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Ever Fading Sensitivity to Violence in Media

10 July 2009 No Comment
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Schindlers List Movie LogoWu Fei (吴非), is a school teacher who often contributes to several different newspapers and textbooks. She maintains a blog that covers issues in contemporary education. Utilizing the movie Schindler’s List she wrote a post discussing the need to be careful in the way we expose children to the tragedies of human history and the evil of humanity. She believes there needs to be an emphasis on kindness and understanding or these cruelties can be taken the wrong way.

Personally, I really like the post, because it indirectly brings up the issue of our ever fading sensitivity to what we should be viewing with disgust and shame. That is media’s influence at it’s best.

I’ve pasted the entire translation below.
Credit to Danwei for the translation.

Unendurable Brutality

by Wu Fei

The script to Schindler’s List has been selected for inclusion in a middle school textbook.* From the standpoint of both language arts and humanities education, this is a necessary step forward. Secondary education should make students aware that the history of human civilization contains such instances of violence against civilization and humanity.

However, I’ve heard that there are teachers who have watched Schindler’s List ten or more times, and this is something that I can’t understand. I’ve watched it once, and although there were some plot points I wasn’t too clear on, there’s no way I’d watch it again: I don’t want to put myself through another round of emotional torment, and my health won’t allow me to watch it again, even if it is a modern classic. Massacres, beatings, abuse, stripping people of all their dignity, forcing them to live like domestic animals, all came out of the same nation that produced Goethe and Beethoven. The desecration of human dignity and mockery of civilization in that human tragedy is truly breathtaking. For me, the movie is unlike other classic art that I can revisit over and over without tiring.

I detest war and detest killing, and hate even more when killing is turned into some kind of game or entertainment. I’ve never been interested in watching a decapitation, even one that is necessary to soothe the people’s anger. In China, watching a decapitation may not be a way to “soothe anger”; more often, it is a demonstration of — or a training in — disregard for life. I believe that one who is not a professional engaged in that line of work or a scholar researching it should not repeatedly watch that sort of film. I have long expressed my ire at the TV stations, under the control of propaganda departments at all levels, that continually broadcast bloody, violent shows.

In 1983,* Network News aired the execution of an official’s son in Hangzhou: a shot rang out, and a man crumpled to the ground, yet this clip did nothing to placate my “anger.” Instead, it shocked me: how can you let children sitting in front of the TV see real scenes of someone being killed? Fortunately, from then on there were no similar news clips. In Iraq under Saddam, and in other authoritarian countries, children are compelled to watch executions in person in what is apparently called “education.” In China, it used to be “kill one to scare one hundred,” public decapitations, and heads hanging atop the city wall. Just one hundred years ago, the capital’s execution ground could still be placed in a bustling place like the Caishikou vegetable market, and the entire city crowded round to watch. But a people that delights in watching decapitations has no dignity, nor does it have a future.

The “learn from Lei Feng” campaign in 1964 had a whole set of slogans, and one that remains in my memory went, “Treat the enemy as ruthlessly as the bitter winter.” Then came the Cultural Revolution, during which I witnessed all kinds of “ruthlessness,” in which not a single one of the targets was the “enemy” of those holding the guns. And when you recall those decades of bitter experiences, you will discover that in all kinds of “campaigns,” most of the “enemies” that were exterminated in the flesh – the vast majority, even – were innocent people, or at least not deserving of death.

Our education, particularly early education for children and young people, should do as much as possible to imbue them with kindness and charity; whatever happens, we cannot let our children become excited at the scent of blood. Educators ought to keep this in mind: the next generation must keep in mind that human history contains all of those abominable pages. If we have no education in humanity, humanitarianism, and human conscience, if we do not reflect on our own people’s history of education, then the barbarism will repeat itself in all kinds of different ways, regardless of how many years of so-called glorious civilization your nation has. I recently had a discussion with professor Du Wentang, a scholar of German history, about how a period of Nazism took hold of Germany, of all countries. Du said that this was precisely the issue: a nation that believed its people to be superior, its culture far too grand, and that looked down on all other peoples, was what let so many ordinary Germans be bewitched by Hitler.

I am not evading that bloody, fiery past – I couldn’t avoid it even if I wanted to, for it plagues me like a nightmare. Iris Chang’s suicide is understood by very few people, I suspect. A woman who had put all of her energies toward investigating the Japanese invaders and the Nanjing Massacre was unable to rid herself of the images of barbaric cruelty. Perhaps she could not believe that such evil could exist in the world, and that utterly destroyed her formerly peaceful life. Their cruelty went beyond simply killing people; they smeared their cruelty onto people’s memories. To defend justice, the upright had to pay an enormous price. This is the reason we must abhor fascism. Every time I see people online clamoring to “kill the Japanese,” “bathe Tokyo in blood,” and on and on, I get the sense that humanity and humanitarianism is lacking in education. In the 20th Century, militarist Japan and Nazi Germany left behind for humanity a shameful memory, and other totalitarian states have likewise trampled on human dignity. Fascism will bring harm to humanity wherever it exists. No matter what, we cannot permit another page of barbarism in the pages of Chinese education, we cannot have further education in heartless cruelty.

Mo Luo wrote a short piece called “Those People Have Become People,”* a story that includes a reflection on rationality and a call to conscience. The short piece has touched many young people. This is the kind of education we need. After the Second World War, people did not adopt the methods of the Nazis or the Japanese invaders to pay back the war criminals, an eye for an eye, for while ruthless beasts stood on one side, humans were standing on the other.

So that no one will be subject to “ruthless cruelty” ever again: this is the educator’s mission.

Wu Fei’s Blog (Chinese)

What has happened to our Sensitivity?

One thing that really strikes me is the fact that Wu is very disturbed by what she sees in the Schindlers list, as well other visuals of human cruelty. In our media driven culture, we’ve lost this kind of sensitivity to violence, sex, coarse language, among other things. We are so saturated by violent movies and TV shows that a scene that once would have disgusted us and emotionally drained us, no longer has the same kind of affect.

We see a person getting shot in the head, and it’s just another scene in a movie. “Come on what is the big deal?” We see epic wars where thousands are slaughtered yet we don’t flinch. “It’s a war movie, what do you expect?” We see explicit sex scenes, and suddenly it’s artistic or just part of the film. From our early days of childhood, we are constantly bombarded by such images that it becomes the norm. Where has our sensitivity gone?

  • What are your thoughts about the deadening of our sensitivity?
  • How has media shaped our minds to become numb to these things?
  • Do you think Wei is overreacting to Schindler’s List?

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