Five Aspects of Cultural Violence – by Joshua Thusat

The video replay showed a bulging linebacker dragging a barrel-chested man to the ground in a near-elegant tackle. It was a slow-motion replay where the two broadcasters were trying to understand how the tackled player got injured, where in the footage the fatal misstep occurred. It was probably a Bears game in the days of Urlacher and Rex Grossman.

The announcers, mystified, could be heard saying, “I just don’t see where the injury could have happened,” and “You’re right, I don’t see anything out-of-the-ordinary.”

Then they would rewind it and the linebacker would slide slowly up and away from his quarry as if bouncing off a flotation device into thin air. And they’d start it again. No rules broken. No flags. Men embracing and falling to the ground.

It occurred to me: The broadcasters saw no violence in this moment. Was it because it was a so-called clean tackle? Was it the Sunday sun and the yards of joyful undulating fans? Was it because while they analyzed the replay, the game continued—though a man had been carted off the field writhing in pain several downs ago?

The video started a third time. A man in armor dragged another man in armor to the ground. Every part of the action was violence.

If someone were casually crossing my living room during a holiday meal and they tripped and stumbled to the floor, it would occasion the chaotic flurry of concern you’d expect.

And yet here I sat, along with a national audience, two announcers as our guides, staring at a minor assault, wondering what happened.


Certain acts of violence—particularly inescapable cultural rituals that involve violence—will often acquire euphemism so that they remain palatable. They must be reduced to a commonplace.

A clean tackle. A rung bell.

We become friends with the violence.

There is also the phrase “clean kill.” What this refers to, I suppose, is a quick kill, a kill that doesn’t cause suffering. Hunters use it. Or in a military operation, at least in the movies, there is no collateral damage.

And yet…kill.

In my brother-in-law’s neighborhood in Milwaukee, there is a man who openly carries a gun. My brother is concerned. He explains his feelings: Before the gun, the man and his daughter often stopped to chat with my brother and his daughter—my niece. But now the presence of the gun causes him to walk the other way.

“Is there enough of a relationship to have a conversation about the gun,” he wonders. “What should he say?”

On the one hand, my brother would like to tell him that the pistol makes him afraid, for himself and his child. On the other hand, the weapon shuts down the possibility of conversation. Let’s face it: If you’re strapped, you’re not inviting a dialogue about gun violence.

If I were to guess, the neighbor might respond to my fearful brother with conciliatory notions, suggesting there is nothing to worry about. In fact, the gun is a peacemaker. A shield. Its mere presence deters violence. It protects.

Let’s say this is the general philosophy, the overall defense, for toting a gun so visibly.

But the neighbor can’t have it both ways. He may want my brother to feel safe, perhaps he wants all of his neighbors to feel safe. But he also wants people to fear him. For how can we stop would-be shooters if they don’t fear someone with a sidearm?

The gunman assumes that only violent people will feel threatened by his gun. But the reason even the most congenial and caring neighbors turn and walk the other way when they see him coming down the lane is because the gun is dreadful.

Stupidly, I try to short circuit my brother’s fear by focusing on the fact that he has most likely lived with guns his entire life in America. This just happens to be a case where he sees the gun. It’s a crude point, and it even sounds like I’m doubling down on a kind of cognitive dissonance, where I mark the situation as acceptable because it’s ubiquitous.

“Well, that’s just the gun you can see,” I say. “Believe me, there are more guns in your neighborhood.”

In fact, there are 120.5 firearms per 100 residents in the U.S.(1) I’ve been seeing figures like this my whole life. Guns are everywhere.

Let’s continue drinking and watching baseball.

To the gunman’s imaginary point, it is extremely difficult to track whether or not knowledge of a gun stopped someone from thinking about committing a crime. Actually, it may do the opposite.

On August 25, 2020, a 17-year-old named Kyle Rittenhouse drove from Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests after Jacob Blake was shot by police. He claimed to be protecting businesses in Kenosha, but the prosecution attempted to show that Rittenhouse actively sought violence as a criminal gunman. During the unrest, many might assume that protestors would stay away from a man holding an automatic rifle. But that was not the case.

