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whatsthatsound On February - 4 - 2010

 

(with apologies to Salvador Dali)

 

I am bothered by movies, such as “Saw” and “Hostel”, that, to me, serve no purpose other than to depict the extremes of human pain and cruelty. I confess to having never watched a film from either of those series, nor have I watched a Hannibal Lector movie, or a Chucky, Freddy Krueger or Jason movie (which, I imagine, at this point seem almost quaint in their depictions of cruelty), so it is not only what is depicted on the screen, which I haven’t even seen, that disturbs me. It is the very fact that such movies exist, and that they pull in audiences. To me, they are a depraved sub-genre of moviemaking that elevates torture to their prime, even sole, raison d’etre (indeed, they have been dubbed “torture porn” and “gorno” by critics), and that bothers me. Are people really entertained by all that blood and gore? And if that is not the right word, what IS the experience that they crave, as they settle their butts into aisle seats? As to the people who make such films, why on earth do they spend precious hours of their lives depicting demoralizing, black spectacles of the last things that any of us would wish to experience, or even wish upon our worst enemies? Oh, believe me, I know the obvious answer to my question (they DO make money after all, and frankly, how hard can they be to make? We all know what we don’t wish to experience; all one has to do is pick up a camera and film that!), but is even money worth the de-humanizing that I feel must go on in the process of creating such films?

 I am not arguing against the presence of violence in films. Indeed, some of my personal favorites, such as “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas”, contain numerous scenes that are not for the squeamish. If push came to shove, I could probably even be called upon to defend Wes Craven’s notorious, ultra-violent 70’s sleeper, “Last House on the Left” ( which took its plot from Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” and borrowed heavily from Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”). One might well ask, what’s the difference? Well, in the case of LHOTL, this was an amateurish film by a freshman director, depicting amateurish villains who epitomize the dumb, self absorbed, amoral, societal outcasts we can easily imagine committing the atrocious crimes we see onscreen (and read about in the papers). They are not the incarnations of sadism one finds in slick gorno movies, creatures right out of our nightmares who are intelligent and irredeemably evil, sparing no expense to devise the most ingenious and horrific methods by which to dispense with their victims, for no other purpose than the pleasure that they get from doing so. To arrive at an understanding of the villains of the gorno movies, to place them in any sort of context, we need to go back to a French nobleman from the Age of Enlightenment whose writing was so over the top that he provides the very name for the “ism” that is out and out cruelty toward another living being.

 Sade’s “libertines” (one should not refer to them as  “villains”, when to him they were heroes) were precisely the kind of monsters we see in todays horror movies. Smarter and more powerful than their victims, they operated without restraint, and with no other purpose than to inflict pain. In Sade’s stories, the only way to escape victimhood was to allow yourself to become corrupted by your torturers, to become just as merciless and sadistic as them. These were the only triumphs he would allow in his nightmarish fables, that some would “liberate” themselves from any moral or empathetic impulses, which he insisted came from society, the real “villain” he himself was at war with. One can read Sade’s stories and accept them as he intended, as all-out assaults on society and civilization, on anything that limited individuals from behaving exactly as they themselves chose to. But that would naturally lead one to ask, if people could do anything they wanted to, why would they do that? Looking deeper, I believe that one can find a more pathological motivation, one which is readily on display in today’s torture porn movies as well; a deep seated hatred of the human body.

 Oh, Sade loathed bodies!  He wanted them sliced, diced, beaten, pulled apart, you name it. The one thing he didn’t want was for them to keep their original, native form, to be allowed to go on about their ways in peace. To him, an intact body was a challenge, perhaps even an affront, to his aesthetic. He treated them with nothing but the utmost disdain. And yet, it is telling that for all the descriptions of cruelty he filled page after feverish page with, he was particularly vicious toward the parts of the body that give birth to and nurture other bodies. Although there is no question that his writings and ideas have spiced up the sex lives of numerous couples throughout the years (and hey, whatever gets you through the night…), in the works themselves sex was anything but a life affirming, life celebrating activity. Genitalia, breasts, pregnant women, and fetuses are mercilessly tortured and destroyed by Sade’s libertines. The family itself is attacked viciously. In his stories, fathers rape their daughters, and corrupted daughters do unspeakable things to their mothers. The very reality of biological life seems to infuriate him.

 What’s going on here? In the face of such depravity, one naturally searches for answers. Even if the knowledge goes nowhere toward ending man’s inhumanity to man, we strive to somehow make sense of things so dark and twisted they seem to defy explanation, for the sake of our own sanity if nothing else. My belief is that we see in Sade’s writing a psychological phenomenon that has its roots in the very nature of our sentience. It is the mind’s hatred of the body, because it can suffer, and take the mind along with it as it does so. 

