Violence is a Cheap Industrial Ingredient! Ready for Something New and Better? Virtually all movies, TV shows, video games, comics and other entertainment programs are about conflict resolution. The three-act structure is: Setup. Conflict. Resolution.
The story sets up the conflict, and we keep watching to see how the conflict will be resolved. Humans have a need for conflict resolution. That’s why we stay to the end of a film, TV show or a book. We want to know how the conflict will be resolved. We have a need for completion, a need to make order out of chaos.
In most current movies and TV shows, violent conflict is usually resolved by what I call The Myth of The Hero with The Big Gun. Over and over again we’ve seen the same story: The “fair damsel” is enjoying life until the forces of evil swoop in to connive, oppress and destroy. Along comes the “hero,” who tries to bravely endure the abuse, but finally has no other choice. So despite overwhelming odds he blows away the bad guys, achieves victory and rides off into the sunset with the girl.
It doesn’t matter whether the evil ones are “savages,” space aliens or Saddam Hussein or the school bully. It doesn’t matter whether the “fair damsels” are hobbits, Private Ryans, the people of Iraq or nerds in school. The characters are interchangeable – the basic story remains the same. This myth is so deeply entrenched that it affects all levels of our society from children to presidents.
At Columbine, Red Lake Indian Reservation and many other schools, we have witnessed the horrific results of what happens when some youth, bullied and battered; opt for the resolution modeled by their celluloid heroes. In the REEL world, the Myth of the Hero with the Big Gun works. But in the REAL world, it almost never does.
“What?” Some of you might be saying. “I can think of all sorts of glorious wars where the good guys beat the bad guys and everyone lived happily ever after.” The only problem is, you are not thinking about the actual war, you are thinking about the story of the war, a story that has been spun and polished to fit it into the myth. Whenever you start digging deeper into the real history, you invariably find that violence only begets hatreds and more violence and plants the seeds of the next war.
So what do we do as filmmakers? Do we avoid violence and conflict in our films? Certainly not. Conflict is the essence of story drama. We’d be cheating our viewers if we ignored the conflicts that plague all of our lives. The answer lies not in ignoring conflict, but in how our hero or heroine commands conflict.
In good story telling, an engaging character ACTIVELY overcomes tremendous obstacles to reach a desirable goal, and in the process undergoes a transformation. Out of EMERGENCY comes an emergence into a new way of being. Hero emerges from his old identity into his essence. The objective is not to suppress conflict, but to confront it in new, creative transformative ways.
Good movies have a character arc. Without conflict, our character would move around, but would not change. Conflict “can shake our identities to our very foundation. It can shock our physiology, raise our blood pressure and heart rate, and kick our adrenal glands into overdrive,” as Mark Gerzon has put it, and out of this, transformation can occur, ultimately enriching our lives.
Conflict poorly handled leads to domestic abuse, crime and war. Conflict well handled is the essence of character growth, healing personal fulfillment and human progress. The problem is not the number of acts of violence in TV and movies. Even a movie like “Gandhi” is filled with acts of violence. The problem is depicting violence as a clean, heroic, effective, and even funny means of resolving conflict. The problem is glamorizing or trivializing violence.
We as writers and filmmakers, then, have a great responsibility. Are we going to keep feeding the public the drug of violence, a conflict resolution strategy that rarely works in the real world, or are we going to help them learn more powerful ways to resolve their conflicts? As writers and filmmakers, we have a tremendous opportunity to stimulate the imaginations of young people by exploring more powerful and creative alternatives.
Joseph Campbell has found in his studies that the behavior of virtually every society is more determined by the myths and stories that underlie that culture than by objective facts and figures. Plato said that whoever tells the stories, rules. If we want to change the behavior of our society, we have to change the story. We have to change the mythology. And who better to do that than the most emotive story-tellers of all, you the writers for movies TV and other entertainment?
However, this is not an easy task. It’s easy to write: “Bang you’re dead.” Conflict resolution may be a richer but often slower process. Movies are a Visceral & Visual medium. How can we make conflict resolution emotional and visual? Movies are emotion machines. And as such, they have a fundamental impact on our brain chemistry. They can provoke fears. Adrenalin rush. They can provoke tears. Crying is a release that stimulates an increase in serotonin levels. Higher serotonin levels make you feel better, elevated, and happier.
You enter the dark theater, have an experience, and walk out transformed – for good or ill. So how can you write nonviolent story resolutions that entertain, dazzle, and satisfy audiences more dramatically than the tired old violence cliché? The answer is to BULLYPROOF your hero. BULLYPROOF is our copyrighted ten-step conflict resolution checklist that you can use to stimulate your thinking about nonviolent alternatives.
We developed the BULLYPROOF acronym and program originally for our work with young people – students, gang members and incarcerated youth – to give them the tools they need to handle conflict in more powerful ways than violence. Many told us they had known these BULLYPROOF techniques – tools for getting what they want out of life without violence – they would never have ended up in jail.
These mnemonic devices that allow us to explore a range of creative ways our hero can resolve the story conflict and leave audiences laughing, cheering, and feeling empowered in their own lives.
Bust out of the fighting trap. SHIFT the direction of the conflict.
Understand the situation and what triggers hot buttons
Listen – Often what the perpetrator wants is to vent, to be heard.
Look for the Good/Love
Yin Yang - Balance male and female energies. See opportunity in crisis.
Picture the outcome you desire
Respect your nemesis
Oversee the situation, rise to a higher view,
draw spiritual energy.
Originate a win-win solution
Fearless – Free yourself from fear, for fear attracts attack.
You can take the conflict, run it through these ten steps, and come up with a myriad of creative conflict resolution alternatives.
Let’s look in more detail at each of these ten steps. The first is perhaps the most important.
