2012 was a particularly bad year due to seemingly endless tragedies. While one in the form of a massive hurricane was unavoidable, the year also contained multiple mass shootings that left the entire country in shock. On July 20, a shooter went on a rampage at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 and injuring 58 people. On December 14, a shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire, ending 26 lives, 20 of whom were children no more than 7 years old. As with any gun-related tragedy, speculation once again abounded as to whether or not violent media (movies, television shows, video games) are indirect causes of these actions.
To put all of my cards on the table, allow me to say that I am a firm believer that violent media is not to blame for any real-world acts of violence. As director Quentin Tarantino (creator of absurdly bloody films, such as Kill Bill and Django Unchained) puts it, “I think it’s disrespectful to the memory of the people who died to talk about movies. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health.” Above all, I think mental health is the true concern here. For every one person who may be influenced negatively by a film, there are literally millions of others who view it as nothing more than entertainment. With such a large sample size of people not affected, how could it be said that movies are the problem?
We need to stop blaming the things around us and start blaming ourselves. In this frustratingly politically correct world, where kids come home with participation trophies so there are no losers, there has become an inherent desire to coddle each other and not allow for anybody to be “wrong.” Observe any parent who is being told his or her child isn’t behaving well in school, and you’ll hear the parent say, “It’s not my child’s fault; it’s the teacher/other students!” Everybody in this country passes the blame elsewhere, and media is an easy target. The day a professional athlete says he learned to play football by playing Madden is the day I’ll believe movies or games turned someone violent.
That being said, perhaps media, particularly film, should start to become less violent, after all — not because of its potentially violent influences but because of its responsibility as an art form. Whether you realize it or not, when you buy a ticket to see a movie, you are attending an art showing. Heading to your local cinema is the cultural equivalent of visiting the Museum of Modern Art. In the future, we will remember directors such as Martin Scorsese and James Cameron in the same way we remember Ludwig van Beethoven or Leonardo da Vinci. It sounds absurd, but it’s the shocking truth. What is the primary way that historians judge a particular time period? They observe the culture of the time, and art is a key factor in culture. Just look at the pottery of Ancient Greece. The Greeks didn’t just make plain brown vases; they painted on them depictions indicative of their culture. They painted soldiers, farmers, and even gods, and by doing so, they gave archaeologists a blueprint to deciphering their culture.
Our modern culture is categorized by the art forms of film and music. If our culture is going to define us 100 years from now, that means that our movies and music will be what are observed. Let that idea sink in for a moment and terrify you. In 100 years, we may be remembered as the society that turned The Twilight Saga into a multi-billion dollar franchise. What is that going to say about us as a people? Before you go to the movies and make Texas Chainsaw 3D a hit (which just happened), contemplate how that decision may reflect on your entire country in the future.
So, why should film become less violent? I’ve established that art is ultimately a reflection on the culture it exists in, and right now, our culture doesn’t seem to be in favor of violent movies, at least on a vocal level. There has been so much protest lately that it seems that this period in our history will be defined by how we handle guns in this country. As the leading cultural indicator, movies should begin reflecting this change in opinion towards guns. There is a responsibility as the dominant art form to represent this national dilemma, so as to document it as something more than a history textbook event. If our films show a restrained attitude towards gun violence, it makes the widespread opinion against guns more real.
Right now we are a country of hypocrites. We lambaste violent media and demand stricter gun laws, yet the top-five grossing films of the year (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, Skyfall, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) are films that contain significant violence. Granted, these are PG-13 films that either obscure or “soften” the violence by eliminating blood, but violence is violence no matter how it is dolled up. This is why I say the fight against guns and violent media isn’t real. We do not practice what we preach. Right now, film is doing its job as art because it is reflecting our national attitude towards violence: We love to watch it. Until we stop paying to see violent movies, they will survive as indicators of our culture.
Film does have a duty to echo the culture it is created by, but we have to acknowledge that is does have to be created, and we are the ones shaping it. Our vocal cries to eliminate violent media have no strength as long as we collectively agree to keep seeing the films. Yes, film should change, but before it can, we have to change as well. As Tarantino said and I paraphrased: Stop blaming others, and start blaming yourself.