Over the summer I went searching for a book. I had finished Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera and was uncertain how I felt about both it and the ideas of marriage presented in it. I needed something different and time to digest the former. With each bookshop we visited I found myself becoming more and more enraged until the anger finally spilled out of me in the small English section of a bookshop on the southern coast of Corsica:
Why does it seem like the only English books for sale abroad ones about murder, rape or violence?
If you’ve never noticed this, peruse your local English section next time you’re away and you might find – or at least I did – that the vast, vast majority of the two or three shelves are filled with thrillers, horrors and often very violent stories of criminal activity. Inevitably at the end of one of the rows are a couple of kids books: The Very Hungry Caterpillar lined up spine to spine with a slasher story set in American suburbia.
It was a nuisance that had come back to haunt me.
In back in May of 2018 I read a thriller and I found myself upset by its violence. That isn’t to say the novel wasn’t well written nor to say that I didn’t find it engaging (I did) but I was unnerved by the idea that I was, not hooked, but drawn to returning to a book detailing violent acts as I sat eating my breakfast or before my head hit the pillow last thing at night.
Surely there’s something very wrong with that?
It must have been in 2012 – during the time I was in university – that I had to read American Psycho and to this day no other book has so strongly affected me. I later learned that the novel is, in fact, still shrink-wrapped and not for sale to under eighteen in Australia – a measure I am in complete agreement with.
The act of writing my own novel has had me reassessing the question: should we be free to write whatever we want?
If it were published my novel would likely attract criticism for being ageist, perhaps even cruel. Does this mean that it shouldn’t find its way to those for whom the story feels intriguing? More to the point: did it stop me from writing the story anyway?
No. Nor should it have.
Writers – perhaps I should say artists or producers here – should be free to create whatever it is they want to. Freedom of expression. Despite this what I left wondering is why there is such an appetite in the market for such content? It is not just in bookshops that we see evidence of the consumer diet of violence. Switch on the television, if you will.
Only last night I had this reconfirmed to me. Because the house felt a little quiet I turned on the television and didn’t switch it from the first channel that appeared on the screen. There happened to be the tail end of a film showing. It was in French but seemed to tell the story of a bank robbery and subsequent police chase (and error) with some violent scenes and the usual shoot outs. Even the word usual in that last sentence to me seems like it should be out of place.
This film was followed by another classic trope: the shark attack film, where three youths were, over the course of an hour and half, bitten and hacked to death by great white sharks. It wasn’t scary, simply because I knew what would happen, but once my boyfriend returned from work I couldn’t help but notice that we were watching this film, with this storyline, while eating dinner. That also felt a bit sickening.
A Gothic film followed the shark one but in between we were promised that today, at the same time, there would be another film in the sea-creatures-attacking-people genre, though this time it would be sea creatures attacking naked women seemingly out for a good time. The trailer promised a lot.
Which brings me to my next point and it’s an uncomfortable one. Why is sex so often intermingled with violence and why do we love to consume it? Why does it sell?
It could be that some time of moralising goes on in this films. The slut gets eaten first because she hasn’t shown the proper feminine values but I for one am not so sure that when we’re buying a ticket for these films or sitting down to watch – or at least not turn them off – when they appear on our television screens are lapping up consciously or unconsciously this potential message.
If what I saw over the summer is anything to go by then the same type of weird line is being traversed by those on holidays. Want a book to read while enjoying yourself under the sun? Here, take this thriller or murder mystery. Read this violence. And we do! Those are the books you see selling, those are the books you see people reading on the beach. It appears the epitome of irony and yet it happens. The market for this type of consumption is there.
Is it a step too far to draw a line between our love of violence and our eating habits? I’ve often wondered if the threat of desensitisation to violence has already happened to all of us and it is best evidenced in the way we load meat into our trolleys in the supermarkets without a thought for the animals and the violent ways they are killed.
How many people go vegetarian or vegan because they’ve seen an animal being killed and how many do it because of other reasons? How shocking is violence to us when it is pretty much all the time pouring out of the books we read, the televisions we switch on and in the news we hear.
And what is behind our choice to indulge in such stories? Many in these genre are excellently written, of that there is no doubt. But the next time you’re in front of your book case take a look at what you’ve been reading. It might make you think.