In his book, More Than a Movie: Ethics in Entertainment, F. Miguel Valenti examines nine “hot buttons” of violence – “creative elements that filmmakers use to manipulate viewers’ reactions to onscreen violence.” (99) These elements, posited by researchers conducting The National Television Violence Study (Valenti, 99) are “choice of perpetrator, choice of victim, presence of consequences, rewards and punishments, the reason for the violence, weapons, realism, use of humor, and prolonged exposure” (Valenti, 100) . Raiders of the Lost Ark is a violent, yet well loved film which would be interesting to examine in this light. In Raiders, the choice of perpetrator is our hero, Indiana Jones.
We do not think of him as “a perpetrator”, he is “the good guy”, yet he is shown bringing about the demise of many people. Victims of violence can be portrayed as likeable, in which case the effect on the audience is to “increase fear and anxiety. If violence can happen to someone *like* me, it can also happen *to* me, they reason” (Valenti, 101), however, if “the victim is dissimilar to the viewer and NOT likable, the viewer can more easily either rationalize the violence or dismiss it because in some way the victim ‘got what he deserved’” (Valenti, 102). The victims in Raiders are Nazis, not “everyday Joes”, their characters are not individualized, or if they are, they are over-the-top evil, like Arnold Ernst Toht the sadistic and ruthless Nazi Gestapo agent (Raiders). Raiders is chockfull of weapons – knives, machetes, submachine guns, and firearms of all sorts. “Weapons – in most cases firearms of one sort or another – can trigger aggressive feelings in viewers and cause them to interpret a seemingly neutral situation as potentially threatening” (Valenti, 104).
This is knowledge Steven Spielberg puts to good use in the scene in Raiders where a Nazi approaches the bound Marion ominously with a vile looking weapon in hand, viciously flicks it open … and hangs his coat on the wooden hanger (Raiders). This leads us to the subject of humor in violent situations. “…humor strips violence of the moral outrage the viewer might otherwise feel. And if our hero can joke about the destruction he is causing, surely we can as well” (Valenti, 107). Indiana Jones is confronted by a large, sword wielding man and after watching his elaborate swordsmanship, Indiana tiredly pulls out his gun and drops him with one bullet – to the rousing cheers of the audience (Raiders).
“Social scientists state that when violence is shown in context, complete with depictions of the pain and suffering caused by the violent acts, aggressive behavior in the viewer is inhibited”(Valenti, 102). “If a violent act is rewarded – through the perpetrator’s attaining his goal or ‘getting the girl,’ the likelihood of learning aggressive behavior is increased” (Valenti, 103). After Indiana Jones battles his way onto a ship, he’s so bruised he can’t move, so Marion, a beautiful woman, kisses the pain away. This is the only physical consequence we see Indie “suffer” (Raiders). In Raiders of The Lost Ark, the violence is abundant from beginning to end, – a death tally of 63 (allouttabubblegum) — but we accept it because it is always the “bad guy” getting hurt — a greedy guide is skewered by a bed of nails, a relentless thug is chopped by a plane propeller, and numerous Nazis meet their comeuppance by having their faces melt off (Raiders).
The violence is often gory and realistic. According to the study, the reason for the violence tends to affect the viewers’ response to the violence. “When a violent act is seen as unjustified, aggressive tendencies are reduced in the viewer” (Valenti, 103) – the “body count” of Raiders consists entirely of Nazis, baddies, and thugs, which would make the audience tend to feel less anxious, and thus according to Valenti, actually increase the viewers’ aggressive tendencies (103). If the existence of audience created websites such as The Incredible Melting Nazi (YouTube) posted in the “Comedy” section, can be used as evidence, there may be something to that. Works Cited
ASHPD24. “(Indiana Jones And The) Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981): Body Count Breakdown.” AllOuttaBubbleGum.com. WordPress, 31 January 2010. Web. 15 January 2013.
Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dir. Spielberg, Steven. Paramount, 1982. Film. TheScarredLovers. “The Incredible Melting Nazi.” YouTube.com.You Tube, L.L.C., 23 May 2008. Web. 15 February 2013
Valenti, F. M. (2000). More Than a Movie. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Print.
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