Your hero is in a trap, it looks like there is no way out. Now what? How can the hero bust out? How can he or she SHIFT the situation? Because this first step is so important, we’ve created another mnemonic device for exploring possible ways to create A SHIFT in the situation.
Authority. Appeal to a higher authority – God, the cops, a parent, teacher, respected elder, the media, the public.
Surprise. An unexpected action which distracts the bad guys and re-frames the situation
Humor disarms the bad guys and shifts the tone of the conflict
Induce them into your game instead of playing into theirs
Flee, hide, escape, perhaps temporarily to allow time for the
hero to reach a deeper resolution.
Transform the situation – A character’s act derails the expected direction of the scene, sends it in a new direction.
Stories are essential to human evolution. When you write, you deal with human nature. Humans have a drive for knowledge, and yet they avoid the didactic. If the audience feels like you're preaching, they will reject it. Enchant them, charm them, and they'll get it!
The word “Entertainment” comes from the Latin: Inter Tenare. Tenare means to hold. Inter is to connect together. It comes from In and Terra, earth. So at its root “entertainment” means “to hold together in oneness with the Earth.” Humans have a need to bond. Entertainment is a journey from separation to connectedness. True entertainment connects us together in oneness with our planet.
© 2005 Arthur Kanegis
Is a screenwriter, producer, and CEO of One Films, LLC. He is also president of FUTURE WAVE (Working for Alternatives to Violence through Entertainment, a nonprofit promoting and developing creative alternatives to violence. He produced War Without Winners, narrated by Paul Newman, 1st place, American Film Festival. Also: The Weapons Bazaar, The Automated Airwar and The Post War War. His “OOOPS!” screenplay won the Actors Choice Award. He has written two Moondance Film Festival finalists: “One!” and The Legend of the Bullyproof Shields. www.futurewave.org
Comedy & Humor:
• Sister Act. Hardened gangsters sent to murder Whoopi Goldberg are stopped cold by her nun's habit and calm serenity. Ordered to strip, she resorts to prayer, bringing the thugs to their knees.
• Golden Palace. Rose, refusing to play victim, frustrates a ski-masked robber by acting as if he's just a miss-dressed customer wanting to store his gun in the safe.
• The Russians Are Coming, the Russians are Coming. Hostility dissolves when Russian sailors and American townspeople stand on each other's shoulders to rescue a stranded child.
• Cadillac Man. Robin Williams plays a used-car salesman who puts his "sales shark" persuasive abilities to good use -- disarming a heavily armed hostage-taker.
• The Gods Must be Crazy. A tiny African bushman faces down a lion, and later sedates and disarms a group of terrorists.
• Groundhog Day. A man, freed to live his day anyway he wants, discovers the futility of living with meanness, hatred, or violence and the fulfillment of living in service, in joyous interaction with others.
War Movies & Shows:
• A Midnight Clear. German and American soldiers in a remote outpost find a way to make peace while their nations make war.
• MASH. Numerous episodes that highlight positive interaction with fellow human beings labeled "the enemy."
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, quashes a lynching by dehooding the Klan leader, showing his followers that they are being used, that, they too are victims.
• Angel and the Bad Man . A Quaker woman convinces gunslinger John Wayne to disarm. "Only a person who carries a gun needs one."
• Beyond Rangoon. Aung San Suu Kyi faces down ruthless armed soldiers who are heavily armed and ordered to kill her, but whose guns are silenced by her powerful presence. Even six years of house arrest could not silence this Nobel Peace Prize winning leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma.
• Grand Canyon. An unarmed tow truck driver (Danny Glover) matter-of-factly prevents a gang of thugs from mugging Kevin Kline using "just-doing-my job" common sense.
• South Central. A man in the 'hood bravely puts down the gun in the face of armed assailants, choosing to be a father rather than a fighter.
• Turk 182. Timothy Hutton wages a one man nonviolent resistance campaign against a city that wronged his brother (Robert Urich).
• The Power of One. An English boy, who grows up with Blacks in a South African prison, leads nonviolent resistance against apartheid, including a non-stop songfest that rattles the prison walls.
• Brother Sun, Sister Moon. St. Francis of Assisi wages a love-power revolution against the established order of the day.
• Julia. Jane Fonda plays Lillian Hellman who is drawn into nonviolent resistance against the Nazi's by her childhood friend, played by Vanessa Redgrave.
• Highway to Heaven. TV angel Michael Landon says bullets are a "no-no."
• Assisi. An Italian Jew (Ben Cross) is smuggled to safety by Catholic Monks.
• The Taking of Flight 847. Stewardess Uli Didrickson deters terrorists from murder.
• Missing Persons . A three year old girl, held hostage by a gun-shooting madman, is freed not by swat teams, but by the police connecting to the source of his madness -- his reliving of past concentration camp trauma.
• MacGyver. Richard Dean Anderson's character uses his brains, not his brawn, to thwart and apprehend the bad guys.
• Semi-Tough. Kris Kristofferson talks a brawny, drunken, football player out of dropping a woman off a roof.
• Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the "Tin Man" episode, a huge alien life form is disarmed by psychically getting inside it and understanding it.
• ET. What at first seems an ugly space monster turns out to be an object of love.
• Rappin' Hood. Mario Van Peebles dissipates a barroom brawl through his alternatives-to-violence rap.
• Puff the Magic Dragon. Puff and Jackie show an evil pirate he is really a baker at heart--and he transforms into one.
• Free Willy. By using nonviolent civil disobedience to save a whale's life, a young delinquent discovers love in his foster parents and in his own heart.
• The Thief and the Cobbler. Monsters who ambush the Princess learn that they are the victims of having not finished school, and turn around to be her guardians.
• The Sandlot. A group of kids discover that a seemingly terrifying guard dog and his master (James Earl Jones) are all heart inside.