I grew up watching a lot of cartoons. The Transformers held pride of place in my life, while many others that came and went never ceased to be a source of endless fascination to me. They all portrayed what seemed to my credulous little mind the endless battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.
Every episode would culminate in a violent showdown between good and evil, with good invariably staving off evil… until the next episode of course. Some (rightly) complain about the quantity or explicit depiction of violence in cartoons, but this is actually only a secondary problem. The problem, in fact, is that these cartoons perpetuate the myth that violence is necessary in dealing with evil.
Walter Wink expounds more on this in his The Powers That Be, having previously shown that what he calls “domination societies” need a myth to justify their constant and systemic use of violence:
The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.
The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto-death. (42)
Wink goes on to talk about the archetypal pattern of a good vs. evil cartoon:
The psychodynamics of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show… actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of the self. When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and reestablish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of agression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero. (49)
It’s a small wonder then, that most people mutter something about pacifism not “working.” We have been formed by the system of the world to believe precisely this. And although I’ll probably want to go see the new Transformers movie when it comes out, it’s also a bit surreal to see how it’s played its part in making me hesitant to believe that non-violence is a tenable position. I’ll conclude with Wink’s chilling words on this very point:
The myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialized in the process of maturation. (53)