In 1999, I sat in a dark cinema watching Nicolas Cage sit in a dark room, horrified and flinching at something playing on an 8 mm film. This was the first time I heard of snuff films. It was supposed to be shocking. It was one of my first R-rated films. At the same time, it was clearly just a cinematic device, a narrative McGuffin realistic enough to shock in a crime thriller blockbuster but safely beyond the sphere of real human interactions. I realise now of course how incredibly naive we were.
Whether it’s life imitating art or the arrow of progress or just inevitable, sociological entropy, like a roomful of staff writers dreaming up more and more horrific crimes for our hero to solve, suffering and outrage have been normalised in just two short decades by the MTV-cum-YouTube generation.
It was shocking in 1999 to watch the grainy black and white video at the top of the Eiffel Tower of all the people who donned variegated winged contraptions and stepped or leapt to their deaths, now we pass around on social media selfies (and selfie videos) of people moments before their untimely deaths.
I remember my dismay in 2005 seeing a report on the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina, watching the video pan over people dead and bloated in the streets. Today we watch with horrified excitement as police officers gun down unarmed men and women via dashcam, bodycam and smartphone. These are the snuff films of today.
Similarly the recent, muted popularity of hipster porn movies such as Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2, and Gasper Noe’s Love, with their stance that the story is not authentic unless the sex is unsimulated. Acting is clearly not enough any more, or perhaps never was (as evidenced by the renewed controversy over certain scenes in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris). Even in theatre, where actors and audience have always admitted a more immediate and intimate relationship, performance collectives such as SIGNA have raised the intensity if not the physical, visceral reality of experience. Which brings us to my next point.
I’d been sitting on this post for months now and finally yesterday I promised myself that I would bite the bullet and finish it today. Not to say I would have neglected my pledge but individuals in Russia obviously wanted me to follow through because I woke up today to this seed of dystopia disguised as a juicy piece of fluff reporting.
According to promotional materials for Game2: Winter, an upcoming reality show to be set in Siberia, “Everything is allowed. Fighting, alcohol, murder, rape, smoking, anything”, and contestants for the $1.6 million prize will be made to sign a waiver, at the same time acknowledging that police may, however, choose to prosecute. Obviously there is a large element that is just bluster and show, but don’t worry, the two decades since 8mm are not quite up yet. From The Running Man to Battle Royale to The Hunger Games to Game2: Winter, as Bonaparte’s mr. robot’s cheap-ass deluxe lyrics read:
the end of entertainment
is the beginning of war.