An Exploration of Violence // Brandon Smith

When I began the CTW course at Santa Clara University, I never could have imagined the variety and diversity of the covered material. After all, its topic was designated as food, self, and culture. However, as the weeks progressed, I found that it was an immersive journey through violence that worked its way through several aspects of society. From communication to chickens to Columbine, we, as a class, analyzed wildly different subjects to find unifying themes in each. One of the biggest of these themes was the presence of violence in our society. Even though I didn’t see it at first, the more I looked, the more I understood how violence permeates our daily lives and culture. The meat industry, football, and school shootings are just some of the examples that we looked at that showed that we are surrounded by violence.

 At the beginning of the class, there was a more direct focus on food, specifically, the meat industry. We had to see videos that showed all of the brutal conditions the cows, pigs, and chickens were kept under, such as cramped cages, filthy pens, and no access to the outside world (“Meet…”). The sheer amount of abuse towards animals that we saw made us question our decision to eat meat, and evaluate what we could do to help. The more that we saw workers abuse the animals, and the conditions that they were subjected to, the more we had to question where this violence came from in the first place. What drove normal people to be so abusive to animals? Why did the public largely turn a blind eye to these actions?

We then read a book as a class called Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which he investigates what it means to eat meat. A large amount of his research had to do with the meat industry, and the same conditions that we had seen earlier. Foer’s narrative was critical in helping us understand the magnitude of the situation, as he did his best to remove the bias that was so present in the videos we watched. He described the current industry in such depth that it became even harder to comprehend the sheer amount of violence against animals. Cows, chickens, pigs, and fish were all subjected to unbelievable amounts of torturous acts. Foer described the fishing industry as more of a war than anything else (Foer). The more that we dove into these topics, the more we began to wonder where the violence came from. We wanted to explore what the source of this violence was, and why it manifested itself in the food industry.

At the beginning of the second half of the class, we began a collaborative essay as a class to explore these very issues. We all invested time researching before coming together and integrating our ideas into one guiding theme that we would all support from different angles. We determined that one of the main reasons for violence against animals was the media drilling the idea of human superiority into our heads. In our essay, “Saving the Humans”, we argue that the American public is so bombarded by images of violence and war that it adds to our aggression, which is then taken out on the animals because they are viewed as beneath humans. These were the first steps that we took to really connecting the meat industry to something in our society. From here, we continued to examine violence through a new lens, in different areas and subjects.


We moved on from the meat industry, but continued to examine violence. For my second essay that quarter, I decided to look at one of my favorite sports: football. I knew it was a violent sport, but I had always looked past it, because I had grown up watching it. For this essay however, I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone and take a stance against football, and the violence it entailed. The more I looked, the more I realized the incredibly serious issues present in the sport, and how much they affect players and fans. Rates of domestic abuse among football players, as well as cases of mental illness down the road call into question the safety of the game. Fans see the violence and want to emulate their favorite players. As much as I love football, I recognized the negatives of the sport, and all the harm it did.

Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders

Violence is just as prominent in football as it is in the meat industry, but while we tend to ignore the abuse against animals, we embrace and celebrate the big hits in football. In addition, we cheer for players who can crash into others, then pick them apart in the media for any indiscretion. The inconsistencies within our society became more and more clear to me as I looked at these different topics. We had an incredibly strange relationship with violence, where we simultaneously celebrate and demonize it. This dichotomy became even more apparent as the class moved on to a much heavier topic: the Columbine massacre.

As a class, we dove into studying with a lot of same misconceptions about Columbine as the general public. However, as we read Dave Cullen’s ten year investigation, Columbine,  we began to understand exactly how complex and misunderstood the real story was. Cullen dismisses all of the myths put forth by the media, such as the fact that the killers were goth, obsessed with Marilyn Manson, or were targeting jocks (Cullen). Cullen revealed the true horror of the event, without pulling any punches, and without sensationalizing like the media did. We got a chance to see a different level of violence. We read about the truly nightmarish level of violence that these two boys were drawn to, and how the community and world reacted to it.

In this case, it was harder to see all of the outside factors that led these boys to violence. A huge part of their actions stemmed from who the boys were, and less from things like parental influences. Eric Harris was determined to be a psychopath by leading psychiatrists, while Dylan Klebold was a suicidal depressive with anger issues (Cullen). It was unsettling and incredibly disturbing to hear about the actions of these two, much less have them be written about in a way that allowed you to relate to their struggles.


Throughout the course of two quarters, we covered a seemingly unrelated array of topics and information. However, we were able to draw relevant connections between all of them. Our exploration of violence was eye-opening, and showed us all exactly how prevalent it is, even if it is hidden. Even though on the surface, the meat industry, football, and Columbine have nothing to do with each other, they all raise relevant questions pertaining to the violence within our society. We spent two quarters in CTW studying, researching, and analyzing different topics through a specific lens, but it would take many more to fully comprehend every aspect. Even just scratching the surface of such a complex and in-depth issue took months, but what we learned has opened my eyes to the subtle and intertwined elements of different subjects.

Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.


Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

Meet Your Meat. Perf. Alec Baldwin. Youtube. PETA, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

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