Facsimiles of Evil

(I’ll disclose up front that yes, for those of you who know me, having worked at Troma and having partaken in my fair share of horror films in the past, this post may seem inconsistent. Or even self-contradicting.)

There is enough evil in the world that I don’t believe that artists have any moral need to create work that mimics evil. If you can provide me with any examples of these facsimiles of evil that provide some value or insight through absurdist methods or satire, then let’s talk about those. But right now my point is, what the hell are we doing creating, patronizing, and promulgating films and novels that depict evil? Why?

We can discuss the old adage about art mimicking life, or is it life mimicking art; or we can discuss gratuitous violence and freedom of speech. But more to the point, let’s think about why a writer would embark on writing a novel, a good mystery that is well-written, that graphically portrays a serial-killing family that brutally attacks, rapes, and kills women, including its own women. So yes, I’m picking on the Dragon Tattoo thing, among others.

After the news and authorities revealed a few examples of the world’s worst human beings who kept their own families for years under torturous conditions, there is absolutely no human value in recreating these acts in any form of art.

Facsimiles of evil. Just stop it. Do something else, please. Let’s rid ourselves of this genre.



Filed under commentary, essay

32 responses to “Facsimiles of Evil

  1. Sissy. Never read Derek Raymond then.

  2. You worked at Troma? How cool is that!

    See the problem I have with this argument is that portraying transgressive behaviour can be a very effective way of illustrating the boundaries of our identity by asking us what we find (un)acceptable and why. And by portraying such behaviour in a value-neutral way (actually less exploitative than the old “this is bad but I’m gonna show it for authenticity” bollocks) we can ask all sorts of questions about the place of value in the world, the place of love, whether fate is ever deserved, why it is we single out some things and not others as being “evil”. In SKIN BOOK, I specifically wanted to create two characters beyond the boundaries of acceptability (a murderer and a sex criminal), and focus just on one aspect of their lives – their love life. That’s a way of asking why it is we are prepared to see some aspects (their “evil” behaviour) as inseparable from their being but not others (their ability to love and be loved).

  3. yearzerowriters

    I simply don’t believe in a concept of ‘evil’.

    It allows us to reify and externalise our own dark parts and awful behaviour and blame it on something outside of ourselves, instead of analysing it through representation and taking responsibility for it.

    I am bored with serial killer art I have to say. Although I’ve written a nifty graphic novel study of it with crossover over into artists studying anatomy & how language gives us so many idioms centring around our bodies… Course it’s unpublished because of all the evil bast-

    Ahem, like I say, I simply don’t accept the concept in the first place.

    Do you remember that film “Man Bites Dog” which had great validity for looking at the role the media play in creating mythological (&bogeyman) status to serial killers. Definitely a worthwhile film, but I remember my cousin – a stand up comic no less – who had just become a father, writing to the advertsing standards authority about the film’s poster which showed a gun being pointed at a baby’s head. His objection was that nowhere in the film does such a scene appear and therefore the advertising was misrepresentative of the film. Now such a line of argument is true about so many film posters and trailers even, yet I believe he only went to the trouble with this one because he was disturbed by that image and that he was disturbed by it in a way he wouldn’t have been 5 years earlier when he was doing comedy routines about icky stuff – but that now he was a parent, his value system had changed. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s keep it in perspective. And let’s look into our own motives a bit more. We might locate some ‘evil’ within us.

    marc nash

    • Nor do I, Marc, which is why I used the word transgressive to describe the relation of behaviour to social norms rather than values.

      Man Bites Dog was a very powerful film, and asked some very important questions about the relation between the creators of the media and their subject. It was a film more than 10 years ahead of its time – it could have been written about YouTube, which was nothing like a twinkle in any preppy’s eye at the stage.

      To be frivolous, it also contains one of THE great black comedy lines (“I like to start each month with a postman”)

      • yearzerowriters

        no we agree on this one. It was Lenox I was disagreeing with.

      • Marc and Dan, thanks for adding your points. I knew my visceral response was just that — visceral, and not academic. It pains me that my knee-jerk reaction to seeing the dragon tattoo film was just flat-out rejection, but when I give it just a moment’s thought, I go back to my original point: what is the point? I learned nothing, I thought about nothing, I didn’t do any soul-searching after watching that film. I was disgusted, but not even in an earthshattering way, so it’s not like I could even say the “art” of the film was to move me in such a way.

        On that academic level, I agree with you both, which I know sounds contradictory. But it’s not. There is an artistic and meaningful value to the mimeticism of evil portrayals in artworks–film, books, graphic, and otherwise.

        But still.

        And yes, I have this reaction only now that I am a parent so call me a pussy or whatever, but the idea that I brought two beautiful, perfect children into this world and that at some point or another they are likely going to encounter the artistic facsimile of evil, or worse, the real thing.

        I can’t get my head around that part.


