HOW DID WE GET FROM THIS…
Texas to Mexico is a short hop geographically speaking – populations separated by a matter of a few miles spanning a physical border as the crow flies… a detached observer circling above the flood of economic migrants desperate to head to the perceived riches of the north, invasions of Spring-breakers in the opposite direction and constant federal agency swoops upon the drug gangs plying their trade.
It’s a quicker trip online… type in M-e-x-i-c-a… that’s all you need – as third and fourth on Google’s results list is Mexican beheading and Mexican chainsaw beheading – popularity that speaks volumes.
Simple geography apart… the psychological, social and communications leap reflected in the internet box office revenge videos delivered by warring drug cartels – in particular the grim nadir of the Mexican chainsaw beheading – may be chronologically a whole world away from what was essentially the underground cultural outpost of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre film of 1974 with its portrayal of a nightmare fictional horror. And yet it represents an horrific end game; a related process – although there are it seems always new depths to plumb.
It’s difficult to argue that this represents anything but a downward spiral and a depressingly inevitable one at that. Studies of media influence forewarned of this gradual descent although it is doubtful that any of those alive who carried out this pioneering work would gain any pleasure in saying I told you so. There has always been a healthy debate in the unhealthy – on the other side of the border are those who proclaim the liberating effect of the internet from the historical editorial control of what we can or are effectively allowed to see – though there are huge issues and grey areas beyond the polar barricades.
“Camouflage-wearing X-box warriors where the quick click blurs perimeters and parameters.”
That’s life the apologists say. The brutal death of two men – hell, they’re only snitches, casualties in some grubby domestic drug war among a few Mexicans, who have probably carried out worse atrocities themselves – is a necessary posting otherwise we get censorship that obscures fundamental rights and the need to know what is happening. There is merit in debate of all of these positions. But much like the worst of the horror genre that Hooper’s cult classic effectively ushered in to the mainstream – the violence is gratuitous and is left with no real context on viewing other than a raw emotion one way or the other.
I’ve been a fan of horror films all my life. The censorship battles have been many and varied as the envelope has been pushed resulting in bans and many cause célѐbre: often liberal tendencies getting behind unseen movies that are emblematic of broader debates. However, as the gore quota has risen so has my disappointment.
I’m fundamentally a fan of the suggestion, the tease; the subtle and the psychological. Graphic images may be seared on your mind but the undertone of the quietly disturbing telescoped into a believable real-life situation is far more effective. Plus I like scripts and character developments – I want to care about the protagonists – not view some cartoon painting-by-numbers script representatives of teenagers at summer camp or lost holiday makers in the wilderness.
Trouble is the gore has been ramped up as real-life has overtaken it and we are increasingly desensitised. The language of fictional and real-life horror have blurred on this perverse axis and we all become the gargoyle-like old women knitting in between ‘entertainment’ at the French Revolution guillotines. Which – as a superficially civilised society – we would have thought a response buried in a more barbaric past.
When Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan shot a Vietcong captive through the head in Saigon in 1968 – one of the most well known of Vietnam war images from celebrated photographer Eddie Adams – not just a nation but a world was engulfed by the shock waves. The photograph’s context was lost in the outpouring of anti-war polemic. A generation that had seen its leaders assassinated responded in outrage to the casual switching off of another human being’s life as if turning a TV channel. Sure, they’d read the journalists in the magazines and newspapers and seen the aftermath footage of war but this nightly reportage of what was described as the first TV War was something else entirely.
“These dark cognoscenti are commenting upon and actively seeking out something that might top the previous thrill…”
Now such grotesque brutality is freely available as entertainment. It’s on mobiles in playgrounds; it appears easily available on search engines with simple clicking to circumvent any lip-service to age related access. For a generation brought up on shoot-‘em up video games it’s just another aspect of technology: two more terrified faces in the book as someone else’s moment of death – which should be a moment of intense privacy – is replayed ad nauseam with slo-mo available until rendered meaningless and suffocated under absurd debate of every brutal nuance.
The net is both cesspit and wonderland – celebrating the very best of humanity but also its worst depths. There were always rumours about snuff movies for pleasure back in Tobe Hooper’s time – urban myth and hearsay – but the internet has all the confirmation you could possibly (not) need with a horrific regular diet of beheadings and torture.
The psychosis of individuals was just that in the pre-internet age… atomised dots on the sick list of the country. If they ever got brave enough to put their head above the parapet they were probably still known only to local police. Now there is strength in numbers and a feeding frenzy from knowing like-minded souls and the best feature of the net – it’s very immediacy – has put these grotesque images into everyone’s reach.
The question as always is – do we need to see? Do we need to know? These dark cognoscenti are commenting upon and actively seeking out something that might top the previous thrill – “an oldie but goodie” is a scarcely believable set-up for a beheading on one site. Now it’s as if the gore quotient of horror film fiction can’t keep up with reality and, as with the shoddiest of the genre, these victims also lack character and context other than scared faces from Mexico, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other world trouble spots.
… TO THIS?
The comments are just as graphic and revealing as the videos – spanning the limits of righteous calls to God’s natural justice; jingoistic diatribes; sad bedroom boys revelling in their testosterone-fuelled keyboards – laughing and fronting up; watching as if tearing the wings off flies.
“Now it’s as if the gore quotient of horror film fiction can’t keep up with reality…”
All as if preternaturally desperate to comment on someone else’s war and big themselves up in situations in which they would disintegrate in reality: camouflage-wearing X-box warriors where the quick click blurs perimeters and parameters. Not forgetting the genuinely upset/curious – so easy to respond to the tease, the come on, the 18 plus warnings; the do you dare? – the wish they didn’t; like rubber-necking at traffic accidents as they Google past. Viewings make victims of us all.
Then the genuinely sick audience who swear vengeance or enjoyment like the modern equivalent of the gladiatorial spectacle – except these gladiators are cowed and have no chance and they know it; which makes the anticipation/inevitability of their final words even more agonising than the result. It’s no coincidence that rough, abusive hardcore sex and animal torture links litter the pages of these horror pageants. These sites know their market as well as double-glazing salesmen.
The real nightmare though – deep down in the recesses of the mind and away from the human cesspit that churns relentlessly on the internet – one that bubbles just beneath the civilised veneer; is that somewhere in a back bedroom in this country is someone psychotically charged enough and desensitised enough from nights of such entertainment to just do it ‘for a laugh,’ for a cause, for whatever – on a perceived enemy at school perhaps or some random member of the public. Chainsaw… and method of recording in hand of course.