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The Culturally Sanctioned Violence of Toy Story 3

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A curious nostalgia for the natural world pervades modern society. Considering ourselves the evolutionary apex, man at times craves a return to a simpler state. Surely pigeons don't have to worry about dinner reservations, we sigh, and our pets never have to delete junk emails. Indeed, only a liar would claim to never have envied an animal. Perhaps triggered by screen-tired eyes or keyboard cramped thumbs, however, this sentiment only serves to highlight our own bottomless ignorance.

As it stands, mankind's greatest folly may lie in the fact that as a species we believe that we have somehow domesticated ourselves. Just as our dogs are taught to urinate outdoors and remain within a carefully prescribed area, we too mark our lives with practices and conventions. We are not "trained," though, but "cultured." Taught to sit at certain times, speak at certain times and offer our hands when appropriate we have conveniently been provided with stage instructions by previous generations. Self-aware enough to choreograph our own existence, we naturally feel a sense of superiority when considering creatures not able to do the same.

We shouldn't. As a matter of fact, we are as feral as we have ever been. Instead of acting instinctively upon our most basic inclinations, however, we have found ways of channeling and disguising them. Take, for example, our society's abject obsession with violence. A fact of life in the natural world, we have partially succeeded in teaching ourselves to avoid employing it as a method of conflict resolution. Even so, the desire to witness violent acts remains; it is an inescapable part of the human psyche. As a proxy method of displacing primal aggression, such imagery saturates all media forms.

I cannot claim to have always held these opinions. While always disgusted by films such as Saw, wherein a psychopath subjects victims to horrifying, torturous ordeals in exchange for their lives, I viewed them as a niche market and nothing more. As an ordinary person with no desire to sit in a theatre and watch people suffer, such audiences seemed to me a completely self-selecting group. Indeed, I must confess that I was a happier soul when under this (now shattered) impression. One wonders what terrible act I must have witnessed to have had my world changed so- what sort of inexpressible depravity could provoke such a transformation?

As it turns out, those who flock to view gory snuff-style films at times anything but a self-selecting group. Some are mere children, brought there by their parents, led in by their hands, and given a boost so that they might be able to see the screen. Sitting there, wide eyed and sticky mouthed, they stare with crooked necks at a movie rife with loathsome morbid imagery. This weekend I too sat among them, having bought a ticket for Toy Story 3, and perhaps no one in the theater's eyes were wider than my own. For as they giggled and gasped, I witnessed the mass inoculation of their young and malleable minds. As the characters on screen were subjected to the most vile of allegorical deaths, I realized that movies such as this do little more but create a generation of connoisseurs of violence. Having cut their teeth on sadism "lite" at an early age they will move onto the more heady offerings soon enough.

Imagine, if you will, a scene in which a collection of castoff people are thrown into a massive body bag and sent to their certain deaths in a trash incinerator; piled atop one another they frantically try and escape the suffocating atmosphere. Who but the most hardened among us would not cringe watching them shout in fear as they clamor to make sense of their situation? Is it any better, then, when one replaces the humans with a collection of animated figurines who have been carefully and deliberately been endowed with distinctly human features and personalities? Hardly. In fact, it may be far worse. By sugar coating such imagery (using toys as human surrogates) we are merely rendering violent imagery accessible to the very young among us.

Indeed, films such as Toy Story 3 seem to be little more than the first stage of a long process designed to feed our animal desire to engage in and witness violence in all forms. Because we are surrounded with the comforts of modern life, and have provided ourselves with a "culture" meant to instruct our every move, we have lost the natural outlets that once satiated this particularly base itch. Now our dose of suffering and strife is projected conveniently onto the silver screen. Who can monitor our thoughts as we sit in the relative anonymity of a darkened theater? If, as adults, we delight in the ability to experience the anguish that nature truly owes us, albeit in a watered down form, then so be it. Dragging our children along, to view a kiddiefied version of the same, however, is hardly any different from the lioness who brings a wounded animal back to her cubs so that they might bat it about and learn how best to kill it. The key lies in our semantics: she "trains" her young, we merely "culture" ours.