In the wake of what is only the LATEST massacre in a US school, the head of the NRA (National Rifle Association) gave a speech that emphasized the violence we tolerate–even enjoy–in our media–movies, TV and video games. He suggested that was the place to start in order to prevent such violence in the future.
While gun control advocates scoffed at this, and I agree it’s somewhat of a cop-out–that restricting the sale of machine guns and high capacity bullet magazines might be more effective–I think there’s something in it that we all need to think about.
Both gun lobbyists and entertainment executives are terrified that the government will impose restrictions on them. Gun advocates seem to think of it as the "baby with the bathwater" or "give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile" scenario: That if machine guns are no longer sold in stores and at gun shows (something that the police have been pleading for for years, since they often find themselves "outgunned"), hunters will eventually no longer be able to buy the rifles they want to use. This is ironic, because nobody hunts deer with a machine gun–or if they do, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and if such a hunter was stalking deer in the woods near you, your orange vest wouldn’t save you.
Movie and TV moguls think the same way, especially since they’ve UNDERGONE censorship in the past. It was once "illegal" to show even an obviously married couple sharing a bed, and actors are still not allowed to cuss on network TV or on the radio–If you want to hear the "F" word, or even the "D" word, on the air, you need to get cable.
Scriptwriters and directors felt this was unnecessarily restrictive and it also led to the unreal family scenarios on TV and in the movies of the 50’s and 60s, where Dad always enjoyed his job, the kids were always well-behaved and Mom served supper in high heels and hose, her only concession to messiness a starched, frilly apron.
These situations made people in "ordinary," cantankerous families feel like they were failures for not measuring up to the standards of these seemingly perfect folks. I suspect this kind of media may have contributed to the antidepressant pill-taking "binge" so many people have been on during the last couple of decades. But today’s media–filled with gratuitous violence–may be leading some of us to take much WORSE actions.
The media solved the potential problem of government intervention by policing THEMSELVES–by developing broadcast standards for TV and ratings for movies. It would be nice if the NRA could do the same thing, but I don’t see how it would work (notices on guns, like the ones mandated on cigarette packs, warning about the dangers of using this item?)
But to get back to movies (and these days, TV shows): Why are they so very violent? Most of us are repelled by this. I don’t want to go to a movie where I have to close my eyes when the action starts.
One of the reasons for this has to do with what entertainment execs. call "demographics," which simply means: Who’s watching? The most prized audience, for movies anyway, is the pre-adolescent boy, who can’t yet drive, but wants (needs) to get out of the house on the weekend. His parents tell him to turn off that loud music and drive him to the mall, where he meets up with his friends, and they spend the day bumming around together. The stores aren’t too happy about this, since these kids don’t have a lot of money to spend and can be a nuisance, chasing away more "legitimate" customers, but mall movie theaters love them, because unlike Mom and Pop, they don’t read reviews, they’ll just go to whatever is playing when they arrive, and action films are what look good to a young male who isn’t getting any action with girls yet.
Every once in awhile (and it’s always too often), one of these kids sees a violent film and gets inspired to go out and gun down his OWN enemies.
Demographics helps to explain why there are so many violent movies, but what in the world explains all the violent TV series, especially when most of them play at 10 p.m., past these boys’ bedtimes? Lots of kids have TVs in their bedrooms now–are they covertly watching, in the same way their Dads used to use a flashlight under the covers to read comics and porno mags (when they could get them)?
Here’s another puzzle: Movie theaters make their money on concessions, not on the movie tickets themselves, and adolescent boys have healthy appetites for junk food (ask anyone who’s tried to feed one of them). But television relies on ads and these guys don’t have any lucre–what can they try to sell to them?
Maybe the answer is this: The pre-adolescents of the past have now grown into the men of today, who are more sophisticated but still retain their taste for violence–something that football doesn’t always completely satisfy. When adults pick up a gun and shoot up a school, are they inspired by the movies and reverting to their emotional battles of the past?
In the old days, mystery writers such as Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie compiled a list of "rules" for their fellow crime writers, and one of these was that the violence (in this case, the murder) should take place "offscreen"–or in this case "offpage"–in other words, the reader did not read about the actual killing, but only about the later discovery of the body, when the detective’s investigation began.
One of the most popular shows ever put on TV–"Law and Order"–followed this rule, yet no one putting on new shows seems to have noticed it.