  4. I have been thinking about this too. I just saw Brett Easton Ellis was interviewed in London, and someone asked him if he felt he had contributed to the culture that creates psychopaths (in the UK context Raol Moat is the most recent famous example). He responded quite rudely to the female questioner. And said it was a ‘boring’ question. I don’t condone his rudeness but I agree it is ‘boring’ and futile to ask artists to be accountable for the atrocities that occur in society. Art does contribute to society, but not in a reductive ’cause and effect’ way. I think a world without artistic representations of violence wouldn’t be less violent, it would be less humane, and, even on the most base level, so much more boring.

    • yearzerowriters

      That’s a really good point – if art really did affect society in such a way, artists would be far more prized by politicians and advertisers than they currently are. Our lack of value and esteem means our work barely creates a ripple in the consciousness of the public at large.

      marc nash

    • yes, very good point. I remember the reaction to the Sensation exhibition, which I found far more troubling than the content of the exhibition. And possibly the greatest artwork of the 20th century, Guernica, is as horrific a depiction of “evil” as it is possible to imagine, and it’s a rallying point for pacifism.

      • I remember being disappointed by Sensation, partly because of the hype. I thought ‘is that what all the fuss was about?’ I think with a lot of artistic depictions of violence, the ‘intent’ is ambiguous. I’ve had arguments about Michael Haneke’s films for example, on all sides. But the main thing for me is it is important that artists (including ‘pornographers’) feel as free to depict violence as, say, the mainstream media. But when it comes to restrictions on representation, it is pornographers film-makers and programme-makers (and their audiences) who get censored the most.

    • Thanks a lot.

      Good for Mr. Ellis. That question from the media was a stupid one, attempting clearly to snag that soundbite response.

      I think I tried to be careful about not indicting the artist for *contributing* to our culture of psychotics. Rather, what is the point of flatly portraying it? There was no sarcasm or satire, so why bother depicting evil in your art, because then it just looks like a facsimile of evil, not art. I don’t see any artistic value in it unless it is used in an empirically interesting way. Which it wasn’t in this dragon tattoo movie, in my opinion.

      There is so much more to say that the artist has freedom to engage in, rather than a plain mimetic response to evil. Eh.


  5. I agree that intent can be ambiguous, especially in the second wave of movements where it is perceived that sprinkling things with controversial content can gain publicity.

    I know that as a writer I’m lucky because I won’t be pulled up for my content in a way that I would be as a filmmaker or artist (Haneke exemplifies this – there was a storm over The Piano Teacher, yet the [brilliant] book helped gain its author a Nobel Prize).

  6. yearzerowriters

    Ha ha ha Elly – Dan & I rage on about Sensation & YBA. You may have just delivered the coup de grace finale to him!

    Give it up Dan…

    marc nash

    • I don’t want to get in the way of an old and familiar row!

      I am a bit rubbish at looking at art. If I am tired and don’t have coffee/beer/ a seat etc I can wander round a gallery in quite a strop.

  7. I wonder if the constraints on writers are just less visible, after all, people write screenplays, TV scripts, plays. That play in Birmingham that had to close due to protests by Sikh people outside the theatre, was originally a piece of writing. And I think Haneke is doing all right for himself I am sure he’d agree!

    • yearzerowriters

      It’s funny you mention that play cos my work organisation were involved with the follow up play by the writer which is all about her experience from the first play. And nothing happened despite the expectation of trouble & protests etc. The play passed off peacefully in Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, unremarked by the Sikh community. I think there was a sense of disappointment, but to me it just shows how irrelevant theatre is now.

      Too many artists self-censor under both fear of political backlash, but more significantly down to their perceptions of what the market will sustain – a sort of economic self-censorship.

      Marc Nash

      • yes, I most definitely self-censor politically. On the other hand, politics and religion aren’t the things I’m most interested in – I’m most interested in identity and desire. I also don’t really believe in social categories, so things that happen in groups are of much less interest than things that affect the individual.

      • Oh come on, we all self-censor.

        How many times have I *almost* posted my piece that has characters brutally embracing racism in the most insidious, masked kind of ways. I’m not afraid that someone will be offended — that’s kind of the point, for someone to think about why they feel the way they do about the piece and the characters–but that someone will misunderstand it.

        I don’t misunderstand slasher flics or dragon-tattoo books/films. They are well done, but it’s like a Bob Ross painting: they reflect exactly the world with no message, no spin, no satire.

        Fuck that, is what I say.

        If you are going to create a piece of art or writing that is a mimetic of evil, do it with a message and satire. Don’t just mirror it for a cheap thrill. Right?

  8. yearzerowriters

    Surely desire & identity are absolutely political? (You just opt not to treat them as such in your art.) They are completely imprinted by society and that is their adulteration that this is allowed to happen rather than the individual pursuing such notions for themselves, uncluttered by social baggage.

