The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Re: the dangers of excessive watching of video films

with 7 comments

In 1980 a wave of moral panic swept over Sweden. This might sound a little surprising considering the reputation we had for having a liberal view about what to show on the screen. We didn’t just export steel, cars and tennis champions. The Swedish Sin was a success product.

However, the open minded approach only concerned nudity and sex. As for the other side of the coin, violence, there were far more concerns and restrictions.

The concept “video violence” was debated in 1980, especially after there was a very critical TV show that brought up the topic in the public television. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was appointed as a symbol of the entire phenomenon (which unsurprisingly was about the best marketing that movie ever could have asked for; its popularity increased dramatically.) Or to put it more correctly: there wasn’t much of a debate since it was a very one-sided discussion with one dominating viewpoint: that video violence was of evil and should be banned.

How would a young and innocent audience be affected by watching this kind of movies? Would they dream nightmares? Or could it even lead to worse things happening, people taking inspiration from what they’ve seen in the movies, trying to copy it?

Leading the youngsters astray
This wasn’t the first time someone had raged over the dangerous media consuming habits of the youth of today: long before the film medium was invented there were people who thought that certain forms of literature would lead youngsters astray.

In recent years, the film medium has got competition from role playing and computer games as targets of accusations from concerned citizens.

One of the ideas that is brought up from time to time is that if people engage enough in activities of imagination, they will get sucked into this world and get trouble to keep track of what’s real or not. It’s a bit like what old people used to say about making faces to keep the kids from doing it: “if you don’t beware you might get stuck that way”.

I’ve never believed in the idea of this simple connection. Human beings are complex and there are a multitude of reasons why people behave like they do. Some kids grow up with wonderful parents and end up doing terrible things. Others go through pretty horrendous experiences without and become good people anyway.

Took impression
Watching Benny’s Video from 1992, it seems to me as if the Austrian director Michael Haneke took impression from the warnings against the dangers of excessive video watching in the 80s.

[SPOILER WARNING:  The description of the plot that follows contains minor spoilers]

The story is about Benny, a teenager from a well-off family, who seems to isolate himself a lot, spending a lot of his time watching videos in his room. Some of them are feature movies, others are home videos. One weekend when he’s parents are away he brings home a girl he has met in the video rental store. They talk for a while and then he puts on one of his home videos, which shows how a pig is slaughtered at a farm that his family has visited. It turns out that he has stolen the slaughter pistol and he challenges the girl to use it. She refuses, but Benny, affected by all his video watching, disconnected from reality, shoots the girl multiple times until she dies, while a video camera records everything that happens.

After washing off the blood, Benny proceeds with his life as if nothing had happened, not showing any sign of emotions or remorse. Eventually his parents come home and they get to see the video recording of the killing. But rather than reacting with horror to what their son has done, turning him in to the police, they decide to cover it up.

Keeping the facade
So what did I think of it? Well. Reviews that are either very enthusiastic or extremely negative are generally more interesting to read, so I wish I could take a stronger stance than I do. “I loved it” or “I hated it” sounds so much better than the lame “It wasn’t bad”. But I need to be honest here. And my verdict is exactly that: it wasn’t bad, even though it felt a little bit stretched out. At times it felt like a short film with fillers.

From what I had read on beforehand, I had expected to see more violence and blood. Haneke demonstrates how much you can accomplish with small means, telling without showing.

Listening to the voice of the dying girl is even more heartbreaking than it would have been to watch her in picture.

The idea that a boy who has watched a lot of video films will turn into a monster feels like a tired reminiscence of the old video violence debate. It’s too simple, too black and white to convince or engage me. On the other hand I found the parents and their actions pretty interesting. The conversation between them, overheard and documented by Benny, is as memorable as it’s bizarre.

Admittedly the situation in Benny’s Video is extreme, but in a smaller scale, I believe it’s not unusual for parents to cover up bad things their kids have done, rather than turning them in. The facade must be kept. At what price? That’s one of the more important questions that Benny’s Video raises.

This was the first movie by Haneke I ever watched, and while it didn’t become one of my favourites, it managed to tickle my curiosity to check out more of his films. Hopefully the next one will be about topic fresher than warning for the dangers of too much video watching.

