Yesterday we went to see Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Neither my husband nor I was prepared for the level of violence in the film. We sometimes speak of “gratuitous violence” in movies, video games, and other entertainment media. I don’t know the proper definition of the term, but I guess it means something like “violence for the sheer excitement of it.” Shoot-em-ups and explosions because directors know that certain sectors of the viewing public get a charge out of that sort of thing. I’m not sure what the opposite of “gratuitous” violence is (appropriate violence? inherent violence? organically generated violence?), but the violence in Three Billboards did not strike me as gratuitous. It emanated naturally from characters who had a violent spirit. Why talk something out when you can punch the guy’s lights out? Why speak to a counselor when throwing Molotov cocktails will get that rage off your chest and how!
I thought about our recent Valentine’s Day Massacre and how little political will there is to take any measures at all to stop the slaughter of our young people. Effective background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning assault-style weapons made for war, even something as simple as banning bump-stocks. The default answer to any single one of the above is always a resounding NO. Then my mind returned to Three Billboards. No, I thought, we are not gratuitously violent. Indeed, our violence emanates from our deepest selves. Many in our society have long stoked this internal rage, raising it to such a fevered pitch that they categorically refuse to live without AR-15’s, weapons capable of destroying scores of their fellow human beings in a matter of minutes. When there's a mass shooting, they blame the individual shooter...while harboring the collective enemy within.
Young people must feel terrified growing up in a world where their elders nurture such rage. Yet my hope rests in them. You rock, Emma Gonzalez! Call B.S. on all us oldsters who can't live without our lethal toys! Maybe we’ll finally start acting like responsible adults.