Knockout Games: Sign of the times, just like “Clockwork…”

My increasing concern for the future of the human race (not the ‘planet’, mind you) is not based on Biblical revelations, millennial madness or general eschatological malaise. It’s based on a sober evaluation of the times in which we live. No matter how I crunch the numbers the outlook is bleak. And while my major concerns may be either cause or effect of global warming, general environmental degradation or population pressures, the current “Knockout Games” certainly give it a more personal, intimate horror and almost lends credence to the Biblical spin that Tea Partiers like to attach to our current era and their litany of Obamanations.

 

For those who’ve been on a Caribbean cruise the last couple weeks, this is the current street fashion of knocking someone out with one punch… at random. Of course the Tea Party treatment of a duly elected and hard-working President doesn’t rate much higher in my opinion and must give encouragement to those petty hooligans merely looking for kicks. The ubiquitous online forum and chat trollers waxing vile and spewing bile don’t rate much higher, either. Our era is not characterized by its politeness, boo hoo.

It seems like the more technologically advanced we become, the more we revert culturally to our base instincts of dog-eat-dog, survival of the meanest. The more we embrace social media, with the ability to chat with total strangers around the world, the more we retreat into our social shells, foregoing the most basic considerations in the process (and don’t forget to screw your buddy… especially if he’s from the opposition political party).

But the ‘Knockout Game’ is something else. It’s not totally new, though, and resembles gang initiations going back decades, and similar occurrences in the other advanced Anglo cultures of Australia, Canada, and the UK itself. It is not an isolated phenomenon, either, showing some resemblance to the flash-mob crime sprees that followed the ‘not guilty’ verdict of George Zimmerman and recent ‘thrill kills’ in which murders were committed ‘just for the fun of it’. What is new is the apparent need to publicize it, and brag about it, as though our Warholian quest for ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ has now been transformed into fifteen minutes of infamy.

It’s not clear if there’s a racial motivation to the seemingly random violence, but it would almost come as a relief if there were. I was pretty angry at George Zimmerman’s being exonerated for cold-blooded murder, too; still am. People tell me I’ll get over it, but I’m not sure I want to. Violence for fun, though, is truly disturbing to me. Have we fallen that far from a paradise of forests and skies and seas of possibilities? I hope not.

None of this is new in art and literature, though, of course. William Burroughs’ 60’s-era ‘Wild Boys’ can be disturbing to those not accustomed to his style of delighting in the musty odors of our penetrated sanctums, but Anthony Burgess’ ‘Clockwork Orange’ gives a more conventional narrative format to probe the limits of ultra-violence. Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same theme is a classic take on the subject, of course, and without any of Burgess’ originally intended redemption. Tarantino’s classic movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ carries the argument to its final conclusion, with much humor and little satire: violence is cool… at least in movies.

This is real life, of course (though sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference), and it ain’t pretty. But if we want to point fingers, then we’ll need lots of mirrors, for this phenomenon is a picture of America itself, and probably the whole Western world, maybe even the entire contemporary world, obsessed more with status updates and ego, ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, consumption and conquest, than politeness and conciliation.

The Tea Party is a prime example, shutting down the government to make a simple point that had already been made many times over. The US military is another, droning on and on while grandmothers die and babies lie bleeding. Syria is the human race’s most gaping wound du jour, of course, and you don’t even want to know about the Congo. It doesn’t have to be this way. That’s the point. I hope it’s not too late to change.

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