A complex physical force of nature, violence is portrayed as more than just a cruel and brute force in both Maggie Nelson’s “Great to Watch,” and Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story. ” Art is an expression of the human imagination and violence is used as a form of art. Some people tend to define violence as another form of expression- one of hostility, aggression, and anger. Art is an expression of creation, whereas violence is an expression of destruction, which Nelson and O’Brien observe the media and authors try to use to get others to confront the realities of life.
Both writers believe that the message people attempt to create, by using violence as a form of art, gets distorted and often creates more problems than solutions. Although people find it wrong to depict violence into a form of art, both Nelson and O’Brien explore the other side to it- that is the one that induces pleasure. Violence displayed in the media and stories may never be able to actually depict the inhumanity in real life; however, it is the job of the spectators to look past the atrocious form of art and understand the message they are being told, despite how difficult that may be.
Nelson and O’Brien find that the creators of vicious art have the ability to shape the way their audience perceives the world. Nelson explores how the method of catching online sexual predators has turned into a reality gaming show and “The legal, ethical, and psychological ramifications of such shows have occasioned quite a bit of debate, as these effects have often proved unmanageable” (301). Nelson is explaining that by turning the obscenities of life into reality shows, the appeal draws people in.
She explains that these producers create pleasure in the way hey depict the game of hunting and drawing out sexual predators and they make it seem like the interaction of people with sexual predators can be handled easily before anything bad happens to the prey. To extend this view of the ability of creators to shape their audience’s experiences, Tim O’Brien writes all about authors’ and narrators’ ability to create another world for their readers. In particular, he mentions how soldiers give the impression that war is bad and cruel, but war tends to always teach some valuable lesson; however, this is not always the case.
This is similar to the way that narrators distort their audiences’ beliefs about violence and cruelty. He explains that soldiers start to see a certain beauty to war because they are fighting for a cause and that gives them something to believe in. In addition, O’Brien explains each day soldiers are able to live is a blessing and that gives war an appeal because it becomes like a game of life or death. O’Brien also explains that authors and narrators fabricate details to get readers to confront realities in their story. He demonstrates this idea by describing Curt Lemon’s death as a pleasant love story.
Although the story is supposed to be sad and gruesome, he makes it seem like a pleasant scene by focusing on the small details of the sunlight rather than the bloodshed. Even as he describes the process of getting rid of the body parts, he makes it seem as a positive and beautiful thing by incorporating the focus of the song. His ability to shape the death of Curt Lemon to be positive and to focus on the details of beauty rather than pain shows that in general, creators have the ability to shape violence as an art. O’Brien makes Lemon’s death as a positive event to give reader’s cceptance about death in general.
Instead of mourning over the loss, the characters O’Brien mentions are shown as accepting their friend’s death. Even though the audience knows from Rat Kiley’s reaction to Lemon’s sister not responding to the letter of his death is negative, O’Brien hides this fact, as he explains the whole “love story” to show that death is a natural part of life. He explains “War is hell,” but he explains there’s more to it because “war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love” (322). When people read a story, they are able to allow their imaginations to flow.
People can shape their own level of violence; however, through movies, and other visual forms of violence, audiences see the level of violence an artist or creator wishes to display, so if they choose to transform a story about death to a love story, they can. He explains that to spectators, war seems to hold some valuable lesson to it, but soldiers know that this is not the case and that is why they fabricate details as they tell the story. In the end, the complexities or the duality of war and violence are hidden by he way authors and media produce their works of art to get people to feel some type of way about the harsh realities of life.
People create a moral or portray their ideas through violence because it is an art of expression. Nelson points out that violence is complex and she demonstrates this in mentioning of the Hub, a site that shows a “rapid image flow” of brutal pictures such as Nangpa Pass shooting (304). As seen through her many examples, Nelson has a plethora of knowledge so she explains when she sees visuals of the Nangpa shooting incident on the Hub, she feels it is an “exceptionally poor platform on which to lace the unending, arduous, multifaceted, and circuitous process of ‘changing the world” (304).
By this, Nelson means that using violence to send messages often makes it difficult to perceive the main idea. She uses those words, “rapid image flow” to show that the Hub is not a very effective means of explaining the issue and what people can do to help. Instead, she explains, the constant flow of visuals just bombard people with distasteful images and that makes the images lose their meaning and people do not understand they need to help. In light of the Hub’s weak attempt of trying to portray human uffering, Nelson mentions that the form of media that has gained more attention is reality programming.
