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August 1995, Week 3


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Molly Olsen <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 18 Aug 1995 17:29:50 ES
text/plain (53 lines)
Molly Olsen wrote--
>On the other hand, I think A Clockwork Orange has a clearer message, which is
>not exactly that violence is bad (it's glorified by Alex's glee in his
>violent acts at first, and the audience can see the humor in it as he does,
>but then when Alex is punished with institutional violence any humor
>disappears and the violence seems oppressive rather than liberating --
>there's a lot more to this).
shirsch @ (Steven Hirsch) replied:
I may be missing the point here.  Why are violent acts committed by a
glamorous thug humorous and liberating, while violent acts committed by the
institution are humorless and oppressive? And I'm not sure that Alex's acts
are morally ambiguous, if that is what was meant.  The institutional violence
is morally ambiguous because it is meant to prevent Alex from causing harm.
Alex's violence is only for his amusement, which still doesn't make it amusing
to me.
(end quoted messages)
I did find some of Alex's violence amusing in a cartoonish way, which I think
was Kubrick's intent.  The assault on the artist, for example, with the music
and the use of the giant penis sculpture and so on, is a big joke about art.
Other sequences are less humorous, such as the attack on the homeless man.  But
there are definitely many jokes that the viewer was expected to share, if not
revel in like Alex does.  Whether or not they're amusing *to you,* they're
presented with humor.  (There's also a little humor in the acts committed by
Alex's deprogrammers, such as the shoe-licking, but their violence is shown
more seriously, partly because the film's general perspective is from Alex's
POV and he's not supposed to think it's funny.)
This "can there be humor in violence?" question reminds me of another popular
on-line debate, "can there be humor in racism?"  I think there are two schools
of thought on this.  The first one is that if what's happening in the plot or
what's being said is offensive or awful, then the intended humor attached to it
can never be funny because the viewer is (or should be, morally) so overwhelmed
by the context.  The other school can laugh at PULP FICTION.  The type of
violence in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is sort of the violent equivalent of what, in
racism, is called "signifying," which means racism that's so over the top that
it's making fun of racism itself.  It can be very hard to tell the difference
between hateful racism and "signifying" racism, and there's a gray area where
some people will interpret a statement as racist and others consider it
signifying.  Violence is the same way.  Some people think ACO's violence is
plain horror, others think it's signifying, making fun of violence.  I think
it's presented both ways in the film, and this makes the viewer uncomfortable,
not knowing whether to gasp or giggle sometimes.
Molly Olsen
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