The New Pornography of Hate and Violence: Duane W.H. Arnold
The New Pornography of Hate and Violence
It circulates across our television and computer screens every day. One mass shooting follows another. It no longer seems to matter if the victims are children or adults. The crime scenes with the flashing lights of police cars are followed by the makeshift memorials to those who have died. We watch our screens and slowly, inextricably, we are desensitized to the violence that lies behind the images. The scenes of violence and brutality that took place during the insurrection at the US Capitol no longer move us. The images of windows being smashed and policemen screaming as they are attacked, now belong to the world of politics, rather than simple outrage. Yet, this is only to speak of our domestic situation. On those very same screens, we can also observe violence on an industrial scale as we view the Russian assault on Ukraine. We have grown used to the bombed hospitals and maternity wards. In a war of rockets and unmanned explosive drones, human suffering has often been reduced to an abstract notion, closer to a video game, and stripped of the reality of the death of multiplied thousands.
This, however, should not surprise us. In the course of the last two years we have accepted the deaths of over one million of our neighbors from the spread of a virus and its multiple variants. As the virus and its toll became reduced to political talking points, the reality of those who died alone and without comfort, has become an uncomfortable memory. As a nation, we initially lionized and praised the doctors and nurses who worked on the front lines during the pandemic. Now there are reports of healthcare workers needing to be walked to their cars by security after their shift owing to threats of violence against them. During the recent election, there were multiple instances of armed vigilante groups keeping watch at voting drop boxes and polling stations. This, of course, was combined with violent threats against voting officials and poll workers. Once again, we watched this on our newsfeeds and let it pass by.
Meanwhile, the southern border is bleeding. Many, if not most, are seeking to escape the cataclysmic violence of failed states, such as Honduras and Haiti. Yet, we have reduced this humanitarian catastrophe to late night pleadings for charity in what seem to cross our screens like dystopian infomercials. Perhaps the worst of all is that the slow, steady, violence of hunger continues to stalk the globe, even as food production is at an all-time high. It is not as though we do not have the tools to address this slow violence of hunger and famine, rather, we simply choose not to engage in what should be a simple recognition of our shared humanity and the responsibility which that shared humanity calls us to exercise both as individuals and as nations. The haunting stare of a child suffering from malnutrition no longer moves us.
In this so-called age of information, we are so inundated by images of brutality and violence that, as with pornography, we can no longer separate fantasy from reality. What runs across our screens angers and titillates, but does little to move us to positive action. Moreover, the language of violence has become commonplace in the public square and, in some quarters, expected.
The keepers of social media learned long ago that anger sells. That is, if you provide content that promotes anger you will have an audience. It is no longer the truthfulness of the content that matters but the intensity of the response. In this context, anger is not only the intended response, it is also the gateway that leads to sustained hatred and violence. From there, it is only a matter of identifying who we should hate and labeling them accordingly. It has become evident, that anyone or any group can be labeled. As mentioned above, doctors and nurses have been targeted, but so have teachers and librarians. Any political opponent is fair game, but so are judges and those involved in law enforcement. Marginalized communities of color have been on the receiving end of such labeling for centuries. Jews, Muslims, members of the LGBQT+ community, immigrants, the rural and urban poor… all have been targeted in the current atmosphere of anger and outrage. In such an atmosphere, it is now no longer enough to disagree with an opinion, it is now incumbent upon those opposed to such an opinion to rage and call for a violent response.
The fact that there are churches in their multiplied thousands who are engaging in and feeding this atmosphere is nothing less than shameful. It has become clear that, rather than being salt and light in the society, many churches have chosen to align themselves with the most base instincts of those fomenting hatred, division, anger, and yes, violence. Of course, there will be a price to pay for this alignment as the older generation of evangelicals and fundamentalists pass from the scene. The harm that will be done in the meantime, is almost incalculable. There is the hope that a younger rising generation will discover the Gospels and the teachings of Christ and will then form new, small, communities of faith. Yet, that is a hope, not a certainty, as those who have prided themselves on being culture warriors will leave in their wake the sterile and blackened ground of a battlefield that produced no victory in what will be seen, in retrospect, as an act of self-destruction.
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”