Thursday, November 11, 2010

Robocop: the Desensitizer

Sometimes it takes a small set back to personally illustrate how much one changes. Mental back tracking can be a very positive thing when viewed this way. It reveals the slow transformations that often go unnoticed. 

I must have watched Robocop over twenty times as a kid and the memories were nothing but cool.  Well, we finished up a lively event the other night and were wide awake when we got back to the house, so we decided to watch a movie - one of less than five movies I've watched recreationally since the ride started.

Everything was fine and 80's, just as I remembered it, until the huge crime fighting robot showed up.  Then I felt this deep fear bubble up to my chest, a fear I haven't felt in a while.   

I knew what was going to happen next, I'd seen it many times.  The robot mutilates the demonstrator with a fully automatic machine gun because of faulty programing; it was just following orders.  

What I didn't anticipate was a spike in my heart rate and the overwhelming desire to leave the room.  It took a lot of focus to sit there and force myself through what seemed like 10-15 seconds of someone being blown apart. 

My heart was racing afterwards and eventually slowed.  The ultra-violence continued throughout the movie and eventually we all started laughing at it; it was absurd.  

The movie finally ended at three in the morning and I instantly fell asleep.  The next day I constantly replayed Robocop and my reactions over and over in my head, trying to unravel the situation.  I was amazed that as a child I watched this repeatedly without fully understanding the events.  This reminded me of a young man that went to war repeatedly, just as ignorant as the child.

The most alarming thing to surface was the laughing.  Once I made it past the first violent scene, everything was a little easier to watch - I had been desensitized.

My heart didn't race and I didn't feel the urge to leave. It turned into an absurd, borderline prophetic vision of the modern day - without the robotic technology, yet the robots are present.  There was a commercial in the movie for a futuristic game of battleship, but played with nukes and the kid playing the game with his family spoke of fighting on the Pakistan border.  This movie was made in 1987.

I often observed and participated in this behavior while serving in the military.  We would laugh at terrible things to hide our pain, so we could call each other men.  

As I reflected on my actions and feelings from the movie, I initially felt unmanly because of my visceral reaction to violence.  I was almost in tears thinking about the boy inside of me watching this repeatedly, knowing what I know now.  

That shame is the old cultural programing and it didn't take long for this to surface.  I was reminded of the training that lead me to join the military, the cultural training that began before I volunteered for it.

Although it feels like Robocop has been haunting me, it's a very important reminder to myself: I have changed.  I love the fact that this movie has effected me so deeply.  On a personal level, it illustrates how real the healing process is, even though it usually goes unnoticed by the individual. 

This is a solid reminder of how life isn't about constantly moving forward. Sometimes we have to take a couple of steps back to understand where we stand.



  1. thanks jacob. i appreciate your honesty and humility. i think there is so much work to be done to undo the damage (and acceptance) of violence and i appreciate you being a part of that very real and difficult struggle.
    with true courage
    - LUV LC

  2. Jacob,

    I can relate to what you wrote. I find myself extremely bothered by even cartoon violence and I wonder what that change in me means. It's interesting to think about. I hope the ride is going well. Peace