We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Kill

The stories we tell about violence determine who we see as a real person.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
14 min readMay 26, 2023

--

A guy seen up through a grave he’s evidently digging. Hi, Greg!
A guy, substantially older than I was when I buried the cat in this story. Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

A few months ago, I realized that I couldn’t watch on-screen violence any more. This was an odd development. I write a newsletter about horror movies; I’ve scripted two horror comics. Violent imagery is part of how I make a living. I also have no objection to violence as subject matter — saying “I don’t like violent movies,” as some people do, sounds to me like saying “I don’t like paintings with red in them.” Conflict is a basic plot element, present in every story, and lots of stories, from lots of genres, resolve their conflicts violently. You can’t get away from violence, in art or in life; you can only take issue with how it’s done.

Yet somehow, I got re-sensitized. Scenes that wouldn’t normally have bothered me made me jumpy and nauseous. It was a brief phase, and it’s long since passed, but now, I think it happened because I had been watching too much bad violence — lazy violence, unearned violence, violence that expected the splatter to sell the story instead of the other way around. I’d been streaming a pretty mid Netflix show, Alice in Borderland, one more Squid Game/Battle Royale rip-off where people compete in children’s games that lead to gory death. Like all such entertainment since Battle Royale, Alice in

--

--

Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.