Sunday, February 24, 2013

Normal Cruelty

I am a fan of Tarantino movies despite them usually leaving me disturbed. You would think that he veers so far from reality that you could discount most of what is in the movie. Django strikes closer to the bone because it touches on some of the cruelty of which we are really capable. Inglourious Basterds also created an unpleasant feeling in my stomach.

Artist Marina Abramovic did a performance piece where she let people do whatever they wanted to her. She placed various objects including thorns and a gun near her. It all started off friendly but got progressively more nasty. People stuck the thorns into her, and at one stage someone held the loaded gun to her head. Psychologist Philip Zambardo famously did experiments showing the cruelty normal people are capable of when their behaviour seems to be condoned. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, students were randomly assigned to the roles of wardens and prisoners. The guards became so brutal that the experiment had to be shut down after six days.

Tarantino films are extreme to the point where you laugh at some of the deaths. Perhaps this feels acceptable because the characters are so despicable or perhaps the reaction shows just how dehumanised cruelty can become.

How was slavery ever acceptable? It was normal. How was apartheid ever acceptable? It was normal. How is rape and physical abuse ever acceptable? Normal.

It is tempting to believe that there are two types of people. Evil ones like those we laugh at as they get killed in Django and Good ones where we shed a tear. It is tempting to believe that we are not capable of the utter cruelty that is subjected in other parts of the world and in different cultures. The world is moving forward and every day that our eyes get opened a little more to things that shouldn't be normal - we move another step.

The dialogue is clever, the music fits, and every scene is carefully constructed. The movies are pieces of art.

Art can be disturbing.

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