My friend Michael and his wife recently went to see the new Tom Cruise movie, Jack Reacher, and at the beginning of the film, a sniper opens fire into a crowd and kills five innocent people.
As the carnage unfolded on the screen, Michael said he heard sobbing erupt throughout the theater and he immediately realized what was happening. The murders on the screen reminded people of the massacre in Newtown.
Some things should never be forgotten. That tragedy will have a lasting influence on us, far beyond the issue of gun control, but whether it will have any effect on the entertainment industry is questionable.
As the nation debates what must be done to control the bloodshed, the entertainment industry has hunkered down, starting with the chairman of the Motion Picture Association, former Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, who seems more intent on invoking First Amendment rights than considering a critical self-examination in light of Newtown. Sadly, the parties that have the greatest stake in preventing bloodshed are hiding behind the First and the Second Amendments instead of actually doing anything to prevent this from happening again.
When a reporter questioned director Quentin Tarantino about violence in film, he had a hissy fit and shut down the interview. Throughout his career, Tarantino has stylized film violence and made it so commonplace you could become spiritually numb watching bloody extravaganzas like Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, and the critically acclaimed Django Unchained, which, according to one columnist, is “a film that makes mass murder look cool.”
Tarantino’s films are known for bloodshed and casual killing. It’s art, the critics say, describing it as the “aestheticization of violence,” which probably should be redefined as the “anesthetization of violence.” To us ordinary dimwits, that means there’s a hell of a lot of torturous killing but it’s supposedly artistic, which makes it excusable.
When the reporter persisted in questioning Tarantino about film violence in the wake of the Newtown killings, he shouted, “It’s a movie! It’s a fantasy! It’s not real life!”
But violence in film, TV and video games is more than a fantasy form of diversion. It affects the way we think and what we do, and over a period of time, it makes violent responses seem perfectly acceptable.
Four decades of research — more than 2,500 books, studies and papers — have concluded that violence in entertainment has a pernicious effect on people. Whenever the industry tries to discredit the studies, it sounds much like tobacco companies insisting cigarettes don’t cause cancer.
Young people exposed to violence are eventually more likely to be convicted of a crime, become aggressive, abuse their spouses, and display an indifferent or amoral attitude toward others. Quite simply, violent entertainment, whether it’s on the television, the computer or the movie screen, is destroying America’s children.
Even though our political leaders think they can legislate a solution, the culture of violence will never end if we continue to deceive ourselves that what people experience over and over again in violent entertainment doesn’t affect their behavior. Never lose sight of this one fact: By the time the average American child reaches 18, he has seen 16,000 murders and more than 200,000 violent acts on television.
It’s our children’s constitutionally guaranteed right. And they can’t escape it.
Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]