In his book Primetime Propaganda, Breitbart’s heir Ben Shapiro points out the Left’s tendency to focus on, among other things, violence in television and films. They seem to have dialed back on that, lately — but regardless, such arguments result in distractions from the influences Hollywood really pushes on our culture — immodest sexuality and profanity, among other things.
Sadly, many on the Right-of-Center eagerly agree that on-screen violence as such can influence people to disastrous effect. Initially, these arguments may seem to have a point. However, it’s a dangerous road to take — and to be blunt, it’s along the lines of those who self-righteously (and laughably) say that the way to combat gun violence is to limit the gun access of the general populace.
Few can articulate my point better than one of the greatest filmmakers in history, the great Alfred Hitchcock. For those thinking the issue of “desensitizing violence” in films is a relatively recent one — consider:
In the mid-1960s, Fletcher Markle asked the Master of Suspense, in an interview found on the excellent DVD A Talk With Hitchcock, whether “sociologists have much of a foundation for saying that films that record the criminal impulse, or television shows that concentrate on crime, have a lasting influence on the viewer?”
Hitchcock replied, without missing a beat, “I would say it had an influence on sick minds, but not on healthy minds.”
He then described an incident that seems eerily all-too-familiar, considering recent events: when his classic, Psycho — well known as the film responsible for kick-starting what would eventually be known as the “slasher-flick” genre (Saw, Friday The 13th, Se7en, etc.) — was released … a man in L.A. went on to murder a woman — the third female victim of his real-life terror— apparently following his viewing of the film. Naturally, the press called up Hitchcock, asking him (like they ask Quentin Tarantino, today) whether he thought there was a connection — could the film’s blood-spilling possibly have driven a man to murder for real?
Hitch only asked, “What film did he see before the second murder? And perhaps, before he murdered the first woman, maybe he’d just drunk a glass of milk?”
Hitch’s point: if someone’s nuts enough to be “driven” to kill by on-screen killings, they’d in theory be nuts enough to have been set off by nearly anything. Remember, the psycho who shot Gabby Giffords was apparently ticked off over her failing to understand his question. (And no, Universal Health Care’s not the answer. You think corrupt, incompetent bureaucrats are capable of overseeing our mental health?)
Hitchcock then recounted another story: a seven-year-old boy once walked up to him, asking, “Mr. Hitchcock, in that murder scene in Psycho, what did you use for blood? Chicken blood?” Hitch replied, “No, chocolate sauce.” Satisfied, the kid walked off.
As Hitchcock pointed out to Markle, “See, the operative word was, ‘What did you use for blood?’ He didn’t believe it.” The kid understood — as most sound-minded individuals do—that the violence we see on screen isn’t for real. Perhaps most of the (very understandable, don’t misunderstand) concerns parents have over whether kids are being “desensitized” to violence would be assuaged, were they to have the family watch the behind-the-scenes featurettes on movie DVDs: I’d advise such parents to focus with their kids on how blanks are used in guns, during filming — and, of course, how the blood seen in a character’s death is similarly not real, per se.
Now… having said that, I think there is a danger to entertainment promoting a certain kind of violence. We’ve all heard of films that glamorize criminals — promoting them as “cool”, not evil. One need only compare Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers with Quentin Tarantino’s original script. Quentin wrote the Knoxes as disturbing monsters — albeit with a sick, twisted love for each other. Stone, however, made it a point to “flesh out” the killers — at times almost justifying their crimes.
In other words … I think we’d best not focus on on-screen violence as such, so much as how violent characters are shown. The more sympathetically we portray immorality on-screen, the greater the risk of a viewer’s rising contempt for society’s values.
When we say, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” we’re right. We’d do well to apply that to TV and movies, as well.