism represents to the social being.

If this interpretation works at all, we must avoid attributing the phenomena to the agency of the working class. Proletarians do not control the means of production; they do not have the power to produce these images. Fictional and organized violence reflect corporate desire to channel and capitalize on alienation and frustration.

Real proletarian violence has two directions and both are threats to the interests of the capitalist class. The first is interpersonal violence. Too much disrupts social order and exposes the ideology that capitalism is a peaceful and harmonious social system. The second is revolutionary violence. For obvious reasons this is to be especially feared.

Granting a few exceptions, violent movies and especially television programming, while providing an outlet for the energy that might otherwise fuel undesirable types of violence, reinforce attitudes supportive of authoritarian and hierarchical social ordering. The most dramatic recent example of this is The Dark Knight Rises.

The exceptions – V for Vendetta, for example – also function as catharsis: individuals can have their rebellion without making one.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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