Thursday, November 20, 2003

Why I Like the Shooty-Shooty:
A Nod to the Violence Aesthetic

So I was walking through this mall in southern California, somewhere around Santa Monica, I think. I’m looking around, and I see all these walkways and staircases, nice clean panes of glass, and a nice fountain down by the pretzel stand. And after a moment’s consideration, I realized what a great set this would be for an action movie. Plenty of places to jump from, things to land on, glass to shatter, what have you. I could see men and women with automatic handguns running back and forth along the bridges, taking cover behind potted plants, and generally laying waste to everything.

Amanda looked over at me as we walked. “Man, this would be a good place for a shootout.”

I turned to her, a lump in my throat. “I love you.”

In later days, we would write stories together. They usually featured fantastic fight sequences, most often involving buckets of flying shell casings, preternaturally agile sword fighters, and feats of athletic prowess only the Shaolin would think of attempting. Why all the violence?

Because it’s freakin’ awesome.

Honestly. Watch The Matrix sometime, and tell me the lobby shootout isn’t at least number 5 on the Coolest Things Ever List. Try watching the dojo fight in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon without saying the words dang, sweet!, or whoa at least once. It’s harder than you think. Find someone who owns a Playstation 2 and play Devil May Cry. I still remember the first time I launched an enemy into the air with a whack from my sword, drew my guns, and juggled the poor shmuck in midair with bullets. I cackled in victory.

Some of you may feel a little queasy. Either you’re reading this in a moving vehicle, or you don’t like the idea of someone finding all this violence appealing. Or both. Whatever. I can hopefully address one of these.

Consider my three examples listed above for a moment. What do they all have in common? The first thing that comes to my mind is this: while the bullets are flying and the swords are clashing, there’s music in the background. Good stuff, too. Respectively, there’s the catchy techno hook of the Propellerheads’ “Spybreak,” a rhythmic surge of taiko drummers, and the hammering guitar rock of Masami Ueda.

I don’t need to remind you that our troops in Iraq are not groovin’ to the sounds of Prodigy as they fight.

All right, my examples have something else in common. In The Matrix, the characters run on walls, do cartwheels while shooting, and kick guns out of their opponents’ hands. Crouching Tiger has our heroine wrenching weapons off the dojo walls, and displaying nothing less than expertise with every one. She also flies from time to time. Dante, our edgy player character in Devil May Cry, wears a bright red trenchcoat, leaps easily ten feet upwards with impunity, and turns into a lighting-flashing, combat-ready demon at intervals.

That is to say that the violence portrayed is, in short,

At all.

That’s why it’s cool.