Enter the thinking thug

August 15, 1997

As a conference on violence opens, Alan Thomson looks at research into the topic

A NEW wave of Hollywood films seems to be rejecting stereotypical male violence in favour of cool reflection, a congress on violence will be told next week.

Roger Bromley, professor of international cultural studies at Nottingham Trent University, says that new films such as Grosse Pointe Blank and Palookaville portray a new kind of man who is capable of reflecting on his violent nature and even refusing violence.

Professor Bromley will tell the congress at University College, Dublin, that such films differ from those of recent years, such as the Die Hard blockbusters, Rambo and the cult movie Reservoir Dogs, which depict anti-heroes committing violence with little or no reflection on their actions.

Professor Bromley said: "It seems we are now seeing a critical distance between the characters and their violence, which is pleasing. I am not sure why this should be, because there is no evidence that violence is diminishing in society. Perhaps it is a response to feminism, in which we are looking at certain gender fundamentalisms."

He said that men are very often socialised into violent behaviour and that this has been reflected in violent films where the characters are shown to give no thought to their extreme violence. By contrast, he said, in films such as Alan Taylor's Palookaville, the male characters shy away from violence.

Professor Bromley also said that the media, including cinema, now devoted more time and effort to violence and that audiences were more appreciative of simulated violence. He says that this "virtual violence" has increased because of the decline in actual civil violence, as opposed to violent crime, in western society.

"Violence in the media has probably increased because of the need to stage culturally, and consider reflexively, the growing incidence of particular and localised forms of interpersonal violence in society," he said. "For my purposes, cinema is a 'cool filter' for refiguring and reading violence."

* Hollywood demonises fictional females who kill by linking their crimes to mental illness, a German researcher will tell the Dublin congress.

Maike Petersen said that, by contrast, men in films, just as in real life, tend to be judged asrational people who just happen to have killed.

She said that in the past, female killers were confined to the thriller genre. But in the past 15 years women have been seen killing in all sorts of films, and not just as sidekicks, but as central characters.

The crucial point was that in films, the mental state of the woman was called into play frequently, Dr Petersen said. Female violence is therefore pathologised.

The researcher intends to investigate the extent to which female film psychopaths reflect society's attitudes towards women.

* see research papers

RESEARCH PAPERS

Research papers relating to the stories on this page can be found through THESIS, The THES Internet Service at http://thesis.newsint.co.uk

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