 It is hard to imagine anything more painful than being eaten alive from the hind legs forward, and yet this is a fate that befalls thousands of our fellow creatures, in forests and savannas, every day. The vast majority of human beings will come to far more benign ends, but the important distinction is that we are well aware of what could happen to us, if we are not careful, or just plain unlucky. The fact is that, unlike animals, we can think about things happening to us that are every bit as frightening and unwelcome as the things that are shown in the torture movies. It is with our minds that we think about them, but it is our bodies that we imagine experiencing the suffering. We are the only species that has a distinct separation, a schism even, between mind and body. We can actually live lives, of a kind, outside our bodies. No other creature can. We can daydream, create stories, make songs, paint pictures, have sexual fantasies, relive memories vividly, conceptualize, invent, etc. We can easily imagine a life involving no body at all! Indeed, we have created science fiction stories where our minds are placed inside computers, thereby living eternal, pain-free lives. People who are stricken with cancer or other long term, debilitating and painful illnesses frequently describe themselves as “prisoners” in their bodies. What I am positing is that there is an element of human consciousness that chronically feels this way. Sade was expressing this, first and foremost, I believe, though he himself was perhaps unaware of it and presumedly would have denied it. It is ironic that he, due to his atrocious behavior as well as his writing (which outraged the Emperor Napolean), spent much of his life as a prisoner, in jails and mental asylums, creating through his mind an outward experience of the very thoughts that drove his writing. 

 The mind is frightened by the amount of pain, seemingly limitless, that the body it is merged with can experience. Although our central nervous system has evolved the sensation of pain to keep us from burning or bleeding or freezing to death, this impeccable biological system renders us horrendously vulnerable. So averse to its demise is our body that it keeps pain sensations active even as we lie helpless, and crushed, under the rubble of an earthquake, or trapped inside a burning room, on the off chance that we will somehow manage to get ourselves out of our predicament. Isn’t it plausible that our minds, aware of the stubbornness of the body, and its survival-at-any-cost imperative, would develop resentment against it? Why can’t we shut the pain mechanism down when we want to (apparently some yogis have developed this very ability, but it takes years of rigorous training)? When there is no hope of escape? Every king, dictator, Grand Inquisitor and mafioso throughout history has exploited this “flaw” in the body’s design. In fact, it is impossible to imagine the worst forms of government even existing without it, as such regimes are propped up by the fear they induce in the common folk. All of that suffering, down through the ages; no wonder the mind is pissed!

 And so, the mind acts this out, through the mediums that it has developed, the “art” that is Sade’s writing and today’s gorno movies. Each time the mind, represented by Sade’s libertines or Hannibal Lector, or any of the demonic, merciless,ingenious psychopaths who fill our screens as well as our nightmares, gleefully tortures to death somebody else’s body, it has its revenge, momentarily. That’s the experience viewers are after, I feel. Though I am disturbed by such movies, and by the large following they have, I ultimately see them as merely symptomatic, and don’t expect them to go away. They, or some similar manifestation, will be with us so long as we have the ability to contemplate, and fear, our fate.

Written by whatsthatsound

Writer, Illustrator, Curmudgeon. Ferret Owner. Tokyoite, formerly Ohioan. Much nicer in person.

191 Responses so far.

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  1. choicelady says:

    Wow -- what amazing thoughts and reflections! I admit I pay NO attention to these sorts of films or readings at all because they creep me out from what little I do know about them.

    Violence is very much a part of my history. It has not tended to be of this nature, precisely, but is there really a difference? I’ve had five friends and acquaintances murdered, all of it political in origin -- at least ostensibly. Who knows what went through the heads of the murderers at the moment? I do understand killing in self defense, but the idea of wantonly taking the lives of people for any reason other than that sickens me, and I simply do not understand it. I’m a great fan of mysteries (books more than film) but stay away from stalker, serial killer, sadistic sorts of plot lines. I am nauseated by the very idea that someone is driven by, yes KQ sex AND violence, to harm, cause terror and suffering, mutilate -- all the things of which humans are so capable.

    I do think horror films tend to proliferate when life itself is uncertain since movies provide some measure of phony “control” over the relentless drive of some seemingly all-powerful force to do harm. Generally films have some survival outcome (I’ve never seen the “Saw” films so don’t know about that) wherein a central character triumphs and lives. In their own weird way, isn’t that a message of hope in an otherwise dark and dangerous world?

    But fascination with death and suffering baffles me. I hope it’s like slowing down past a horrible car crash -- I think it’s “there but for the grace of God go I.” We try to find both intimations of our own mortality AND the hope we’re never in those poor people’s situation by looking and thinking and wondering and gawking.

    When I hear kids laugh at some splatter scene or violent confrontation or explosions and mayhem in films, I wonder if I’m not wrong and that people are hideously desensitized to the pain of others. I hope not. I hope slasher films are some kind of catharsis and not a “how to” guide. But my own experience tells me that the right “how to” in the wrong hands can have devastating consequences.

