Why I felt sick to my stomach watching Battalia Royale, a rambly essay by Alek.
My 5th grade essay naming skills aside, I’d like to forewarn that this essay is indeed rambly and contains references to Caprica, which I love dearly, & Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which I have just begun watching.
Battalia Royale, for those not in the know, is a sort of interactive play of sorts. The Audience follows the characters around in this large area (which was an abandoned school, when I went to watch). The play has the same premise as the manga/movie Battle Royale, tho I can’t say for sure how closely it follows the plot of the original Battle Royale.
Everything is narrated by the student’s adviser who explains that everything is like a one-way mirror. Everything is treated like reality TV in a way wherein we are not just watching a story being acted out, the audience are treated as if they actually exist in universe, albeit unseen by the students. It plays out like a game for the audiences enjoyment.
I guess I could start beating around the bush and say I actually had no problem with the violence in the play. (Come on, if I could sit through Hostel and once had ACO as my favourite movie (I was young and foolish), I think I could get through this.) The actors were all quite fantastic, and were attention grabbing and distinct that you could remember who most everyone was.
So if the mindless violence didn’t sicken me, what did? If you guessed ‘the Audience I was watching with’, you get a gold star! I’m sure it isn’t hard to figure out if you know about V-World in Caprica and know that Spartacus is a Slave/Gladiator fighting in the Coliseum.
Somehow, the audience’s extreme enthusiasm before the play began didn’t send any alarm bells ringing in my head at the time. Surprisingly enough, the discomfort I felt didn’t start growing until their adviser began explaining to the audience and the students waking from their gas-induced sleep how the game worked. The audience was excited. The actors portrayed scared and confused students quite well. The first kill was the nurse who had been mistakenly brought along with the students by the adviser himself. There was not much of a reaction from the audience so I thought maybe my uneasiness was unfounded.
The first student death I remember watching was that of three students getting killed by a bomb one of them had accidentally set off. I also remember the excited yet still subdued amusement the audience started showing.
Then students started actually fighting. Actually playing the game and actually taking each other on in order to survive. It didn’t take the audience long to lose their reservations and audibly cheer and egg the characters on. They wanted blood.
My mind immediately began drawing parallels to V-World. In the opening scenes of the first episode of Caprica, we watch as people in V-World experience great delight watching people murder each other as a form of recreation; the highlight apparently being the ritualistic killing of a girl who was dragged onto the centre stage kicking and screaming, begging for her life.
Neither V-World, nor the play are seen as ‘real life’, the V in V-World meaning virtual. A friend of mine said that I shouldn’t read too much into it since none of the audience treated it as real-life anyway. Like a violent video-game, maybe.
But it still did bother me. I could only watch a number of scenes from the distance, not wanting to be anywhere near the rowdy audience. For a moment there, I felt like Ben, Zoe & Lacy did as they watched what went on in V-World. I felt so much contempt for the audience and how much pleasure they took in it.
It sickened me. In both V-World and like with the Roman spectators watching gladiator fights, the people treat it like a game. They are apathetic to the people they watch suffer and see them as nothing more than sources of amusement. Yes, the characters in Battalia Royale were just that, fictional characters played by actors. Perhaps it is indeed a credit to the actors’ amazing ability that I felt so unnerved. Whatever it was, it was too close to reality for me.
Maybe most disgusting to me was this one segment in the play. A character is taken out of the game and presented before the audience. Two audience members are also brought forward and told they are presented a treat. The audience would then decide if they wanted the character to live or die, but not after the character had the opportunity to beg for his life.
Unlike the Romans tho, who had at least some concept of humanity and let Spartacus live, the audience I was with wanted to see the character, Timothy, die.
Of course, there could just be the explanation that didn’t the audience out to be heartless fucks. They could just be dumb and LOLedgy*. My friend also contests that even normal people have violent impulses. Normal people turn to fictional violence as a stress reliever. At first I tried to argue that in video games, it’s more the winning rather than the actual violent actions people are into, but they made me realize, no actually, to a good number of the people, it’s the violence.
They don’t see it as even remotely real, like a video game. Why should they, it really isn’t.
But my mind still can’t drop it. What about the people who aren’t enjoying simulated violence as a form of stress relief? And is this form of stress relief celebrated even? I’d like to think it isn’t. And I generally like to think people at large disapprove the idea of taking great joy out of enjoying even fake violence.
Possibly, a lot of my discomfort comes from remembering Marina Abramovic’s ‘Rhythm 0’. Maybe it comes from the fact that these people around me were still real living people, unlike the Capricans on V-World or the long dead citizens of the Roman Republic. Or maybe I’m just being too sensitive about other people’s ability to divorce reality from fiction. Either way while I would love to watch it again, I would not want to do so in the presence of an audience. Or at least maybe with a passive audience- but that defeats the purpose of the play now, doesn’t it.
*LOLedgy or however one chooses to spell it, is a word used to describe immature pricks who think their extreme edgy-ness is impressive. Apathy and Insensitivity is cool to these people.