Gregg Easterbrook has apologized for his remarks about Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein in which he took them to task for releasing what he considered to be violent drivel (i.e., Quentin Tarantino’s bloodfest Kill Bill) – primarily because they’re Jewish. While he apologizes for apparent insensitivity, he still feels he can “defend” his earlier remarks (albeit through clarification) and says:
But those running Disney and Miramax are not Christian, they’re Jewish. Learning this did in no way still my sense of outrage regarding Kill Bill. How, I wondered, could anyone Jewish–members of a group who suffered the worst act of violence in all history, and who suffer today, in Israel, intolerable violence–seek profit from a movie that glamorizes violence as cool fun?
In other words, while Easterbrook is sorry for offending anyone, he still thinks that suffering through the Holocaust should make Jewish people more sensitive to cinematic violence. Well, let’s discuss this as rationally as we can, shall we? Many people in the world – regardless of their faith or lack thereof – have suffered through acts of genocide and other violence. Shouldn’t we assume, then, that a Cambodian (who as a group arguably faced the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge) should likewise be sensitive to the glamorization of violence? Perhaps those raised in the Middle East, regardless of religion, should be troubled by violent images as well. Perhaps those who suffered under the rule of tyrants and dictators everywhere should fear the depiction of violence. Isn’t that really what the point that Easterbrook is trying to get across here? That because we know that violence is bad in the real world, we should refrain from depicting it in the celluloid one?
Well, that is where the argument breaks down. Because people of any faith may disagree to a certain extent on how far we should go. To some, cinematic violence desensitizes; to others, it is a cautionary tale. Some, like myself, prefer violence without much gore. Others think that if you are going to show a fight, you should show it much like it really is (hence the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, for example). There is a point at which violence on film seems clearly wrong (i.e., snuff films) but what about documentaries of assisted suicide, or a boxing match where two guys are beating each other bloody (or biting assorted body parts off). I submit it isn’t quite so easy to draw a bright line, and to a certain extent the depiction of violence becomes a matter of personal taste or morality. I know, for example, that I won’t be seeing Kill Bill because it will be too bloody and too graphic for my taste; however, I had no problem whatsoever with the almost non-stop cartoon violence of Daredevil or Matrix Reloaded. Others might not find Kill Bill troubling at all, and more importantly, might find some sort of meaning in it all that neither I nor Gregg Easterbrook could see for all the spurting blood. And simultaneously they might find fault with films – like The Matrix – which often don’t show violence as having any adverse effect at all.
In that regard, the whole argument really hinges on Easterbrook’s initial assertion that Tarantino’s films are nothing but “junk.” If they are indeed cinematic crap, like so many of the gore-splattered straight-to-video releases that line the shelves at Blockbuster, it might make sense to ponder why they exist at all. But if there is some sort of meaning in them, or if intelligent people can find some merit in them, the argument falters. If Kill Bill is open to some sort of interpretation regarding the meaning of violence (rather like say, Unforgiven), isn’t it fair to say that reasonable minds might differ as to whether the violent images are as unworthy as Easterbrook contends? And certainly, to continue to think that Jewish people should all adhere to the same interpretation of how much cinematic violence is “too much” makes no sense, especially when nobody else seems to be able to reach a consensus on that point.
Note: The author wastes a fair amount of time blogging about a variety of subjects over at Walloworld, where this post originally appeared.