The Blood and Guts Culture

Our Fascination With Manslaughter Is Innate and Persistent


Published: Febrary 14, 2008

A couple of months ago, my boyfriend sat through almost two hours of the cheery, saccharine, high- pitched singing of “Enchanted” with me, so when “Rambo” came out, I felt obliged to accompany him to this one and a half hours of blood and killing. I never saw any of the movies from the “Rambo” series, but I knew enough to expect violence. It might be needless to say, but I winced through most of the movie, both in confusion at how stupid the mercenaries asking to borrow Rambo’s boat actually were and in disgust at how gruesomely the torture of the inhabitants at the Thai-Burmese border was depicted.

I watched women getting abused, men being shot numerous times and people getting their limbs blown off. It was very terrible, but I watched it all, feeling repulsed, but without getting sick. I finally reached gagging point when Rambo ripped the bad guy’s throat out. As I was turning to my boyfriend to ask if that was really necessary, several people in the audience broke out clapping and shouting, “Yeah, Rambo!”

I guess we could make allowances for this kind of reaction. They were probably teenage boys, infused with manly testosterone, rejoicing in Rambo’s use of force to defeat the bad guy just as he was about to rape an innocent boy. I thought about this for a minute, before realizing that the theater was full of all kinds of people, of different ages and sexes, and we all watched.

Before the movie started, I had seen two fathers walk in with their sons, who each looked about nine years old. I remembered them and watched for their reactions when the most brutal scenes were showing. The boys sat wide-eyed, not turning away, forgetting the popcorn in their laps. Their fathers sat expressionless, not even reaching over to shield their kids’ eyes. We all watched.

If you really think about it, we’re only a little better than the ancient Romans who got together to watch their gladiators fight to the death. Of course, in ancient Rome, real blood was shed and real people died. Today, we are fascinated by seeing limbs torn off, but we claim that it’s only in movies. I don’t think we should overlook the fact that the people killing and getting killed in these movies look, talk and reason like us. Even though the killing is all pretend, we’re still entertained by brutally violent situations that are not so far off from reality.

Our culture reflects our ingrained love of violence. We pay money to watch people get hurt, and we complain when the special effects in a gory movie aren’t realistic enough. We support sports like boxing, football and hockey. Wrestling has become a huge entertainment industry because there isn’t anything much more exciting to us than seeing bodies get flung around, especially when we can see blood. We run to see fist fights when they’re about to happen, and we giggle if we see someone fall down the stairs.

Human beings might not ever be able to progress beyond our barbaric appreciation for gruesome violence. Since ancient Roman times, we’ve developed all kinds of ideas about man’s and woman’s right to life, but even our appreciation for life can’t obscure our fascination with manslaughter, even if it is “just pretend.”