In Domestic Violence, the Pictures Pack the Most Powerful Punch

Posting this for Doc, who’s having some kind of technological disagreement with the WordPress hamsters at the moment.

I can’t recall any other time in my life where I wanted to take a 24-year-old, heavily tattooed porn star into my arms and hug her tightly, telling her, “I’m so, so sorry for you. I wish there was something I could do to make it all go away.”

This month’s “Real Sports” on HBO features a segment on Christy Mack, an adult-film actress who dated Mixed Martial Arts fighter War Machine up until an assault almost killed her. (Side note: “Real Sports” needs to understand that no matter how good a piece is, it’s not an “exclusive” or a time where someone is “telling her story for the first time” if you got scooped on the topic by more than three months.)

Police reports indicate that Mack was asleep when War Machine (his legal name) used an old key he had to her home and found her in bed with a friend. After beating the man bloody, he turned on Mack, who suffered 18 broken bones, a lacerated liver and broken teeth. The only thing that made her face recognizable in the crime-scene photos was a small tattoo of a heart near her left eye.

War Machine’s trial begins next month and Mack is front and center, making sure that the victim has a face for the jury, even if it’s a face she doesn’t fully recognize as her own. The incredible piece by Jane McManus for ESPNw outlines how Mack’s facial muscles don’t work as well, her eyes are less expressive and her teeth are a work in progress. 

“Real Sports’” substantive addition to this discussion was a full examination of how Mack’s story, while horrific, is merely an exemplar of domestic violence in MMA. The reporting done for the story reveals that MMA fighters have nearly double the domestic violence incidents of the general population. (For a comparison, NFL players are lower than the gen pop.)

Truth be told, I’ve never understood the appeal of MMA. Sure, many other sports involve violence and the idea of imposing your will upon another individual. Football, though, includes safety gear and a set of plays that demonstrate value beyond the violence “in the trenches.” Boxing, which I also don’t fully embrace, has brutality, yet it also has some semblance of mercy. Once the fighter is down, the fighter is down. Wrestling, albeit violent and bordering on the insane, has its “scripted” elements to it as well.

MMA is as close to gladiatorial Rome as we have. Two people in a cage, attempting to destroy one another. Bones are broken, joints are torn and blood is flowing freely. When a fighter hits the canvas, the other jumps on top of the wounded opponent and flurries away until no resistance remains.

All while people cheer.

The kind of will, anger and physical training associated with this sport tends to draw people for whom rage is a resting pulse. Sure, the Ronda Rouseys of the world bring class, technique and a certain elegance to the sport, but there are a lot more War Machines out there than Rouseys.

Watching the “Real Sports” interview with “Mayhem” Miller had me worrying for the safety of the reporter and recalling a few encounters with angry drunks at local watering holes.

Some of these guys are like brain-damaged, steroid-riddled, violently trained Joe Pesci characters: Ready to explode at any minute.

The fact that many of these men turn violent in their personal relationships should not come as a surprise. That tornado of rage can’t flip on and off like a light switch.

This is not a call to ban MMA. It’s not even a condemnation of the sport. Guys who beat on women wouldn’t be less likely to beat on women if they were bus boys or gardeners. The same is true for people who watch the sport, although research has indicated that observation can lead to replication. Watching this kind of thing as people root for more blood and more crippling injuries can’t be a good thing.

Still, if what we watched on TV were a complete and direct predictor of what we would become later in life, I would be either dropping 500-pound anvils on a roadrunner or transforming from a professor into a dune-buggy and fighting the Decepticons.

Instead, this is call to find more ways to put the power of visuals to work in telling these stories. Words like “domestic violence” and “sexual assault” are bad, but they are soft compared to what these people actually experience. Watch this clip in which Mack explains how War Machine planned to “take back” what he saw as his.

Also, this is a call for less episodic coverage of these events and for more “long form” coverage. In most cases, people get the basics: Man assaults woman (I’m generalizing to a gender here, but I acknowledge other gender pairings do exist in this realm), Woman files charges (or doesn’t), Man goes to trial (or doesn’t), Man gets convicted (or doesn’t) and the incident is over.

Now who wants to see a story about a bear in a swimming pool?

Instead, Mack shows photo after photo of how she had to heal. It wasn’t a “beat to a pulp on Friday, doing a photo spread for “Hustler” on Monday” transformation. Watch this clip of a dental expert explaining how he had to rebuild her mouth over nearly half of a year.

Take away the visuals, take away the time elapse and take away the painstaking description and you have basically the impact of a before and after weight-loss ad. Sure, it’s something, but it doesn’t capture nearly enough to make this as real as it should be.

This is too real, especially for people like Mack who have lived the horror and will likely never recover.

One thought on “In Domestic Violence, the Pictures Pack the Most Powerful Punch

  1. Real Sports may be doing more of a service than it appears. There is an awful lot of violence portrayed in various media, but somehow it is all Roadrunner stuff with a character crushed by a ten ton weight in one scene, then up and running around in the next scene. I’m not going to say that replacing the pornography of violence with the even more taxing and emotionally grinding pornography of healing and reconstruction is a wonderful thing, but it is high time there was some counterweight.

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