I just read Roberto Saviano's book Gomorrah. This book couldn't be more chock full of disturbing images. But in some ways the most disturbing aspects are general observations about human nature.

Essentially, the book describes the activities of the Neapolitan-mafia-like organization The Camorra, but it's also full of general reflections about Naples and about the author's life.

In the first scene at the Naples port Saviano watches as a shipping container full of bodies of dead Chinese people breaks open spilling its contents on the ground -- they'd paid for their bodies to be repatriated, and the container had malfunctioned. In the middle he describes his father, a doctor, taking him to the beach to learn to shoot a gun at age twelve, and how he knew he know both that he was now a man, and that he had "learned to use a horrendous instrument, one of those tools you can never stop using once you start." Toward the end he wades through a rainstorm in a landscape so polluted by illegal dumping of toxic chemicals that his stomach and chest burn.

In some ways, the sentence that disturbed me most was this: "After seeing dozens of murder victims, soiled with their own blood as it mixes with filth, as they exhale nauseating odors, as they are looked at with curiosity or professional indifference, shunned like hazardous waste or discussed with agitated cries, I have arrived at just one certainty, a thought so elementary that it approaches idiocy: death is revolting."

And the reason it disturbed me was that I went to see the movie Gomorrah when it came out. And even though that movie depicts many of the same scenes and events, and is thus horrifying in its way, I have to say that, it did not make death seem revolting. The movie is, in its weird way, beautiful. And while I was shocked and horrified, I was not revolted. In fact, the movie made me want to go to Naples.

And this is disturbing. Because it makes me wonder if there's something about movies -- something that just has to glamorize. Something that means that, even if you're not aiming at beauty, you end up aiming at greatness, or awe-inducingness, or whatever. Something dangerous.

It has to be said that the book reminds you of this danger in vivid ways. The gangsters in this movie: they're not just influencing Hollywood, they're copying Hollywood. It's because of movies like The Godfather, which everyone seems to watch there all the time, that being a Camorrista has the pahache and cool that it does.

I've always thought it was OK to enjoy movies that have violence in them, because it seems obvious that watching violence doesn't make you violent.

But reading this book made me think that watching violent movies is seriously not OK. Not because I'm afraid I'll become a Camorrista, but because our collective oohing and aahing adds millions of tiny bits of support to the worldview in which killing people so you can live like a king is, in some way, a stylish and cool thing to do.
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