“Violence in America” HBO Documentary 1995

Exploration of the tradition of violence in the United States of America, drawing on the history of invading settlers and native peoples, frontier outlaws and modern-day murderers, racist violence, the urban underclass, and domestic abuse.

From the punishment of defenseless Native Americans by Christopher Columbus, to the domestic and racially motivated assaults that run rampant today, American history is shown to be permeated by cycles of violence fueled by guns, whiskey, prejudice and greed.

Using archival photos and footage, as well as the words of both historical figures and current experts in sociology, psychology and history, this program explores the recurring patterns of violence that have emerged in American society as a result of insurrection, exploitation, anger and ignorance, concluding that if Americans do not overcome their social amnesia and learn from their violent heritage, they may be doomed to repeat it.

Produced in 1995 for the American cable television network Home Box Office (HBO) by Peter W. Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, with narrration by Julian Bond and commentary by Cornell West.

The unpretty pictures are accompanied by the words of historical personages amateurishly delivered, and academics pop by to observe that it is easier to beat and kill people of other complexions if you consider your victims to be less than human. Anyone who tunes in believing that America has ever been a pacific paradise should be disabused.

The violence varie is packaged loosely and somewhat tendentiously as the product of a racist, male-dominated, exploitative capitalist society. A store owner, seen on a video drawing a pistol to ward off a couple of robbers, is likened to a Western gunslinger.

There is no whiff here of political incorrectness. Urban violence, the nation’s big worry, is treated not as an extension of a lusty tradition but as a reaction to it. Cornel West, a professor of black studies and religion at Harvard University, speaks of the Los Angeles riots as a “rebellion,” and he and Mr. Bond, who mouths the pieties written by someone else, note with seeming regret that today’s inner-city youths, like yesterday’s immigrants, are killing one another instead of taking their rage out on “the rich and privileged.”

Whatever you think about the rest of the message, the point about the news media’s love affair with violence is evidenced by the existence of this program.


Leave a Comment