    I don’t think everything has to be Pollyanna, but for me, I can’t any longer see films that have no hope or are violent for violence alone. One of the best films ever was “Gallipoli” which is horrible in its death and destruction, but it was powerful in its critique of the wastes of human life in war. I’m glad I saw it. The rest -- the wallowing in the pain and terror of others, especially women, for nothing more than sheer gore -- not for me, thanks. Death is permanent, and pain and suffering are all too present in reality for those to be even remotely interesting. I admit -- I do not understand.

  2. PepeLepew says:

    You know another weird movie that involves loathing of the human body? Eraserhead. Really weird, creepy movie. It has images and sounds you’ll never forget.

  3. Questinia says:

    I suppose the only difficulty I have with your argument wts, is that the “schism” is artificial in biological actuality. But phenomenologically, I’d agree with what you say.

    I do think Sade, philosophically, does see the body as a victim, a slave.

    But the body is freer than the mind in many respects. For instance, it is free to respond sexually with exuberance but limited by the moral, neurotic, and inhibited “shortcomings” of the mind.

    • Khirad says:

      If one means a slave to the hypocritical mores and sexual repression of the time. Now is our heaven, now is our hell, was what I got from him -- particularly Philosophy of the Boudoir.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      I’m not sure the schism is “artificial” just because it is ostensibly psychological in nature. There may be (and I personally think there is) something to the religious, spiritual New Age ideas that, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”.

      • Questinia says:

        I love that quotation! But I think the obverse harmonically resonates with that.

        Isn’t it also a question of the the mind, or the spiritual being, doing battle with nature, best illustrated by the body? The body is more like nature than the mind. It fucks, shits, eats with abandon if allowed to. Try as it may, the mind, the identity can not transcend the body; the identity cannot transcend nature.

        Perhaps Sade is angry at nature because he tries so hard to have his mind completely run as unhindered with it, for his mind to be as free as his body. Maybe he’s jealous of his body because his body is freer, it has fewer neuronal synapses to slow it down. The brain, in that way, is the brake of the body.

        I may be going way off on a tangent.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Q, IMHO we are not meant to transcend the body; we are embodied for a reason. But because we have a mind, the mind rebels against the body’s limitations. You characterize it as doing battle with nature, and there are certainly many people who do just that! Personally, I think that is unfortunate and unbalanced --to greater or lesser degrees. There is a Native American greeting (can’t remember which tribe): “Are you in your skin today?” Basically, asking “How are you?” But more. They are really asking, “Are you connected to yourself, to your body, today?” But I do not believe the body is freer, just amoral, as is nature. True, the body has no morality (unless you count the amygdala, or the various neural excretions that produce feelings). So while I agree we can never COMPLETELY transcend our bodies, (and I do not think we are meant to) we can do so to an amazing degree. The question for me is “why”? As I wrote earlier, the mind/body dynamic is the basis of all our religions.

          Edit: I don’t think that made much sense except in my head!

          • Khirad says:

            Cher, you always make sense to me. :-)

            That Amerindian greeting puts a different twist on ‘namaste’! I wish I were on my game, because Hindu philosophy delves into the mind/body “dichotomy” in some depth.

            Totally off topic, and like it wasn’t blatant already, speaking of Amerindians. If you saw Avatar, did you notice that when she said ‘people’, she used the word Na’vi?!

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Thanks, Khirad! But I didn’t see Avatar. :-( I was sick when the family went. Does Navi refer to the Hebrew word for prophet?

            • Khirad says:

              You know, I did think of that, too. ‘Nabi’ is the word in Arabic, so, no surprise it’s that in Hebrew! And it did have a bilabial fricative feeling to it, like ‘b’ in Spanish. I wouldn’t put it past the linguist who created it; but I was referring to the fact that a good portion of tribal names mean “the people” in their own language.

              http://www.native-languages.org/original.htm

              I don’t think it was accidental.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Not at all. If I’m understanding what you’re saying, it jibes perfectly with my ideas. I never meant to suggest that the mind IS more free than the body, and agree that both can be “more” free in different ways. My interest is in what this does to the mind, to know that its body can be tortured or otherwise have to endure great pain.

          • Questinia says:

            I think I knew that whatsie. Sorry!

            What you are saying is much more direct.

            There is something about this subject that is always confusing to me. I think it’s because my mind becomes so lost in the potential metaphors.

        • Khirad says:

          Nope, Q, I thought it was brilliant, and reminded me of this:


          @ 3:16 onwards regarding nature and death.

          • Questinia says:

            Thank-you Khirad. Emotions are what Sade was after… he detested and wanted to defile the glazed over mind which “obeyed” the conventions. The politeness, the artifice… the “excuse” for not profusely participating in the messiness.

            • Khirad says:

              And, though this will be a tangent of sorts to that accurate appreciation of Sade’s point Q, one of the reasons he also opposed the death penalty. A crime of passion he could understand; whereas, the cold calculation of the state to murder someone, he could not.

          • escribacat says:

            Wow. Something about that kept reminding me of the wailing and gnashing that goes on on certain threads over yonder.

