Here we go again…

Headline in the Evening Standard tonight: MURDER JUDGE BLASTS HORROR VIDEOS. “Two teenage students who stabbed, butchered and buried their friend had their obsessional fantasies fuelled by violent horror videos, a judge said today.” Apparently they and their victim had copies of Scream, The Evil Dead and Children of the Corn in their rooms…hmmm… I could come out with the usual comments, but instead, I’d like to share something posted to the alt.cult-movies newsgroup, which makes the point effectively:

From: (Windbreaker)
Subject: Re: Columbine School Massacre – NBK mentioned
Date: Wed, 05 May 1999 02:18:44 GMT

It’s time to set aside yesterday’s news… Residents of Kansas and Oklahoma should sue Warner Brothers, Michael Crichton and Jan deBont for the movie “Twister.” Their negligence is responsible for the killer tornadoes that struck the midwest this week. That movie encouraged impressionable hot and cold air masses to mingle with cross-winds until they formed funnel clouds. More people died from these tornadoes than were shot by Klebold and Harris. The tornadoes have caused more property damage than Timothy McVeigh’s truck bomb. This is not an isolated incident — there will probably be several “copy-cat” twisters striking innocent victims in other states.

Precisely. This week’s apocalyptic sign was in Midwest America, and there was plenty of really cool video footage depicting the tornadoes as they rampaged their way across Kansas and Oklahoma, inevitably prompting lazy journalists to make ‘Wizard of Oz’ references. I must confess, there is something beautifully terrible about them; it may be their random and capricious nature, which can destroy a house yet leave the inhabitants uninjured, or perhaps it’s just the sheer power generated, enough to stoke 300 mph winds. It certainly helps that they LOOK malevolent and evil: the meteorological equivalent of a gang of pissed-off Celtic fans.

It certainly helps that we don’t really get them here: if they actually posed a significant threat (as opposed to say, nailbombers), then I would be less impressed. Instead they sit alongside avalanches, sharks and lottery wins as things which are undeniably spectacular, but are unlikely to have much of an impact on my lifestyle in the near future. Does bring home very lucky we are in Britain — or perhaps very boring. We sit on a geographically stable landmass, with a climate politely described as “temperate” (“dull and damp” would be a viable alternative) and our only venomous animal is a) rare, and b) lives in places that no-one really wants to visit anyway.

There are also few interestingly contagious diseases to be contracted, and the government, in their infinite wisdom, decided to ban even the tiny thrill obtainable by eating beef on the bone — despite the fact that you’re more likely to CHOKE on said bone, than catch CJD from it. Life in 90’s Britain is intrinsically safe, secure and cossetted. Which is why we embrace enthusiatically – as any glance at a tabloid will prove – the ills we do have, and even more enthusiastically the ills of others. It may be that the ongoing bombing of Serbia is largely a self-inflicted exercise in schadenfreude.

Death and destruction are infinitely fascinating, particularly when they’re other people’s. It’s easy to lose touch of mortality in these sanitised days; I’ve never seen a dead body. Does this explain the popularity of fantasy violence? It’s certainly true that there are few officially sanctioned outlets for aggression these days, yet it remains as much a part of human nature as it has ever been. You can’t reverse four billion years of evolutionary “survival of the most vicious”, with a decade of political correctness.

Some commentators may view this as symptomatic of a moral decline, the fall of civilization; I take the reverse view. When we lose our aggression, we lose our desire and inventiveness. Obviously, there are good and bad ways to release the tension of everyday life: Quake II good, gunning down classmates not so good. But the mere fact that such things still occur is perversely comforting proof that we as a race still possess a “lust for life”, and that’s not something we should give up easily.