The Aesthetics of Violence and Ideology

Violence is a complex human behaviour that transcends spontaneity and reveals underlying structure. The ideology may be hidden in the language around it; perhaps an enquiry into violence needs us to uncover the myths and rituals surrounding violence.
Representation Image

Violence in Films — an Overview

“The Aesthetics of Violence and Ideology” delves into the intricate world of violence by using films as a lens to explore its multifaceted nature. Through analysis of popular movies like “John Wick,” “Kill Bill,” “Singham,” and “Karnan,” the essay reveals how violence is portrayed, justified, and ritualised in storytelling. It underscores the significance of understanding violence’s underlying meanings and complexities to address its implications in society.

The Justice League is a superhero team published by DC Comics. It was created in 1960 by writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky. The Avengers, on the other hand, is a superhero team published by Marvel Comics. They were created in 1963 by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. The team in DC and Marvel are superheroes.

One seeks to deliver justice while the other team avenges the villains. The comic strip portrays violence but gives it a moral overlay. The fans clamour for their victory, and the audience is the spectator, and violence becomes a sport. Yet the same society may feel ashamed of public execution.

Unsurprisingly, the aesthetics of violence makes it acceptable and often hides or conceals its ideology.

In The John Wick series, the protagonist demonstrates the consequences of a violent past; John’s killing spree is a certainty in his films; all attempts of John to escape the labyrinth of violence turn futile; the message, violence is infinite, and perhaps the only way to escape the immorality of violence is to ritualise it and celebrate it. Jason Bourne and the Batman films also delve into the inevitable nature of violence.

Kill Bill takes violence to a nearly symbolic level (even though it is bloody). The Bride represents female empowerment, justice, and the cyclical nature of violence and revenge. The violent actions in the film are choreographed like a ballet, creating a spectacle for the audience to witness.

In the era of hyper-violence, the violence of Singham, where police kill perpetrators to serve justice. In Tehzab, the Police inspector allows the hero to fight the villain to quench his anger and rage — a format for street justice. In Karnan, violence is portrayed as social justice.

I must clarify that I do not endorse any form of violence.

Nevertheless, these movies depict violence as an inevitable occurrence. They tell us that there is no other way to solve our problems.

Art of Violence is to convince us that “it is justified” for “this was needed” (as in Singham, Justice League) to “what else could we have done?” (as in John Wick, Avengers)

Violence — Myths associated with it

To understand the complexities of violence, it is essential to explore the myths and narratives surrounding it. In the tale of Parashurama, he kills his mother out of obedience to his father, showcasing the concept of duty. The slaying of Kshatriyas is driven by retribution and the idea that Brahmins can resort to weapons if the Kshatriyas fail in their dharma. The killing of Ravana symbolises vengeance for his ego, while the slaying of Valli from behind is seen as an act of duty towards a loyal friend. In the Mahabharata, killing is inevitable in pursuing duty, as Krishna explains to the consequentialist Arjuna who hesitates to fight a battle requiring him to kill his family and friends. Fulfilling one’s duty (dharma) is of paramount importance. He reminds Arjuna that he is a warrior who must uphold justice. The crucifixion of Jesus, the tragic death of Imam Hussain, and the killing of Abhimanyu illustrate the complexity of dharma and violence. These instances emphasise that violence should not be perceived singularly, as it often intertwines with duty, retribution, ego, and loyalty, contributing to its intricate nature.

Violence is akin to a theatrical performance;

Its oversimplified depictions should not mislead us; instead, it could possess profound underlying structures. Acts like the murders by Mexican drug cartels, brutal killings of landlords by the Naxalities’ with the use of blunt weapons in their class struggle war, and the lynching of alleged cattle smugglers by Hindu Rightwing are symbolic rituals that do “titillate” an audience. These violent manifestations are more profound, reflecting complex social, political, and ideological dimensions extending beyond surface-level portrayals.

Violence — Myths associated with it

Ram Navami is frequently marred by riots and communal clashes, which are believed to be orchestrated by the Hindu Right Wing. Young men are ready to dance, carry arms, and possibly engage in intoxication while DJ music blares, and they parade towards an isolated mosque, provoking the Muslim community. We must recognise that this display of violence is a carefully rehearsed spectacle.

Police violence in Singham may be reflective of the Indian middle class, which seems to seek instant justice (post-Nirbhaya), and Karnan may be seeking to expose the already existing violent caste structures; Karnan’s director Mari Selvaraj wants us to see the trajectory of violence through a caste lens.

Violence — in current India

India is amid violence; some were implicit, and now they are becoming explicit, and many are being orchestrated, yes there are no thumb rules to identify them; However, we must not forget the history of RSS and BJP, who adore Savarkar, who, in his a book, justifies violence and even rape, a BJP minister instigated ‘shooting’, (Goli Maro Sallo ko), there have been genocidal calls which have not been acted upon, Modi and Shah have a history, they presided over Godhra, and the recent Delhi Riots, their ministers have often shown impunity when it comes to violence, the idea of delivering bulldozer justice is despicable but it an “act” to intimidate the minorities ( how can we punish a family for an alleged crime of its family member).

Most Right Wing and BJP supporters would argue about violence as historical justice and compare it to violence against Hindus in history, Kashmir, or in Pakistan. The constant vilification and sidling of Muslims is part of propaganda; it is through fake stories, films, and repeated attempts by influencers to convince us that Muslims are outsiders, they are not citizens, and they deserve violence for they have done it to “us” (which is Justice League ) or violence is an act of protection/ (Avengers).

So to take Manipur violence as a stand-alone incident will be a grave mistake; we must see the trajectory of this violence and how it is precipitating. The demographic separation of Valley and Hill people, burning of churches (200+ churches), court decision, inaction of the central government, and dog-whistling by the chief minister to vilify the Kuki community by calling them outsiders.

The RW tends to normalise violence through whataboutery; it will draw comparisons with other regions. Still, it is crucial to recognise that the violence in Manipur is interconnected with a more significant historical trajectory akin to the approach seen in RSS ideology. To consider Manipur an aberration and not see the role of RSS would be naive.

We must also remind ourselves that the riots in Manipur are violence at our doorstep. If we do not act now, it will be too late.

The algebra of violence is perversely exponential and is spreading like wildfire. If we do not act, we are doomed as a nation.

(The author is a financial professional with a master’s degree in economics. I am intensely interested in the arts, academia, and social issues related to development and human rights)


To Lord Ram, a letter of remorse and resolve

To Lord Ram, I write again for Hope



Related Articles