        • escribacat says:

          Questinia--That makes perfect sense to me.

  4. escribacat says:

    Great essay, WTS, and you make a very good case. I also can’t watch those “Saw” movies and similar. There has to be some redeeming quality in it, such as the good dialogue and interesting characters you get in a Tarantino film (except the repetitiously dull Kill Bill series). I agree that there must be some element of body-loathing — why shouldn’t the mind resent the body for being a prison, once it becomes one anyway. It makes me think of my friend who has suddenly found herself in a wheelchair because of some kind of muscular atrophy disease. Her whole life is now a big production just to achieve what she once did on automation — just getting from one spot to the next, doing mundane things such as peeing. She has stopped drinking much water to avoid it. Until recently, she has enjoyed a life of being slim and beautiful, but her body has now betrayed her, has pulled a fast one on her, has suddenly stopped cooperating, has become enemy instead of friend.

    I can think of another reason why the mind is drawn to violence. In the case of Sade, he blurred the line between pain and pleasure. He wanted to find out how to make them the same thing. Why? I suspect he, and many others, are simply bored. The mundane activities of life, day after day, week after week, year after year — this can drive anyone mad if there’s no excitement, no threat, no adrenaline rush.

    You are never so alive as when you are hurt or threatened, especially if you are in survival mode. You read about men coming back from horrific experiences in war and they then spend the rest of their lives feeling alienated from their family and nostalgic for those terrible days and the others they shared them with.

    There are others who never have these heightened experiences, so they create them. If the “Saw” movies don’t fulfill this need, and there is nothing more interesting going on than a trip to the grocery store, let’s pick a fight. Let’s break something — a bond or a foot or a TV. Let’s start a war. Let’s rock the boat, push someone too far, get drunk and smash our fist into the wall. There will be pain and consequences but at least it won’t be boring. It takes intellectual effort to keep the mind from getting bored, and most people don’t have the stamina or motivation to do the work involved in that. Violence and mayhem is an easy substitute. And if you’ve got a reasonable amount of control over yourself, maybe “Saw 15” will satisfy those urges.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Very good addition to the post, e-cat! I think there is certainly something to what you write, that element is at play as well, I agree.

      • Kalima says:

        I think that is so very true of most of the men I have known.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          I know! Personally, I do it all the time, albeit in short snatches. But sometimes for an hour-- and I’m not talking about meditation. Reverie. I am big on reverie. (Sometimes I think I live there.)

          • Khirad says:

            My reveries are shorter. How I do yearn for the days, when on a walk home from school I could get lost in the mysteries of the universe and compose poems to write down when I got home, which, -- key into door -- was like an alarm bell snapping me back to the real world. Now I try to recapture the magic of aunadultured fancy. I like and appreciate WTS’s art, because, I’ve lost the creative spark I myself once had with whimsy and without boundaries.

            • escribacat says:

              This is why I love hiking so much. I go with my two dogs and just daydream my way through the woods. Daydreaming is wonderful. You have to first figure out how to shut down the “committee” though. The one that wants to continue arguments you’ve been having with people.

            • Khirad says:

              Yes WTS, how much of our lives are spent recycling the past in our heads?

            • Chernynkaya says:

              E’cat, the Artists’ Way is a GREAT book!! Highly recommended.

            • escribacat says:

              That book sounds familiar, Khirad. I’ve got a gift card to spend and I’m planning to visit the bookstore tomorrow. Maybe I’ll check it out!

            • whatsthatsound says:

              What a great way to put it, “the committee”!
              Reliving memories, rewriting history, and reminding us what clutzes we are. Don’t you just love ’em?

            • Khirad says:

              Oh my lord, I hate the “committee”. Nowadays when I walk, it’s down a street with my iPod. I do get out once in a while, take a deep breath and feel a much needed ‘stillness’ -- those moments are truly golden. They exist outside of time.

              Has anyone heard of the book “The Artist’s Way”?

              I need to read it again. I’ve had like a decade-long creative block. I need to find my inspiration again.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Don’t we all, Khirad, don’t we all yearn for those days! And I too, love Whats’ art. I am an artist of a much darker sort though.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Please do, Cher, and sooner rather than later!

              The early carp catches the diem, or something like that.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              What’s, I’ll have to figure out-- actually, ask my husband --how to upload some photos of my work someday.

            • Khirad says:

              Dante? naturalmente! I have one of those copies from the forties with the illustrations of scenes within.

              I also once had a copy of Faust with ” rel=”nofollow”>this and other illustrations.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Thank you both. And Cher, where can one see your work? I’m very curious now!

            • Chernynkaya says:

              That was gorgeous, Khirad! I bet you love Dante too, as I do.

            • Khirad says:

              Yes, Cher, as you well probably know by now, my personal aesthetic expression leans darker, as well.

