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Violence is fun!
Violence is fun!

Mayhem: Violence As Public Entertainment

Not just for college kids anymore!

Mary Goff - Sunday, June 27, 2010

Released: 1999
Author: Sissela Bok
Publisher: Basic Books
Website: Basic Books
Buy this book at Amazon

I found Mayhem in a college bookstore. Yeah, yeah, required reading for some, intrigue for those who can’t afford to go to college but know where to shop for discount books (thank you .59 book pile). How can one turn down a title such as Mayhem? Well someone I worked with once was going through law school at the time and he thought the book title interesting too. So much so that he imparted this wisdom to me, and I shall now impart this wisdom to you. Mayhem used to be an actual offense in common law England, a separate offense punishable in its own right. It means, legally speaking, the intentional and wanton removal of a body part that would handicap a person's ability to defend oneself in combat. Good one, Sissela.

Anyway, I thought, as a horror loving person, that it would be a good book to pick up and read. I was right! I am very impressed with Sissela Bok’s “Mayhem”. Mayhem is a nonfiction piece of work that addresses the history of violence via both peace loving and warfare loving societies (such as the Romans and the Gebusi) and speculates, with Bok’s own conclusions naturally woven in, as to why we as humans seem to need it and are not able to eradicate it, as many nations struggle so mightily to do.

She addresses desensitization, aggression, the need for more violence, corruption: a large gamut of issues involving or affected or caused by violence and aggression. Bok brings up some very good points about the “seed” of violence—starting them young, so to speak. She advocates that violence, when seen either in reality or via the fantasy world of movies and video games, affects children equally since children have no understanding of the separation of reality from fantasy.

While I do not agree with everything Bok has written, she poses some very strong arguments about the impact of anger and violence on every society. She uses all of this gathered knowledge to addresses the healthy need to “vent” anger and aggression and how— through creative mediums such as video games, art, and films—these can be quite a useful and again, healthy outlet and option to actually physically acting upon these desires and impulses. Bok gives all of her opinions and solid facts without an accusatory tone what-so-ever.

She presents, for lack of a better description, her case and stands back to allow you to decide for yourself about the roots of anger and violence and the impact of violence on our society as a whole. She allows for contention, she allows for a stand, she allows for information. She poses this question about censorship, seeking balance: “Is it possible for societies to guard against the ill of media violence, without inviting the evils that censorship can bring?” While the wording is a bit biased, it is a thought provoking and discussion-motivated question.

She compares our First Amendment Rights and our sometimes “war-cry” usage of them, to other countries that have no such liberties granted to them. But don’t let her compelling argument for censorship completely suck you in. Unless you are a major advocate for censorship, then I’m not talking about you. If you are a big advocate for censorship, well you can take what you will from this book. If you are an advocate against censorship, you can take what you will from this book. At the very least, it lends some education to your arguments as to why we are so fascinated with horror and violence—the macabre, the morbid, the mayhem—as a society, as a species, as humans.

She also advocates that if you are so offended by anything you personally deem as offensive, violent, ill or whatever—the on/off button is your first line of defense. Your personal, private choice no matter what country you hail from. Seems like such a simple solution, yet, it isn’t. When faced with actual violence, one cannot simply turn it off. It is real and it happens. Which is why it is good to be educated so that you can decide for yourself what your personal first line of defense is.

Personally, mine is knowledge. It is your duty, as an individual, to educate yourself and take in all sides, all possible viewpoints. Then make an educated decision regarding your own choices and quite possibly the choices that you make for generations to come. It is your responsibility what values you pass down, that is also what I gleaned from “Mayhem”.

And, what’s really awesome about Bok’s book is, you can steal a few quotes from this book to seem more educated when you are trying to get laid. There are some useful and vibrant quotes from Juvel, Scorsese, as well as David Lynch. Yes. David Lynch. No I’m kidding. I guess I could have bluffed but…meh. Enjoy!



Simple cover easy to find at a book store!
Simple cover easy to find at a book store!

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