It’s not like they’re people

Kevin Niederman
Column Like I See Em'


First-world society has, by and large, decided that excessive violence is unsuitable for younger audiences. Somewhere along the way, however, it became perfectly fine as long as whatever is eviscerated isn’t technically human.

When it comes to movies, extreme violence puts people in the pews. First-world society attempts to keep their kids from buying tickets if the filmmakers do anything too gratuitous. If only there were some kind of magical middle ground where filmmakers could show all the hardcore, uncensored violence they wanted while still adhering to a predetermined set of criteria to make their gore-fest film readily available to children of all ages.

Oh, right. Robots.

Hollywood loves robots. And with good reason! People pay to see robots. Better yet, it’s okay to show extreme violence perpetrated on a robot.

“I, Robot” is a great example. In it, violence against humans typically involves a robot hurling people's bodies astonishing distances only to have them land safely in strategically placed piles of soft, rubber tubing. When we start to hurt robots, though, we are treated to a morbid bouquet of dismemberment and mutilation.

Arms, legs and heads alike are literally wrenched from bodies, themselves split in two. At several points robots’ “jugular” hydraulic fluid tubing are ripped from their throats. Other robots are run underneath the tires of moving cars, and we watching as their faces begin to melt and are slowly crushed into nothingness. Faces, mind you, that look awfully human.

These same scenes, after a swap of robot for human and oil for blood, form a bonafide R-rated motion picture.

Take another movie, “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.” Near the end of the film, one of the good robots is accosted by a dump truck and a robot panther or jaguar or cat or whatever it is. The instant the good robot gets his hands on that robot cat, he grabs it by the tail and slowly pulls out its entire spinal column in painstaking detail. Now imagine the cat is real. How old do you think you’d have to be before seeing something like that?

Even critically-acclaimed, Emmy award-winning children’s cartoon series of the early 2000’s “Samurai Jack” exploits this simple switch. Had the show been about a swordsman taking revenge for the loss of his family out on people, it would have been a thoroughly adult program. However, after the robot substitution, he was free to slice, dice and perform any other vice ending in ice. On multiple occasions, the audience sees Jack covered in the blood of his enemies by episode’s end. Luckily for him and his producers, the blood of his enemies happened to be oil.

If a child can imprint human qualities on, say, a doll, isn’t it possible they do the same for robots? How is watching a robot’s throat slit as it twitches, spasms, and dies processed any different than if they saw a human do the same?

Moreover, what does it say about us that we can so easily dehumanize things to the point that violence is no longer disturbing but enjoyable? Simply because they're not technically human, regardless of how they look or sound?

But at the same time, we mourn when Mufasa, a lion, dies; we fear when a bunch of plastic toys face an incinerator, a fish gets lost, a volleyball floats away. We can just as easily care, deeply, for things in no way resembling humans. It frightens me that we are capable of such a casual assignment of what is and what is not worth feeling for.

If our film culture is all about substituting non-humans for humans so you can rip its head off, as they scream in agony in front of a few million 12-year-olds, under the guise of humor or cool factor, I want no part in it. I feel pain when watching scraps, sorted into the shape of a person, being torn apart.

If violence is so unacceptable, then be consistent. Stick to your guns, society, and make sure you recognize that human or not, violence is violence.

Kevin is a junior studying nursing.