              I couldn’t help but be reminded of this from Goethe’s Faust:

              Then give me back the time of growing
              When I myself was growing too,
              When crowding songs, a fountain flowing,
              Gushed forth unceasing, ever new;
              When still the mists my world were veiling,
              The bud its miracle bespoke;
              When I the thousand blossoms broke,
              Profusely through the valleys trailing.
              Naught, yet enough had I when but a youth,
              Joy in illusion, yearning toward the truth.
              Give impulse its unfettered dower,
              The bliss so deep ’tis full of pain,
              The strength of hate, Love’s mighty power,
              Oh, give me back my youth again!

          • Kalima says:

            I yearn for solitude, I devour peace and quiet. Living in a noisy place like Tokyo, I used to set my alarm for 4 am just to savour the few short hours before life intruded again. I will try to continue as soon as I can fall asleep before 1 am.

            • escribacat says:

              Kalima, I will never forget when I was in Tokyo and went to the Yoyogi (sp?) Park and there were all these musicians practicing under the trees. My hosts said it was because the walls in their apartments were too thin.

            • Kalima says:

              I agree, she’s about 4′ 9 inches tall, wears bright, pink fluffy mule slippers and that cute little doggie used to be such a quiet little darling before her indoctrination, now she barks at speeding motorbikes, the doggy, not the singing neighbour. :)

            • escribacat says:

              Kalima, Somehow your neighbor’s opera singing doesn’t seem quite complete without that small doggie! 😆

            • Kalima says:

              Yes, Yoyogi Park and not only are the walls thin, our house is only about 50 cm from my nextdoor neighbour’s house.
              She has a small doggy and sings opera until 9 pm at night. On the whole, Japanese people are quite noisy but nowhere near as noisy as the people I saw and met in Hong Kong. No peace for the wicked. :(

  5. SueInCa says:

    WTS
    Great piece and one genre that I have never put much thought or attention to. I have never really explored the type of genre you speak of, I don’t even like the Friday 13 or other such movies. In Cold Blood, even though a (sort of)classic of the crime genre, made me sick to my stomach. I know it happens in real life, I am not naive but I guess I just don’t want to watch it by choice.

    I am not naive enough to think this really does not happen, and while i am aware it does, I don’t need to see it in a movie. People who produce this type of genre like to think they are on the outer edges of the envelope, pushing farther. Maybe they think it is some kind of genuis, I haven’t figured it out. I know they are low budget movies and maybe some go on to make better films, or mybe they are just trying to break in to the film industry? I just have never understood watching a movie where you already know everyone is going to be killed for doing things most of us would never do in real life.

    It is kind of like the Broadview Security commercials. Someone tries to break in to the house and the people run upstairs? Why on earth would someone trap themselves like that, alarm or not? Yet Broadview runs that same scenario over and over, like most people are going to do that with an intruder in the house, especially if they can walk out the front door. But they do it because they think it will produce revenue for the company. Money, in this society, is a pretty powerful incentive for some to do just about anything.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      That is so true. People do the exact opposite of what they should do.

      The part of The Godfather that I dislike is when Michael tells Carlo he’s going to be okay, the family’ not going to whack him, and then gives him a plane ticket to Vegas. They lead him out to the car, and then they kill him. The same exact people are involved in the entire scenario. What was the point of the elaborate lie?
      It was so obviously contrived for the purpose of the audience. Even great movies sometimes contain but-people-don’t-really-do-that moments.

      • Chernynkaya says:

        I think it was to get Carlo to feel safe and talk. Michael needed absolute proof-- from Carlo’s own mouth-- before he would have him killed. And, we get to see how cold and convincing Michale can be, how icy. Did you see Inglorious Basterds? The scene with Carlo reminds me a bit of the opening scene with the Nazi and the dairy farmer.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Yeah, but I think he gives the airplane ticket afterwards. But I’m not sure, so I guess I’ll give the scene the benefit of the doubt.

          I haven’t seen Inglorious Basterds, but I’ve heard about that scene.

          • Chernynkaya says:

            Forgive me I’m addicted to YouTube!


            I think he already has the ticket, but it doesn’t show when he got it.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Ticket or not, it still seems a bit unnecessary. The suitcase in the trunk, helping with his suit, and no witnesses, just the people who know all along what’s going to happen. Ruined a perfectly good windshield too.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              ‘zactly!

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Yeah-- as I recall, they ruin a couple of windshields in that movie! Ans it’s not as if that doesn’t attract any attention from passersby, huh?

  6. whatsthatsound says:

    BTW, I’m not sure if everyone is familiar with the painting that inspired this illustration, Salvador Dali’s “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War”.
    It’s a masterpiece; I saw the actual work and it is much smaller than I imagined it would be.

    http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51315.html

  7. Khirad says:

    When I read Sade, I thought of him more as Gangsta Rap. “In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice,” he said. He was exposing hypocrisy in the aristocracy (for example, who taught him this debauched behavior in his real life, but none other than his abb

  8. Chernynkaya says:

    WTS-- this is a really wonderful, intriguing piece! Just first-rate work all around. In fact, I read it before I started working on my own ongoing project, but it just haunted me, so why fight it?