While Nelson focuses on the influence of the media, Tim O’Brien focuses on the details of the story and how they distort the moral of the story. This is seen in his example of Mitchell Sanders and how he makes up all these details just to captivate his listeners, but at the end of the day the moral of his story is the quiet. O’Brien compares these details to threads in a cloth when he says, “You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning” (321).
Just how Nelson explains, there has to be some sort of appeal when depicting the brutality of life, O’Brien is explaining that the details or threads create the appeal that leave the readers wanting to find out what the message of the story is and if it is true or not. These details and other factors often distort the display of violence and cruelty, making it difficult for audiences to understand because they are so focused on the pleasure and appeal from the brutal art. Violence depicts the aesthetic pleasure the same way art is used as a form of aestheticism.
Nelson explains that people often feel onfused when seeing art because they feel some level of urge to engage in similar activities and they find appeal in that form of art. She explains that there is a certain amount of pleasure and desire through violence. Nelson reflects on the idea that people admire the idea of violence and its’ explicitness and its’ ability to show that not everything is as perfect as seems. She quotes Richard Foreman’s response to feeling pleasure when seeing the picture of the Marlboro man riding the horse with his cigarette. He says, “. he image seduced me, that it pushed a utton that was ready to be pushed, and I responded” (310).
By mentioning this quote, Nelson poses a question to describe how audience’s feel when seeing violence and cruelty and their enjoyment of it to a certain extent. She poses the question: how can something so cruel and obscene invoke such pleasure and appeal? This dual nature of violence often serves as a reason people have mixed feelings towards it. One factor that Nelson points out about violence is that it makes it difficult to discern what is real and what is not.
She points out that most people tend to have “wily reserves of malice, power-mongering, self- enteredness, fear, sadism, or simple meanness of spirit” (301). By this she means that people often have the desire to inflict pain because sadism is a part of human nature. Nelson explains that the beauty of violence that people create in their art and their stories shows that the duality of people when dealing with moral issues, and it shows that people have both a dark and light side, but sometimes the dark side overpowers that light because it is more tempting (306).
She even says some viewers, when they get used to this form of art, tend to feel an emotional catharsis or feel desensitized. Often, creators of this form of art use it as an advertising and appealing force to lure people into viewing things and they often use these intense visuals in order to provoke different emotions and reactions. Tim O’Brien also focuses on reader’s visceral reactions and the beauty of war. He mentions that “It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty.
For all its horror, you can’t help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. It’s not pretty, exactly. It’s astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. [It] has the aesthetic urity of absolute moral indifference- a powerful, implacable beauty- and a true war story will tell the truth about this, through the truth is ugly” (322). In this contradictory statement, O’Brien, similar to Nelson, explains that although war and violence can be all these terrible things, yet, they have a dual nature because there are certain beauties to them.
He explains that although the life before, during, and after the war can seem like hell, there is often a beauty and accomplishment after it. He explains that because something is not nice, does not mean it cannot be pleasing or aesthetic too. At the end of the day, O’Brien explains, truth is whatever a reader feels in their stomach and similarly, Nelson explains that an audience’s reaction to the violence and forms of cruel art is the truth and actuality of life.
The relationship between the violence we see in art and the violence in modern life is that in art, there is a certain beauty and aesthetic pleasure of it. Nelson and O’Brien observe the ability of the media to shape viewer’s perceptions of the actualities in life. Through Nelson’s questions of this contemporary culture and O’Brien’s observations of people’s eactions to war stories, both of these authors find that perceptions vary from person to person, therefore it creates a different message to each member of an audience.
Often the message is difficult to understand, or it is not depicted clearly and the authors let their audiences know that it is important to uncover the bigger picture behind the portrayal of violence. Both of these authors find that people are naturally drawn to violence as it is a part of human nature and these authors find that violence is an art because it is a form of expression used to convey messages to its’ observers.
The importance of these works lies behind their message that it is okay for people to find appeal in violence and cruelty as long as they understand the message behind the brutality. These works are important to understanding the significance of brutal art in modern life because they show that even though the message tends to get clouded, the role violence plays in forms of media, stories, and artwork have a bigger message to its’ audience.