We’re going to keep talking about gun violence as long as it continues to be a problem. Everyone has given their two cents — intelligent, thoughtful people have contributed meaningful things to this conversation, and if everyone else could just ease up on the Facebook crazy, that’d be great. As always, part of the conversation has to be about Hollywood’s role in all of this, what with its violent movies and TV shows about people with guns who shoot other people with guns. Because if you see the thing on the screen then you go out and do the thing because robot people? Or something.
There’s a video on YouTube that very cleverly cuts together bits of an anti-gun PSA featuring Hollywood celebs with footage of them from movies with guns in their hands. I’m bringing this specific video up because, more than anything else, it so clearly shows the blurred line between the role an actor plays and the fact that they’re an actual, non-fictional, person. More importantly, that what’s on the screen is a story, and is not, with all due respect to special effects, reality.
This argument happens over and over each time gun violence makes the news with a horrific mass killing. That if we make movie ratings stricter (which, PS, as ratings go right now, apparently sex is worse than violence?), then our society will be less violent. Or that by removing violent images from TV and film, we can eliminate a problem that is mostly rooted in poor mental health care and public access to military grade weapons.
If I may quote Jon Stewart from his 1996 HBO special (which I’ve pretty much known by heart since I bought it off some dude on eBay in high school):
Listen, there’s definitely something to be said for TV and video games desensitizing our culture to violence. There’s also something to be said for how many of the people who have publicly massacred innocent civilians were mentally unstable, and had better access to semi-automatic rifles than to mental health care. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these things are probably more important contributing factors to address than whether or not Cameron Diaz pulled a gun on a two dimensional villain in a movie somewhere.
What struck me so much about this YouTube video was how focused it was on showing some kind of hypocrisy on the part of each actor advocating for gun control. For one thing, good job to whoever made it, for making the take-away of what happened in Newtown that Hollywood sucks. Helpful to everyone, I’m sure. Also, what? We’re a celebrity obsessed culture to an alarming degree, so if the idea is that actors in movies playing fictional people shooting fake guns makes people go out and do the same to the people around them, then it’s somehow bad to harness celebrity influence to help stop this?
I don’t know what to do with this, you guys. My brain doesn’t have a compartment for this. What I do know is that if action films didn’t make bank at the box office and Law & Order SVU wasn’t one of the highest rated shows in the history of fictional TV murder-rapes, then they would have less influence. You can slap whatever rating you want on anything, if people keep going to see it, they will keep supporting and funding the manufacture of more of the same, because it’s a marketable product. If anything, this cycle is a reflection of our culture and where its attentions lie. If, as a culture, we focused less aggression into masculinity, and were less fascinated by raped/murdered women, our media could reflect it. And the truth is, watching these shows won’t make a sane person go out and try to imitate anything they see in it. SVU isn’t a cooking show; Michael Bay movies aren’t karaoke.
There is a constant struggle in this country, and it increases with poverty. It increases with a lack of health care, including mental health. It increases with the systematic shunting of problem patients from one facility to another, and the lack of funding for support, let alone research. It worsens with each military grade weapon that is sold to a civilian.
Right now there is a convergence of systematic problems that enables tragedies like Newtown to happen over and over, on a daily basis, even if it’s on too small a scale to make national news. We’re all being punished for something we didn’t do, whether as past or potential future victims of a public massacre, while a small percentage of the population is upset about being victimized for wanting to keep AK-47’s next to their nightstand. That, that is a bigger problem in and of itself, than the fiction on screen that any rational person can separate from the basic moral code of how we exist together in the functional society of reality.
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