    I was especially struck by your discussion of de Sade’s contempt for bodies. We are all--as KQ said--imprisoned by our bodies, and we know it. It’s the basis of all religion. It fascinates me to think of all the ways we deal with that fact of embodiment. The Marquis had one way, but ascetics have another and sometimes equally brutal, but towards their own bodies only. The goal being to control it, purify it, conquer it, and ultimately to transcend it. Yogis, Sadhus, the Desert Fathers, Hedonists, Stoics, Epicurians, Sensualists-- they are all philosophies dealing with the most basic fact about us--that we are in a body.

    And the fact that I say we are “in” a body as opposed to saying that I “am” a body says it all. So, what are we? A mind within a hulk of flesh? A piece of meat that thinks? Or a creature whose brain and body conspire together and make something intangible: A mind? As a meditator of many years, these questions come up. When I am watching my monkey-mind, WHO is watching?

    But back to the fun topic of gorn! I am not a fan of the torture movies-- mainly because they don’t scare me, just repulse me. (BTW, remember that great French movie with Catherine Denueve, “Repulsion”?)But my son has another take-- that they’re funny. Not so much the Saw movies but the ones done as homages-- like Tarantino’s but more like a group of younger filmmakers who ridicule the OTT use of gore. Their names escape me now. :-(

    I do worry that “our youth” are becoming desensitized by the gorn and the video games. The psychologists are not all in agreement, but I think most feel it is a danger.

    Bottom line: This was a spectacular article and your illustration rocks!

    EDIT: I tried to give it ten stars, but it only registered 4! Help.

    • escribacat says:

      What a great post, Cher. I used to go out with a guy who was a follower of Gurdjieff. He referred to his body as “my machine.” “My machine is crying.” “My machine is hungry.” “My machine is jealous.”

      • whatsthatsound says:

        And St. Francis of Assisi referred to his body as “my mule”. Same idea.

      • Khirad says:

        I’ve only heard of him in passing.

      • Chernynkaya says:

        Gurdjieff?! OMG, you are one of the few people I know whose even heard of him! He was fascinating and I’m still not sure what to make of him. But his offshoot--
        Fourth Way Enneagram-- is absolutely astounding. I never heard any of his adherents talk about “my machine” although I didn’t study him deeply. But when you wrote his name, I was gobsmacked!

        • escribacat says:

          I have a book written by Peter Ouspensky — “In Search of the Miraculous.” All about Gurdjieff and his teachings. It’s a very interesting book — I highly recommend it. There is a lot about the enneagrams in there — that actually wasn’t the part that interested me (I just didn’t get it).

          There’s another modern philosopher who has a lot of Gurdjieff influence in his teachings — have you heard of the Diamond Heart books by A.H. Almaas? I’ve read a lot of his books and listened to many of his tapes. He’s very eclectic (a lot of Sufism and Buddhism in there too). I think he’s on the right track — that is, most of what he says makes absolute sense to me. I’ve taken a few classes too but got turned off by the cultish behavior of his followers.

          • Khirad says:

            MY problem with a lot of NRM’s, are that they rehash and repackage age-old ideas and buzzwords with the times. While on the one hand I believe the reinterpretation of values to the time is necessary, I’m not sure that this is what they are often doing. And, even if the teaching is valid, the very human element of the organization can leave much to be desired. I prefer going to the source and interpreting the scriptures and treatises myself. It is of note that a Japanese scholar also wrote on the similarity of Sufism from a Buddhist viewpoint. I can’t recall his name right now though. That’s gonna bug me…

          • Chernynkaya says:

            I have heard of him only from one of his students, Claudio Naranjo. But I will definitely look into him, because I love Sufism, and of course, I am a Jubu. Thanks for that!

            (And almost all those teachers have cultish students-- a real turnoff!)

    • Khirad says:

      I hate you so much right now. :-)

      Of course, how could I have missed that angle? Plus, indeed, actually taking on the core topic here! To pick one out of your excellent examples, I’d add aghoris to sadhus. that would fit the “grimmer” subject matter!

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Hi Cher,
      Great comments! Thank you!
      I really like the way you bring spirituality and religion into the discussion. A Course In Miracles refers to the body as first, “unreal”, and second, as nothing more than a “communication device”. In other words, it is there to help us experience what our mind is manifesting, and ultimately helping us transcend that.

      One of the most compelling lines from that huge work, and I hope I’m correctly quoting it, is
      “I am not a body! I am free!!

      • Chernynkaya says:

        Well, IF there is a reason for anything, then there must be a reason we are embodied. Sometimes I believe that, and when I do, I think that the reason we have a body is because it teaches us about this place. It is a vehicle through which we encounter each other and the material plane. I never think of it as an obstacle when I think like this, but as a vehicle.

