The case for fictional violence

Panorama of Hell cover.

I recently finished reading Hideshi Hino's Panorama of Hell, an extremely violent oneshot manga, and it got me thinking about the purpose of violence in fiction.

When some people hear about violent media, they might go on a pearl-clutching tantrum (this especially happens with video games). But I feel it's a waste to not analyze the way violent media uses its graphic nature to send a message.

Today, we'll be analyzing three works of fiction that use graphic violence as their main appeal: the aforementioned Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino, Snuff 2000 by Miguel Ángel Martín, and Postal 2 by Running With Scissors.

Let's start with my most recent read- Panorama of Hell is the story of an anonymous artist obsessed with painting scenes of Hell with his own blood. It starts off incredibly violent, in such a way that it's almost humorous, but it's quickly revealed that the story is less about physical suffering and more about the profound sadness the character is feeling.

A page from Panorama of Hell. The text is in Portuguese.

With scenes of gore so graphic that they border on ridiculous, one of the most tragic pages of the book is the one where the main character laments not being able to help his brother feel better when they were both children.

Suddenly the work starts being less about the violence inherent to Hell and more about the seemingly endless suffering that accompanies the protagonist from the very moment he was born. It's about generational trauma, childhood abuse, and the mortifying ordeal that is being alive.

But then, why bother adding all the violence at the start? Interestingly, the over-the-top violence is the part that will most likely bother the reader the least- in a way, it prepares you for the actual violence: domestic violence and the cycle of abuse, to name a few things that are depicted in the book.

Snuff 2000 cover.

On the other hand, Snuff 2000 is purely about the shock factor it can get from its depictions of... everything vile with humanity, I guess.

Okay, I'm not going to sugarcoat things: Snuff 2000 is about two masked dudes who film snuff/gore porn, including pedophilia and even an implied bestiality scene. That's it. It's a collection of short stories about these two.

Within the universe of the shorts, they own a successful extreme porn studio- Snuff 2000, complete with the tagline «the sex choice for a new generation». The collection, although brief, has a pretty clear message about a sense of society degrading due to... porn consumption? Look, just because the message is clear doesn't mean I actually agree with it...

Unlike Panorama, its message isn't very fleshed out. It's violence of the most extreme kind, to the point that it's so graphic that it's banned in Italy, with a very flimsy excuse. Unless the author has some particular tastes in, y'know, fantasies, I hardly see a reason for this comic's existence. Ah, well, at least the drawings have a cool style to them...

A screenshot from Postal 2, featuring a man with a note saying «kick me» on his back being kicked by the player.

Moving away from comics, let's finally talk about Postal 2. It's one of my favorite video games from our Steam library. There's a lot to think about in terms of game design, but I'll keep to the way violence is used within it.

Let's not beat around the bush, this game sets off to offend pretty much everyone. From racist jokes to *gasp* being mean to the police force, it has something that might upset everyone within the political spectrum as long as they're a tad too sensitive.

This, of course, includes gratuitous and excessive shootings, stabbings, explosives... basically, anything you'd like in order to go postal.

Thing is, violence is, much like in real life (for legal reasons I'm meant to clarify that that's a joke), completely optional. Of course, you'll have a way less fun time running away from all the people trying to kill you while you're just going on with your boring daily life, but it's your decision to be violent... and what does that say about you, mmh?

A screenshot from Postal 2, in which the player is peeing onto a picture of a real-life guy.

From the start of the game, the message is simple: stop caring so much about video games and maybe have a little fun every once in a while. Despite its simplicity, it's extremely well-conveyed. After all, you're the one shooting people, you're the one kicking them, you're the one using kitties as shotgun silencers (no, really). It also helps that the game is consistently funny, even if it consists of «edgy» and immature jokes.

I've been rambling for long enough, so let's wrap things up.

What does this all mean? Is violence of any kind being depicted good or bad? Well, it's a bit of a gray area. Let's not pretend media doesn't affect reality in any way- I'm sure someone out there is deranged enough commit a murder inspired by their media consumption. However, this is most likely not the fault of the media itself, I'd argue people who are inclined to kill or rape will do it regardless of how pure the media they're shown is.

Should a work such as Snuff 2000 exist, even if it depicts the most deplorable of acts without much reason? In my opinion, sure! Truth is, the message it conveys is so flimsy that most readers will just look away in disgust- it won't affect anyone in any significant way.

As long as fiction depicting horrendous acts stays in mature spaces with mature audiences without being used to hurt others, there really isn't a problem. Artistic censorship, however, will always be an issue- the moment you try to put down creativity is the moment you deny someone's human nature, regardless of how depraved and vile it may be.