Have you ever wanted to punch someone in the face?
Lately, I’ve been working to suppress the desire. I don’t fantasize about hitting anyone in particular, rather I find myself longing to run down the street on a punching rampage.
In the movie “The Knock Around Guys,” Vin Diesel steps up to a redneck hillbilly in a country bar and says, “Five hundred fights.” Diesel goes on to explain that 500 is the number of street fights he figures it takes to be a tough guy. “You need them for the experience,” he says, “to develop leather skin. So I got started. Of course along the way I forgot about being tough and all that…”
Diesel peels off his leather jacket to reveal his jacked up arms and continues. “After…you realize that’s what you are. A tough guy…” Then, suddenly, Diesel grabs the redneck’s shirt, head butts him in the face and continues to beat the man until he’s almost unconscious.
In real life, the brutality of the beating would have resulted in death or irrevocable brain damage that would have left the hillbilly requiring 24-hour-a-day care. And given that the hillbilly might not have health insurance, a lawsuit to cover his medical bills would have landed Diesel and his bulging biceps in court on both criminal and civil charges. The real question might be how many times would your name be listed as the defendant in a lawsuit on the way to 500 street fights?
Despite this reality, the North American male is obsessed with violence. Even the most liberal among us secretly longs for the rush that comes when you stand face-to-face with someone and know that you’re not backing down. I don’t have a specific grudge or hatred urging me to pitch my fist into the faces of unsuspecting pedestrians, but I need to release the pent up frustration of life somehow. If I’ve learned anything from “Fight Club” it’s that the thrill of violence will help me feel alive.
So how many fights have I been in on my journey to 500?
None. I played hockey as a kid so I had a few helmeted scuffles. And I was the lanky younger brother whose limbs were taken over so my older brother could ask, “Why are you hitting yourself?” In fact, the only face I’ve ever punched is my own.
One time in fourth grade, I tackled a kid on the playground and held a plastic knife to his throat. He hadn’t done anything to offend me, but somehow became the target of my out-of-control younger self. Except for pride, no one was hurt. Still, all these years later, that unprovoked attack reminds me that the fragile social order we adhere to can, at any moment, descend into hand-to-hand combatted chaos. If I’m not the one to snap, someone else might.
The only problem is that I shouldn’t feel triumphant from my ability to physically dominate an opponent. The majority of confrontations can be dismantled with diplomacy. While our cultural fixation on MMA, boxing and other violent sports suggests otherwise, isn’t the true display of masculinity the ability to use intellect to avoid violence? Yet we must set aside so much of our personal pride to do so. And few cinematic moments capture the art of nonviolence with the intensity and power with which Diesel beats the hillbilly within an inch of his life.
Perhaps our over saturation to horrific violence has desensitized us from the true effect of our actions. Perhaps, we’re all seeking a release from the slow bubbling, melting pot of anger that has become a catchall for our numerous disappointments and these films allow us to purge our feelings vicariously through the main characters. Perhaps part of us knows that the façade of social confines can erode at any moment leaving us in a lawless anarchy to fend for ourselves. Isn’t that the essence of the second amendment, that at any moment, we will be forced to defend ourselves?
Clearly there were no police around to protect the bloodied hillbilly from Vin Diesel. But during that savage beating, the audience doesn’t question what governing, paternal authority will stop the fight. Instead, we become engrossed in the violence. We channel all our pent up rage and fury through Diesel’s fists as they whiplash the hillbilly’s neck back repeatedly until his eyes close and his head thumps one last time on the dance floor. But afterwards, while the blood clot likely builds in the hillbilly’s brain, we’re left to wonder why our sense of masculinity hinges on our ability to completely obliterate another human being.
Photo credit: Flickr / bark