In the moments before he shot three people, two fatally, Rittenhouse testified that he feared his AR-15 assault rifle would be used against him. This is called “the weapons effect,” which means the presence of a gun increases the chance for violence.(2)

When I was in first grade in Sandusky, Ohio, the first friend I made outside of school was a boy named Kevin. He was accompanied by a couple other boys.

Kevin invited me to play a game where we gathered an armful of unripe buckeyes and took turns chucking them at each other. The shell of a buckeye is spiny and tough.

We would stand at a certain distance, much like pistols at dawn, and aim for the head. You got lots of points for braining someone. Stoicism also got you points. Crying lost you points.

It felt as though I would lose something if I asked these boys to stop. I would lose the obvious predictable thing, yes: acceptance and respect. But after a time, I was afraid of losing something else, something that I got by playing their game.

Pelting and being pelted by people with projectiles took up a significant amount of time every day after school. The game rewired my brain. It altered my desires. Ending the buckeye war would have also ended a certain essential kinetic experience.

For instance, it would have been hard to go play a board game again.

I didn’t want to be bloodied by buckeyes, but oh how I wanted to be bloodied by buckeyes.

On June 24, 2022, six conservative Supreme Court judges struck down Roe vs. Wade, a law that permitted women the right to end their pregnancy. It is possible—even likely—that by intervening in the private medical lives of women the justices (maybe one of them, maybe all of them) believe that they are protectors.

What I know is this: Overall, estimated pregnancy-related deaths will increase for the total population by 7% in the first year after this Supreme Court decision, and by 21% in subsequent years.(3)

The highest court in the land is killing women, and many anti-abortion advocates will call it soul-saving. They will kill and call it life. A clean kill.
Also, the updated research by the two well-known economists, John J. Donohue and Steven D. Levitt (whose findings were originally presented several decades ago) shows, “The cumulative effect over the last 30 years, if you just look at our numbers, suggests that abortion might explain…80 or 90 percent of the entire decline in crime…”(4)

He also says these numbers shouldn’t drive policy.

But that might be due to the death threats he received after his first study.

When I was in junior high school, the cafeteria was like a prison yard. Hall monitors failed to watch a particular corner where the lunch line goose-necked into another hallway. This was the spot where you could get shivved. Indeed, there were two boys keen on twisting the skin of other boys’ various body parts. I was singled out because of my height. I’m tall. Billy Wilder, the prime bully, once said, “I’d like to fight him just to see if I could take him.” You will see this sentiment sometimes among men, I’ve learned, well into adulthood. One of my friends, Mike, was often threatened on the Chicago EL train for no reason but his size. He is built like an International truck.

Here is the advice I was given about how to survive Billy Wilder, which exemplifies both the drive toward violence and the drive to befriend it.
“Beat him down,” my father said.

“Be friends with him,” said my aunt.

1 Aaron Karp. Estimating Global Civilian Held Firearms Numbers. Briefing Paper. June 2018.
2 Berkowitz, L., & Lepage, A. Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7(2, Pt.1), 202–207. 1967.
3 Amanda Jean Stevenson; The Pregnancy-Related Mortality Impact of a Total Abortion Ban in the United States: A Research Note on Increased Deaths Due to Remaining Pregnant. Demography 1 December 2021; 58 (6): 2019–2028.
4 John J. Donohue and Steven D. Levitt. “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime Over the Last Two Decades.” (The National Bureau of Economic Research, 2019).


Joshua Thusat received his graduate degree in English from Bowling Green State University, where he drove ice trucks across Cuyahoga County to pay for college. His most recent nonfiction appears in Coalesce Community Journal, Doubleback Review, and Change Seven Magazine. Recent fiction appears in Five South Journal. He also writes regular baseball columns during the summer. Joshua teaches writing in the Chicagoland area.