I watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit the other night, for the first time since I was a kid. For a movie made in 1988, I was happy to see that it held up quite well. The high productions values and attention to detail clearly paid off, and it was interesting to watch now that I'm at an age where I can relate to the adult characters more. Overall it's still quite an enjoyable movie.
What was different for me this time, though, was the violence. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm as happy watching a good action sequence as the next guy, so that's not my problem. What stood out for me was the casual use of violence, and violence as being funny in its own right. That is, the idea that seeing someone get hurt is funny in itself.
We're all familiar with the old cartoons that this movie is paying homage to, and the fact that they use violence for humour. We've all seen the Coyote get hurt in elaborate ways while trying to catch the Roadrunner. The fact that he is never permanently injured allows us to laugh at his misfortune. Or slapstick like The Three Stooges, where the casual violence the characters aim at each other is funny because they don't actually get hurt.
Or at least, that's certainly how it was always viewed.
But when I was watching the opening cartoon of Roger Rabbit, I didn't laugh once. It was literally entirely about Roger Rabbit trying to save a baby from being injured, and himself getting constantly hurt in the process. The humour was completely based around the inventive ways the writers came up with for him to be hurt. Now, he never gets injured, even when a refrigerator falls on his head, but he clearly gets hurt. And that in itself is supposed to be funny.
I feel like an old man yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, but I didn't find it funny at all. Now, I wasn't morally outraged or anything, but I wasn't enjoying it either. I was thinking, "Oh, well, this is aimed at kids and kids aren't exactly able to get sophisticated humor, so slapstick and fart jokes tend to be the bulk of the humour they get."
But this also isn't true. Warner Brothers cartoons have certainly been enjoyed by adults over the decades. The Three Stooges was certainly intended for adults to enjoy. And, hell, adults enjoy watching shit like Funniest Home Videos. Clearly the enjoyment of seeing people hurt but not permanently injured has never been limited to children.
What I'm wondering is whether or not we're changing as a culture. Diana felt the same as me watching the movie, so I know I'm at least not alone. And neither of us are pussies who hate seeing violence in TV shows and movies. But it certainly seems to be the case that violence just for the sake of violence isn't funny to us.
And this wasn't just limited to the opening cartoon in Roger Rabbit. Throughout the movie, there was a general level of slapstick violence, with Bob Hoskins' character quite often hitting and physically manhandling Roger Rabbit, and it clearly being intended to be funny and lighthearted. Now, I know it probably sounds like I'm overanalysing and sounding like a stodgy old man, but it felt to me like someone needed to sit Hoskins' character down and say, "Now, now, Detective Valiant, you need to use your words. We don't hit each other here. I want you to sit in the corner and think about how you should treat your classmates."
I would certainly like to think that we're just a small part of a more general social trend in not finding violence funny for its own sake, while still being able to appreciate well crafted humour that happens to involve violence. People getting hurt should generally not be funny to us, it's the very opposite of empathy. We don't need to become overly sensitive and politically correct, but just like most decent people these days don't take pleasure in seeing a bull being killed in a ring, two dogs fighting each other, or a TV character shaking his fist at his wife and saying, "One of these days...POW! Right in the kisser!", it would be nice if we started to move away from laughing when a person gets hit in the face with a frying pan or kicked in the balls too.