        But then other times….

  9. whatsthatsound says:

    KQ and Kalima, I confess that I had you two in my mind when I wrote this piece, and realize that you know far more about dealing with pain than I ever hope to. I really appreciate the insights you add to the commentary, and sincerely hope that my essay did not push any buttons.

    And KQ’s comment about needing another Age of Enlightenment: I couldn’t agree more.

    • KQuark says:

      No buttons pushed at all and I have a few.

      Adlib, Kalima and I had many discussions about what we wanted to create with the planet in fact we briefly toyed with names like “Renaissacne” and “Enlightenment”. The citizens think tank was expressly created to open people’s minds to new ways of thinking. Opinions on current events and politics are of course always welcome because those are the problems we usually need solutions for in the first place. But we wanted to be different and have members like you that post about deeper subjects that promote thought. We have the unique privilege in our time where literally millions of the planet’s citizens have unprecedented access to not only information but almost all literary and philosophical works.

    • Kalima says:

      No wts, you didn’t push any buttons except for my feelings about these people who feel they need pain or to inflict it to survive. I would trade them my 23 years and a few years before that starting in my early 20’s. They could have it ALL for a month, then we could meet and discuss their observations about how they feel about pain and if it was in any way, shape or form, satisfying for them. I would be really interested to hear the results.

  10. Questinia says:

    Now THIS is sadism!


  11. KQuark says:

    First off I really love your artwork. This one really hit me in the yarbles.

    Second excellent article and subject that is important to discuss.

    I’ve never been a big slasher movie fan but always loved suspense and even movies that use violence to either parody our violent society or because violence is an integral part of the story.

    Poltergeist was a great example of a movie with a great deal of suspense but my favorite part was while it scared the hell out of you not one person was harmed physically. The anticipation of danger is a much more effective theatrical devise than abject gore.

    For example, the original Alien even though it did have a gore moment or two was one of the best modern Gothic suspense films. The sequel Aliens which was just a vehicle for gratuitous violence.

    I think there is a human “need” to be scared in our ho-hum lives from time to time and excellent suspense movies fill that purpose quite well.

    Now the need by some people to watch gory movies is much more complex. I think it’s very hard to understand that need if it does not exist in your personality so since I’m not a big gory move fan I don’t know where that impluse originates.

    I find you ‘hatred of the human body’ theory very interesting and I have to think about that. My wife and I watch our fair share of documentaries on serial killers and I’ve never heard a profiler bring up that motive for those who perform such inhuman acts like torture, dismemberment, rape etc… Most profilers would say with Sade it was all about controlling his victims to perform such acts or controlling the life and death of the ultimate victim. These control motivations usual occur with psychopaths because at some point in their lives they were controlled when they were victimized in their development years.

    Then their are the group of serial rapists or killers that have a sexual motivation to their crime as well. Again the root cause is their need to control but their is a sexual urge as well. Examples of these type of killers would be Dahmer or Gacy.

    The other big motivation for serial killers is self hatred so I’m not sure that it’s as much hatred of the human body rather than hatred of self that is projected onto other human beings.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Those are all good points, KQ, and of course I am aware of the more well accepted ideas about what makes sadists tick. And not to diminish the research and theories of the experts in this area, I still hold to the notion that body hatred is something that is perhaps being overlooked.

      • KQuark says:

        Your ideas are original and intriguing and well worth investigation. Frankly I have not come up with my own opinion on what I think about the body hatred theory you propose yet. I do agree in the unique way our species has some capacity to separate ourselves from our bodies. But in those that consider self as being a combination of their physical body and mental being, body hatred is at least related to self hatred.

        I don’t buy allot of the conventional wisdom surrounding people who commit criminal acts, especially when it involves sex, because many times what they say is contradictory. One good example is how could an extreme narcissist be self loathing at the same time? I know people are filled with contradictions as well but one impulse usually wins out and manifests itself as behavior. I also think the need for control is not a base impulse the baser impulse is the power of the id that puts self above all.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          I think that in some cases, people WANT to think that sadists are self haters. In the same way that people want to say that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. Rape is about sex, AND about power. That’s not a pleasant thought, but if we consider the motive of a rapist, for them it is very much the sexual thrill they are after. Whenever extreme cruelty is involved, it is natural that we try to comfort ourselves with some sort of explanation that makes us feel better. We would rather imagine a self hating perp than a pure, evil sadist. We would rather separate our own sexual feelings from those of a rapist. But ultimately we end up fooling ourselves, I feel. However we wish to understand sadism, even leaving aside my theory, we HAVE to start by recognizing that it has PHYSIOLOGICAL, as well as psychological causes, and has to do with how our bodies and brains are constructed.

          • KQuark says:

            I could not have said it better. It’s a pet peeve of mine when they say rape is just about power or control. No it’s got allot to do with sexual urges as well. The thing is some people don’t want to say it’s about sexual urges because those urges are just too normal. Few men can deny that when they see a a woman that really catches their fancy that they think hey I would not mind tappin’ that… well you know what I mean.

