Violence in Literature
“I’m taking you to the bank, Senator Trent. To the blood bank.”
This line is spoken by a character played by Steven Segal in the movie Hard to Kill, a movie remarkably similar to every other motion picture Segal has ever touched, and depressingly reflective of a larger cultural trend. In Segal’s movies, characters with names like “Orin Boyd” and “Nico Toscani” boast body counts and a shared insatiable thirst for vengeance. Death becomes a prop employed to dispatch central characters, and a cycle of one-upmanship ensues – we saw Segal rip someone’s throat out in Under Siege, so the next movie has to be more ridiculous in its sheer level of violence to be marketable. In 1999, it came as no real shock to viewers when Segal’s character stabbed a Nazi sympathizer in the neck with a broken wine glass. The reality is that technology gives us the means to transmit images and messages of unparalleled intensity, and as we do that, reality is recursively recreated. As artists and media moguls say less, they attempt to compensate through force, resulting in a constant barrage of deafening sound that amounts to nothing more than noise or visuals so gaudy and exaggerated that the thin shreds of meaning behind them are utterly lost. In this context, death is watered down until it becomes comfortably palpable. Theatres full of families cheer when the hero shoots the bad guy in an action movie, but it never crosses a single mind that a murder has taken place. Viewers wear expressions of smug satisfaction when a crooked lawyer is double-crossed, but the underlying web of lies fazes nobody. In this context, authors have to shout over the noise to communicate the true evils that float between humans. There is no longer a means to convey the intricacies of upsetting issues without baring the fangs of those issues fully. All subtleties are lost among the flashiness. Readers must, in essence, be reacquainted with what it means to suffer in order to learn anything from it. Truly exposing the often unpleasant underbelly of humanity is not only desirable, but necessary, if we as a species wish to better uncover our own nature, learn from past mistakes, and recognize injustices as they’re occurring, and this is only possible through an intensity that mirrors the weight of those issues.
White Noise exemplifies the elasticity of this notion in that its outrages aren’t obvious. Instead of subjecting his characters to physical brutality through torture or the horrors of war, Dellilo’s characters are seduced by consumerism and false culture. Death hovers just beyond the white noise that permeates their existence, and they constantly grasp at it. Jack and Babette have ongoing conversations about who will die first, exposing their thinly veiled obsessions with dying. Dylar, we find, is supposed to quell the fear associated with death. The characters in White Noise are robbed of the very essence of their mortality at the same time that it defines...