English 2010 Ron Christensen
A Glorious Death
Throughout history death and violence have been glorified through the use of art. This glorification continues to take place today through the medium of modern media. This transition shows that the glorification of death and violence are not a unique symptom of a violent society today, but rather a theme that has been present for thousands of years. This glorified depiction of death and violence is not realistic and can remove people from the reality of violence and ultimately death. Without a true perspective of death, we cannot attain a full appreciation for life, and the beauties that it has to offer.
Glorification of violence and death has been present throughout history and is still present in our society. The Akkadian, “Victory Stele of Naram-Sin” was made c. 2000 BCE. This stele depicts an Akkadian ruler and his army defeating the Lullubi people. The Akkadian army walk upon the piles of Lullubi corpses as they ascend a mountain behind their ruler. The Akkadian ruler is shown striking down two more Lullubi soldiers. This act of war is looked upon with approval by the gods, this being apparent from symbols such as the ruler’s horned helmet(representation of a god on earth), the mountain in the background(according to Akkadian belief, gods lived in mountains), and the two stars in the sky(A symbol of divine approval). This piece shows that the glorification of violence and death is nothing new to the world. The Romans and the use of Gladiatorial games for entertainment are seen as barbaric to our respective culture and society. People don’t change; The Romans used the Coliseum in much the same way that our public uses violent media, as a blood-filled form of entertainment. Our society and the Romans share the same kind of detachment toward the death of combatants in our unique Coliseums. This emphasis on violence continues to be prominent in our society today. This emphasis is visible in such mediums of media as movies and videogames. In many videogames today the player is allowed to exercise as much stylized violence as they wish with little to no repercussions or consequences. According to the Media Education Foundation (2005) nearly 75 percent of violent scenes on television feature no immediate punishment for or condemnation of violence. In movies and television a viewer can witness endless killing and violence which often is not very realistic in portrayal of death. While these forms of media do not necessarily lead to serious violent action taken by viewers, such as murder, it does create an area of separation between perceived notions of violence and consequently death; a desensitizing towards harming others(Constant viewing of violent media also raises aggression in viewers.)(Tompkins 2003) It is here that we see media setting the norm for society, instead of society setting the norm for media. We cannot afford to create a public disregard for the creation of an illusion.
The hero, running into battle against all odds, fighting and dying a glorious death for a just cause. This portrayal of a glorious death is common in many stories, and works of art. It is a reflection of an individualistic and violent society which we live in. This concept of self-sacrifice while being very profound and serious often is not portrayed accurately in the media which we take part in. Benjamin West’s painting, “Death of General Wolfe” c 1775 from the Neoclassical movement exemplifies this inaccurate portrayal of death. In this painting the English General Wolfe is shown dying in the victorious Battle of Quebec in 1759. In the painting General Wolfe is surrounded by friends and admirers as he dies. Wolfe is illuminated in the dark scene and takes the pose of Christ being taken from the cross. In reality General Wolfe died of sniper shots to the wrists, groin, and side, he died alone on the battle field: no friends to witness his sacrifice, no triumphant passage into the next life. This piece shows how disconnected the portrayal of death can become from the reality of death, although this painting was created over 200 years ago, its hidden, and probably unintentional message still holds true to society today. Not all media creates an illusion of death and dying, some reveal the harsh reality of our own mortality. Photography often documents the harshness of reality and our own disconnection with it. Timothy O’ Sullivan documented the Civil War, and its horrors. In his photograph, “Harvest of Death Gettysburg, 1863” O’ Sullivan provides a glance at the cold reality of death and violence in the aftermath of the battle at Gettysburg. This photo shows the bodies of soldiers strewn across a deserted battlefield Pockets emptied, and shoes stolen; these corpses turned open eyes towards heaven. This photo gave a new look at the war for the public when it was displayed. Today, many images and photographs of the horrors of life are withheld from public forums such as television for being too graphic. These photographs document events, and provide a small window for us to see outside of our own sheltered lives. Without seeing reality how are we to understand the preciousness and fragility of life? The withholding of such documentation further supports the creation of a fabricated reality and perspective of death and dying. Similarly, not all artists create art which promotes violence. Some artists attempt to address the horrors of killing through their creations. Picasso’s “Guernica”, Daumier’s “Rue Transnonain” and Dix’s “The War” all attempt to portray the reality of violence. It is through this perspective that we can learn that there is nothing glamorous about violence and killing; there is only death.
In an ongoing battle between reality and a fictional world, we need to see the world through our own eyes, and not through the ideals of a sheltered society. We cannot afford to push the realness of death to the side as in Aldous Huxley’s nightmare of “Brave New World” where the dying are hidden from a highly superficial society. In his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” Neil Postman stresses that the content of media highly depends upon the medium in which it is presented. Movies, Television, Videogames, and Art, are all subject to a distortion of reality in order to attain their true goal of being viewed. These mediums often give no regard to the harshness of reality, creating a perpetually fictional environment in which we can choose to live in. We must realize just how precious life is, not a limitless commodity to be disposed of at the whim of any individual.
"Victory Stele of Naram-Sin." American Historical Association. American Historical Association, 2 Oct. 2008. Web. 02 Aug. 2011.
"Issue Brief: Media Literacy." Www.pbs.org. PBS, 6 Jan. 2007. Web. 1 Aug. 2011.
Tompkins, Aimee. "The Psychological Effects of Violent Media on Children." Psychology Classroom at AllPsych Online. Allpsych Online, 14 Dec. 2003. Web. 02 Aug. 2011
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.