Benny’s Video (Michael Haneke, AT, 1992) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

December 9, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Benny's Video

7 Responses

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  1. This is a debate that has raged relentlessly, and will continue to do so until time itself comes to an end, with arguments by the wowsers aimed at creating hysteria about how violent video games, movies and music influence the youth of today.

    My opinion on this is thus: young children should have their viewing, gaming and musical experiences monitored by their parents a lot more stringently than I suspect a lot of them actually do – and by monitored I mean engage with their kids about what they’re watching and hearing, to ensure that those kids aren’t getting the wrong idea about things. Understanding what they’re seeing and hearing, and having these issues and concepts explained in a way that’s rational, and of course by ensuring our kids watch age-appropriate material in the first place, will limit the long-term emotional baggage they grow up with. I think people are idiotic if they let their kids play adult (violent) video games, for example, because young children aren’t capable of disassociating with the imagery like adults are. Same goes for violent films and sexually explicit music, as well, I think.

    I only say this because kids eventually grow up into adults, and as adult make decisions and emotional choices every day – choices influenced by our ideas, morals and sense of ethics. These moral judgements can be closely linked with historical events over the course of our lives, and lead to the forming of behaviors aligned with that which makes us comfortable. To draw the long bow and say violent people are the product of violent childhoods, watching too many levels of Gears Of War or listening to 50 Cent for ten hours as day is a little bit of a stretch, because as adults we have the ability to cognitively decide the difference between right and wrong, and society dictates how we should think in this regard. Our baser human instincts and desires are often repressed by our upbringing, our peers, our live experiences, and so when somebody “flips out”, and we’re told that he spent his days watching violent videos and whatnot, we assume that those influences were the sole reason for the end result. Generally, they aren’t. A whole range of social, political, theological or emotional issues can account for a large amount of the violence in people, and to say that films alone are responsible for people doing bad things is both ill-advised and egregiously unfair. They might contribute, sure, but they aren’t the sole reason.

    Or, I could be wrong.

    Rodney Twelftree

    December 9, 2011 at 9:54 am

    • I’m very much with you. I too think that there are films and games that contain stuff that very young kids shouldn’t be exposed to. However, this doesn’t make me want to ban those films or blame them for inspiring to bad deeds. As you say, it’s the responsability of the parents to engage into the activities their kids are participating in. They need to make an effort, not using the TV as a babysitter, nor just forbidding all of it without selection since it’s “harmful”. That takes time and energy of course. Then it’s probably easier to just play a blame game.

      Jessica

      December 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm

  2. I am so glad you have finally seen a Haneke film. He is my favorite living director. I can’t get enough of his movies. While BENNY’S VIDEO isn’t one of his best, it is a perfect example of his style.

    As for where to go next for Haneke, ALL of his films are worth watching. If you come across a film directed by Michael Haneke, I advise you highly to see it. My favorites are THE PIANO TEACHER, CACHÉ, THE WHITE RIBBON and CODE UNKNOWN but THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, 71 FRAGMENTS and FUNNY GAMES are also really, really good.

    Tyler

    December 10, 2011 at 12:51 am

    • They have a bunch of them at my library, and I definitely intend to explore more of them. To be continued..

      Jessica

      December 12, 2011 at 12:22 am

  3. I’ve only seen Haneke’s Caché which I liked but not loved. I do want to see the white ribbon one of these days, looks like a very good movie.

    And yes, people always need an easy scapegoat. It used to be rock & roll music, comics, violent books, movies, rap music and these days video games. After the sad, Norwegian killings I was expecting a “he played video games” explanation which I, unsurprisingly, got. But these days, that’s all too easy. Millions of people play video games and only a handful go nuts.

    It’s just easiest to blame movies and games. Seeing that there are a plethora of reasons is just too complicated.

    Carra

    December 12, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    • Indeed.I think this movie falls into that box a little bit too easily in it’s simplified message. But it’s still interesting enough in its style to make me want to watch more Haneke.

      Jessica

      December 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

  4. […] Austrian director Michael Haneke I watch and definitely my favorite one. While Benny’s Video felt a bit simplistic in its theme where a boy did terrible things after watching too much TV, The White Ribbon is less […]


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