Things To Act
Friday, June 04, 2004
Violence II--Brightline Rules
The comments on my first post on violence have got me thinking further about brightline rules. The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet [**SPOILERS**] mentions four entertainment no-nos: "entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way." Kevin and DP both argue that drawing an objective bright line may be impossible, which seems to make the application of 'in any way' to all four equally problematic.
Vulgar: difficult to quantify, in part because definitions [via Dictionary.com] vary from "crudely indecent" to "lacking cultivation or refinement" to "of or associated with the great masses of people." Even if we take the indecency approach, opinions and practices will vary. For instance, even in the hot-button LDS issue of profanity, different people use different standards. Levels of tolerance vary up the scale from f*tch to cr*p to d*mn to b*st*rd to even worse words. [Personally, while occasional bouts of temper may provoke me to the next level higher, I take solace in the fact that damn and hell were over-the-pulpit words in the country of my mission]. In any event, quantifying vulgarity seems quite tricky, and the stricter the definition, the greater the likelihood of excluding the vast majority of today's entertainment [opinions may vary as to the desirability of that, of course].
Immoral: complicated by the distinctions between depicting immorality and advocating immorality [if you haven't yet, immediately go read OSC's A Mormon Writer Looks at the Problem of Evil in Fiction]. Further complicated by the difficulty of deciding what advocates morality. For instance, do Robin Hobb's [**Spoilers**] Farseer books advocate fornication, because the FitzChivalry is unapologetic in it, or do they condemn it, because the harsh consequences that follow and warp the rest of his life? I don't know that anyone, even the author, can authoritatively say exactly what moral position a particular story advocates in all cases. Finally, in the case of more complex works, it's hard to tell which side of the line it will fall on before reading/watching. Perhaps in this case, the FSY standard can only help on the reread list.
Violent: the more I think about it, the worse trying to craft a brightline rule gets. Martial arts sparring, while it can be physically painful, is far less disturbing than heated words spoken in anger, which may not be strictly violent, but seem to be troubling in the same sort of way as many forms of violence. Even if the "in any way" clause doesn't apply to violence, though, it's still hard to know what 'too much' violence would be, other than by personal taste. The worry, though, is that if violence is desensitizing, one's personal taste is probably unreliable. I can remember a time in distant childhood when even the thought of one fictional character killing another was troubling. Now a death scene has to be particularly poignant to even get my attention. On the other hand, the first time I saw someone, while playing a first person shooter, shoot someone in the head at point-blank range sending a spurt of blood into the air, I was horrified enough to decide to never play FPSs myself, regardless of what others chose, due to D&C 59:6. I can easily imagine that if I'd chosen differently, my memory of first watching a FPS would have faded to the emotional distance of my childhood memory.
Pornographic: this may be the easiest brightline rule in one sense: anything which is sexually stimulating ought not be sought out. On the other hand, since what an individual finds to be sexually stimulating can vary tremendously, any hope of crafting an objective rule breaks down quickly. The 'in any way' clause appears to fit here best, though, subjective though it may be.
Objective standards, or objective bright-line rules, thus seem to be difficult to come by. While this is a good excuse to not judge the choices of others, it does not seem to be a good excuse to ignore the issue for ourselves. However, I sense a tension between the necessity of personal discretion in setting these standards and the argued desensitizing effects that wrong choices have. Is there any way around this dilemma? Part of my trouble stems from my personal impression that the members I've known who are most fastidious in their entertainment choices also seem to be the ones who are most troubled when they encounter something outside their comfort zone. Thus, I think a healthy level of desensitization might be good, given that we're going to have to interact with a fallen world at least enough to try to convert it. Perhaps I'm mistaken in this, though.
Ironically enough, while getting the link to the D&C reference above, I noticed a new section on lds.org: Wise Media Use, a section with links to a variety of articles/talks/etc.
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