            • Khirad says:

              But of course. I missed your guy’s back-and-forth. Pet-peeve of mine as well. I think it’s a combo -- and in long-term abusive situations, the possession of another.

  12. PepeLepew says:

    I don’t get torture porn, I truly don’t. I have a lot of friends who like those “Saw” and “Hostel” movies, and I cannot understand the entertainment attraction; they’re sick films.

    The irony is I like horror movies. I like scary movies, the bloodier the better, but torture porn goes to a whole new level, a level not of fear but of sadism, that I find just too disturbing.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I am a big fan of horror movies to, Pepe! The scarier the better! Torture porn is just revolting though. To me, it’s like watching someone vomit. That reminds me of a good, but sickening movie-- The remake of “The Fly” by David Cronenberg. It wasn’t so much scary, as horrifying, and an examination, I think, of disease. scariest of all time? no contest: “The Exorcist.” Still scare the bejeezus outta me!

    • KQuark says:

      I think with groups of people there is a dare component to watching slasher movies. I know in high school I had a friend who loved to dare us into watching gory horror movies.

  13. nellie says:

    wts — great article. I’m still in the middle of it, but this thought came to mind as I was reading.

    The most disturbingly violent film I have ever seen is In Cold Blood — the 67 classic w Robert Blake. What was so disturbing about the film was the reality of it — not only that it was a true story, but that the portrayal of events was as if one was standing in the room. And there wasn’t a lot of gore in that film, but it remains the film whose violence haunts me the most.

    The films you describe, to me, are more like cartoons. I rarely watch them because it all seems so gratuitous and pointless. Even older films like The Godfather or Bonnie and Clyde — just so over the top and so little pathos involved in all the shoot em ups. It’s not real to me.

    So I think a lot of people just go for the shock value. Like listening to Don Imus or Howard Stern or … dare I say it… Glenn Beck. And as for the people who write these things — Some people write what they can sell. And some people write their nightmares. And some people just have unusual sensibilities.

    OT, but it’s been a challenge to read this article without thinking of my favorite singer…

  14. javaz says:

    I dislike violent slasher movies, too, but movies such as the “Godfather”, “Good Fellows”, “Scarface”, etc, do not fall under the definition of ‘slasher’ movies, imo.

    One of the most violent films that I have ever seen was “No Country For Old Men”, and even though I watched that movie a couple years ago, I’ve never forgotten it.
    It was a very good and exciting movie, but packed with violence.

    Two of my favorite violent movies are the “Kill Bill” movies, because the violence is so overdone and outrageous, and actually comical because the films mock the ‘slasher’ films.
    It sort of helped me to put the ‘slasher’ films into perspective in that they are not meant to be serious, but somehow entertaining.

    And like you and the others commenting on this thread, it’s that violence that so many enjoy that is inexplicable.
    And then there’s the violent video games and certain singers or musicians that rap about violence and promote violence against women.
    I don’t understand the allure, either.

    • KQuark says:

      That’s a good point when the violence in some movies gets so OTT like in the Kill Bill series or even the Dawn of the Dead movies it really does not seem like violence anymore.

      Serial Mom by John Waters with Kathleen Turner which had allot of this paradoxical violence was hilarious for example.

      In my opinion one movie that failed to parody violence in the vein of “A Clockwork Orange” was “Natural Born Killer” by Oliver Stone and written by Quinton Tarantino just did not work for me. In fact I think one killer said the movie actually motivated his crimes. That’s kind of the way I saw the movie too, as promoting violence rather than being a parody of violence.

      To me Martin Scorsese was the most effective director of all time at portraying real life violence. His scenes with Joe Pesci killing in “Goodfellas” and being killed in “Casino” still haunt me. Of course excellent casting was a huge reason why his movies were successful as well.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        Complete agreement about Scorsese, although he lost it, imo, with “Gangs of New York”. Daniel Day Lewis’ character was a cartoon, and the first scene was straight out of a Mad Max film.

      • javaz says:

        Oh yes, that scene in “Casino” with Pesci haunts me, too.

        That was a good movie, though.

        “Scarface” was way over the top, too, and that movie is what I think inspired several scenes in “Kill Bill”.

        • KQuark says:

          Brian De Palma frequently when OTT with the violence.

          What is it with Italian directors anyway?

          Now David Lynch that is one dude whose movies haunt me still. “Lost Highway” is still one of the most fucked up movies I’ve ever seen.

          • Kalima says:

            I’ve never much liked his films, his “Blue Velvet” was an insult to women. We don’t all want to be enslaved, we don’t all cower in a relationship or fear the person we love. Some men just need to buy a dog.

    • PepeLepew says:

      I agree. Kill Bill, Vol. 1, the violence is so ridiculously over the top, it actually becomes funny. I laughed all the way through that massive fight scene in the tea house.


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