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No one can deny that violence has become a pervasive part of the American life. Violence is everywhere. It is delivered right at home through cable tv. It is considered a form of entertainment and majority of Americans consume their dose of violence through the news and through their patronage of prizefighting sports such as boxing and wrestling. Indeed, violence is as much part of the social landscape of rich and poor alike, through their promotion and participation in deadly sporting activities both inside and outside the ring.
In the essay “Who Killed Benny Paret,” Norman Cousins delivers a stinging critique of society’s complicity with the violence and death caused by the immense popularity of prizefighting as a sport. The author notes that the observations of renowned boxing promoter Mike Jacobs about the consumers of prizefighting are in fact true and real. People do not line up at boxing and wrestling matches because these sports teach values about endurance or stamina. People go to see boxing and wrestling bouts because of a more guttural need to see two human beings trading punches that could kill them both. The tragic death of Benny Paret is but one proof of the culture of violence that pervades America and the rest of the world.
A young boxer, Benny Paret went into a coma and never woke out of it after receiving too many punches on his head which caused severe brain hemmorhage. The government and the boxing authorities, alarmed by the event, launched an investistigation to determine responsibility for Paret’s death. This investigation involved a probe into the culpability of the fight referree, Paret’s manager, and Paret’s physical condition in causing his early demise. However, as Cousins argues, the investigation glossed over the real perpetrators of Paret’s death: the brutality of the sport itself which exposes its players to the risks of being maimed or killed in the ring.
One cannot help but emphatize with Cousins’ despairing tone regarding the futility of the investigations on Paret’s death. The outcome of the investigation itself has already been precluded by the fact that Paret’s death is only a sign of a complex, and pervasive social problem wherein the existence of prizefighting as a form of sport itself is highly questionable. In this sense, investigating and trying to heap the blame on the referee for his perceived negligence is not only unfair, it also worsens the problem. As Cousins rightly points out, the referee himself is compelled to perform his duties and responsibilities based on crowd expectations. That is, the referee cannot intrude into the heat of the boxing match because two men are hurting each other: that is what the crowd pays for to watch in the first place.
Clearly, a more critical probe into Paret’s death should look at the normative values and social standards that perpetuate the existence of boxing and other forms of prizefighting as a form of entertainment. It must also take into account the participation of institutions in the promotion of violence as a spectacle to be enjoyed. Indeed, the popularity of prizefights is but an indication of powerful interplay between the audience’ thirst for blood and the accession of powerful institutions from the media to the sports industry to accommodate the audience’ clamor for violent and disturbing images. Consequently, the role of the mass media in transforming social values and in reinforcing the audience’ treatment of violence cannot be ignored.
The mass media, with its ability to deliver the images of violence on a daily basis right at home, primes the viewers to the spectacle of boxing and prizefighting by desentisizing the audience to the brutality and pain of human suffering. By its ability to mediate with the notions of reality, the mass media is able to depict violence as a normal part of life and in the process objectifies human beings, depicting them as actors in a made-up world which makes their experiences seem unreal. In the process, the audience becomes accustomed to graphic portrayals of violence and the entertainment industry, which forms a significant part of the mass media, wastes no time generating revenues from the audience’ whetted appetite for gore. It is for this very reason that Hollywood routinely spews slasher films which show graphic mutilation of human bodies or sensationalist films which exploit the range of human emotions such as anger and despair.
It is not surprising that Benny Paret’s fate would be fully televised. It is in the most ironical sense, however, that Paret’s claim to fame was triggered by his early demise from the world of entertainment. For majority of boxing fans, who are undoubtedly used to seeing boxers and players become maimed and killed their fights, Paret will simply become another tragic and fallen figure. Fans will argue that boxers like Paret should be prepared for the eventualities of their participation in the deadly sport, and that Paret knew what risks he was entering into. In the minds of millions of boxing fans, the death of a boxer is a boxing reality, and as such, there should be no fuss about it.
Thus, as Cousins points out, individuals in the prizefighting industry cannot be held accountable for the death or injury of an athlete; society must take a collective blame for allowing prizefighting to emerge as an acceptable form of sport between human beings. The entire audience must deal with the guilt associated with the death of athlete because the audience, in both their complicity and in their unquestioning attitude towards boxing and media violence in general, helps ensure that boxing and gore become profitable for the people who promote them and thrive on them at the expense of other human beings. The only thing that one can be sure of in a culture with a lust for blood so strong it pays to see a man being maimed live on the ring and on pay-per-view television is that Benny Paret is not going to be the last victim of senseless violence.
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