    I’m interested that you say you self-censor politically – I wasn’t aware of that. Perhaps you could give an example?

    marc nash

  9. Desire and identity as political? Very interesting.

    Sure, Madison Avenue influences directly and indirectly our ideas of beauty and success. (E.g., I want a Range Rover.)

    And that culture of consumerism enhances our thoughts of identifying with a larger group–the group of successfuls and beautifuls.

    And that constituency of consumers can be argued to be a polity, since there is the influence factor determining a group’s actions.

    Very thoughtful.

  10. In my books, I use horror to make statements about certain issues and satirical perspectives on life. the greatest monster in my writing is always the dominant society. In fact, I intend to write a monster story where the beast run amok is our dominant society. I’ll let you know when I finish it.

    • I love that idea, and you clearly have a message to send. Monsters as representing something larger are indeed interesting. I’m not sure what Mr. Larson was trying to accomplish, though.

      I spent years in film school studying the broader social implications of Hitchcock films, the Alien series, and slasher movies. That was interesting. There is a role for horror movies in society — as an escapist blah blah blah and people have written plenty of books about it so there’s no need for me to go over that here.

      I’m looking forward to your work.


  11. I am interested in how currently, e.g in recent UK law, it is illegal to possess ‘extreme pornography’ i.e. violent images that intend to arouse, which suggest actual violence to those being depicted. I understand why it is potentially damaging to merely reproduce violence on our screens, without ‘critiquing’ it. But when we are told we are not allowed to enjoy violent imagery for the sake of it, for our own pleasure, (unless it is a massive corporate franchise version in which case it is ok), then my response is to want to see more ‘gratuitous’ violence in a way. Do you see what I mean? I don’t feel the need to always know how the violence on screen is being put into question. I like the fact there are diverse sources of representations of violence, not just what I can watch on Sky News or the latest Batman movie.

  12. I get QRG’s point exactly. I think, lenox, you may be being a little disingenuous when you say “Don’t just mirror it for a cheap thrill.” that precisely IS something with a message/purpose and not pure mimesis (just one that you disagree with). It’s also very different from representation for thesake of representation as it were.

    @Marc – no, one of the points I was making in Songs is that identity and desire are not social or political – that we always conceive them as such but that leads us down blind alleys and to an identity that traps us in paralysis rather than setting us free. This is essentially the reason why I don’t take Dale’s allegorical approach to institutions – I feel it’s just a blunter weapon than accounts that are radically individual.

    • yearzerowriters

      “accounts that are radically individual” are iconoclastic aren’t they? To speak to some sort of universality of experience/emotion, it ain’t gonna be all that radically individual.

      The blind alleys are because they are ill-lit by artistic engagement. Identity is both individually forged and also with reference to others. The problem arises when one is out of kilter with the other in terms of being far more of an influence.

      marc nash

      • I think we just disagree on this one. Yes, our experience is in relation to others, but not to categorised others but ALL others – as each matrix of relations is, therefore, different, all experiences are irreducible. I have a feeling we will always disagree on this – I think you are at heart an empiricist and I a rationalist

  13. yearzerowriters

    I keep stating categorically that I’m a relativist!!!

    Marc xx

  14. OK, so it was this post where I called you a sissy.

    I just saw Dragon Tattoo two days ago.

    After the scene where she was raped, it cut to her limping home. I had to pause my viewing because that hit me like a Derek Raymond punch to the stomach.

    I’ve seen *lots* of TV and movies that have had rapes in them. This was the first time I’ve seen the *aftermath* of rape portrayed with that limping and it hit me hard.

    And it also made me think about how she’s been treated like shit by most of the males around her and how that affected who she became.

    (And I was also glad to see her turn it all around to her advantage and make that abusive son-of-bitch get some of his own medicine.)

    So maybe *you* didn’t learn anything or could see how anyone else could, but I did. Maybe you weren’t looking in the right places or in the right way.

    And we portray evil so we can feel sympathy for the victims, as I did for her.

    • Ah, interesting, thanks for the perspective. No, I didn’t look at it that way. Eliciting feelings–empathy, sympathy, hate, anger, love–is a vital piece of art, and that is a component that I don’t think in all of these comments or in my original post I had considered.

      (Sidenote: In Leaving Las Vegas, Elizabeth Shue’s character limps home through her condo complex with blood dripping down her legs after being gang raped.)

      • Well, you see, while I’ve seen lots of TV and movies, that’s one I *didn’t* see. There will *always* be more that I haven’t seen at this point in my life!

      • Oh, and one other thing, the flipside. Her teaching that bastard a lesson — for the shits in the audience who might have got off on her being raped, it showed them that even someone they think they can get over on can always turn around and rip off their balls and stuff them down their throats. So it’s also a Don’t Try This Shit At Home example for those scum too.

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