LITERARY ANALYISIS: Knockout

Author’s Reflection and Interpretation

When my friends played Call of Duty religiously in high school they weren’t disturbed by violence before them on the screen.  Most men, they found the game normal, and they weren’t outwardly violent people. However, when I think back to these friends through a feminist lens, I recognize that in many different aspects of their young lives, they were encouraged to portray a sense of hyper-masculinity.  As I recall more clearly, they did get into fights with other boys to assert themselves, and if they didn’t, they lost respect. Boys who felt more comfortable in the arts were also threatened by a rain cloud of masculine hegemony, adopting nicknames that highlighted their “feminine” interests.

Because of this realization and a very specific class discussion, I wanted to write about how this display of violence in gaming and on the schoolyard is no longer child’s play. A cruel and moderately recent game called “Knockout” (or “bomb,” “knockout king” “polarbearing”) has been infiltrating the inner city youth in the United States as well as the United Kingdom. When I first heard about this game, I expected news stories from places such as Chicago and New York City, but there have been cases in Massachusetts and Missouri as well. I did write this poem with big city life in mind, and I did name real places. The names of victims and prosecutors have been changed. In order to do this piece justice, I feel I need to do a stanza by stanza interpretation:

 

I’m gonna live till I die! I’m gonna laugh ‘stead of cry,

I’m gonna take the town and turn it upside down,

I’m gonna live, live, live until I die.

                                Frank Sinatra

This song by Frank Sinatra was used in an advertisement for Call of Duty Ghosts. I first thought this was an interesting accompaniment to such a violent video game, because the song encourages living life to the fullest potential.  Reviewer Krystin Goodwin refers to the song as a “humorous juxtaposition” to the game, while I am still a bit disturbed by the violence being masked. Furthermore, the characters in the new game are terrifyingly realistic and also iconic. Actress Megan Fox is introduced as the first playable female character, which sounds like progress for the female gamer, but being Megan Fox, her character is sexualized.

 

The man was found in an alley behind Martin Luther King Drive.

Couldn’t have been more than 25 years young-Matthew Drafus

Concussed, with 6 stitches running across his previously coveted jaw line-

now a modern work of Frankenstein.

Only the monsters are still in hiding.

 

When I was pondering where to place these characters, I thought about the images I could stitch out of inner city youth. Instead of choosing a more immediate Harlem or Chicago, found a news story that took place in South Orange, New Jersey. I wanted a specific street name, but not “the” street, so I puttered around on Google Maps until I found “Martin Luther King Drive” I chuckled at the irony of placing such a violent phenomenon on a street named for a man of peace, and repeated the line for a bit of emphasis.  “Matthew Drafus” is a pseudonym, but the injuries I borrowed were from the real New Jersey news story. The “monsters” I refer to in line 5 could be anyone; absent parents, game developers, government agencies or society in general. Basically, I wanted make it known that the young boys playing this game have struggled to find a moral compass because of their environment and upbringing, not because they are inherently evil.

 

Hiding behind 8th period Global Studies and delusions of innocence,

fueling themselves with unleaded racism to avoid a damaged engine.

A league of boys trying to fill the size “macho” shoes of their absent fathers.

A league of boys rediscovering a tingle they once felt in their fingertips

in their knuckles and biceps.

Again, lines 6-8 refer to the unfortunate position of the younger generation. They are understood to be innocent, but are crowded by a violent sense of racism they don’t really understand, put into place by a sense of protection; “fueling themselves with unleaded racism to avoid a damaged engine” (7). Lines 9 and 10 are meant to describe a displaced exertion of anger and violence. Instead of taking their aggression out in a video game, the boys are finding solace in violence against real people, which supports the theory that video games can cause Cognitive Neoassociation rather than Symbolic Catharsis.

 

A crew streaked with vengeance and hate, but mostly-

a resentment which they will never fully understand.

Matching street corner hookers to new born mothers.

Separating their brain from their mind and their mind from their manners.

Adding chapters to a story they will never think to read.

 

This stanza refers again to a displaced sense of hate that seems to be present in today’s youth. The racism and prejudices our younger generations have adopted can be societal; therefore, sometimes there is still resentment across the board.  I write “matching street corner hookers to new born mothers” to refer to the innocence of Knockout victims as well as society’s view of sexual women (13). Because Knockout targets unsuspecting and presumed helpless, how could women in our society not be a target? Lines 14-15 are a post-human reference.  Because these young men are violently assaulting people “for the fun of it” I can see a certain loss of humanity in them; much like the loss of humanity in virtual/virtuous war.

 

The man was found in an alley behind Martin Luther King Drive.

He doesn’t want to show his face on My9 Jersey news for fear of round two.

Fear of being knocked through the curb with the backhand of a boxer’s glove.

The Everlast bag was pricey

but strangers are free.

 

The man was found in an alley behind Martin Luther King Drive.

Not to be undone, Quentin Caldwell of Syracuse, New York

actualized his personal call of duty.

sucker punching his English professor to the curb. 10 points.

Only the monsters are still in hiding.

This stanza goes back to the New Jersey news story I found. Line 17 is true. When the victim was interviewed after his assault he had his back facing the camera and his voice was not audible. He was afraid the boys would be able to locate and attack him again. Lines 18, 22 and 24 refer to the way other victims were attacked. A man was actually attacked by a protective motorcycle, which I thought was quite ironic. Another was slammed to the curb by one of his students.  The man showed no fear as he walked past the group of boys, but I guess maybe he should have feared them after all.  Lines 19 and 20 were written to remind the reader that these boys don’t have many options because of their financial constraints, which is another reason why they have turned to violence. You have to wonder, “is this all just for a little attention?”  Line 23 is a reference to the game Call of Duty, insinuating that the boy felt he needed to carry out his own violent orders.

 

Underground gamemakers

hide in a misogynist’s closet

held in by translucent curtain labeled “acceptable.”

leaking a poison of ferocity

through the imagination of brilliant children.

“Hopefully within the next couple of months

this is something you won’t hear anything about.”

 

These last two stanzas are very accusatory in the direction of society.  The “underground gamemakers” that “hide in a misogynist’s closet” could be anyone, and society deems the games acceptable (26-27). However, the curtain is “translucent” because society is beginning to see the repercussions of developing a violent environment for their children (28). Lines 28 and 29 are borrowed from another video game trailer that promised something along the lines of “linking the ferocity of gods with the imagination of brilliant children,” again, I thought such a promise was a little scary. The final two lines are borrowed from a newscaster, closing a story about a knockout victim. Since the game has been in play since 1992, I don’t think we’ve heard the end of it.

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