No, I don’t blame Hollywood or the Dark Knight for the Colorado shootings. But, I do blame Hollywood for the deterioration of its product, the resulting desensitization of our kids, and the overall lack of concern for what it produces and the impact it has on our souls.
The recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, in which a young man, dressed in full protective gear, wrought havoc, death, and mayhem on an innocent movie crowd is no accident. He was a lover of The Joker, the “star” of the second Dark Knight movie, portrayed by the late Heath Ledger. He was a lover of violent role-playing video games. He chose the new Batman movie crowd as his target; he didn’t choose the latest Pixar movie.
I worked in the entertainment business for a quarter century. My forte was the now largely defunct “Movie of the Week.” We suffered our own run of poor taste when so many of the television movies were ripped-from-the-headlines true murder films. The first writing I ever did was my effort to put a halt to that shameful period of television with “Murders of the Week.” It was later reprinted in the Daily Variety, and I like to think it led to the considerable lessening of production of those movies.
The Hollywood my parents grew up with and that I grew up with was quite different than today’s movie world. My parents lived through World War II, when not only did Hollywood contribute wonderful movies glorifying the sacrifices of our men and women in the armed forces but also made films about sacrifices on the home front. These films helped bolster a scared nation. After the war, Hollywood continued making such moves, with The Best Years of Our Lives deservedly earning a Best Picture Oscar in 1946.
I grew up with adventure films that starred such late greats as Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, Gregory Peck, and so many others. The Great Escape was truly awesome to me, though the more likely word we used then was either “cool” or “groovy.” The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, and so many other films of that era informed my idea of heroes and villains.
Many years later, Quentin Tarantino came along and wrote and/or directed movies with unmitigated violence and any lack of honor, at least the honor I learned in my life. I’ve only seen one film of his, so I can only judge from afar, and the one I did see –Inglourious Basterds – had some value, in my opinion. Oliver Stone came along and tried to change history with his movies, starting with his anti-war depictions in Platoon, continuing with his totally fictional JFK, and others. Ironically, he made a truly good movie about 9/11 – World Trade Center in 2006 – but much damage to the soul of America had already been done by his prior work.
When the original Psycho came out in 1960, it was hailed as the scariest movie ever. And it was pretty darn scary. The infamous shower scene, however, was in black and white and did not show a single explicit shot of violence. It was brilliantly directed by the late Alfred Hitchcock and masterfully scored by Bernard Herrman to a chilling effect.
Today’s horror films try to out-do each other with extreme gore. The Saw series is just one example. The excesses portrayed in these films induce nightmares, desensitize feelings, and create a culture in which violence seems okay to portray and even to laugh at. Sorry, I don’t think it’s funny.
Does Hollywood care? Some say Hollywood only cares about money. But, if that were true why do they still make so many R-rated movies when their box office performance is invariably less than the moderately rated films? This is a contradiction in reality that Hollywood chooses to ignore to pacify the stars, filmmakers, and studio execs that like the R-rated films and think that they are expanding “their art.” Read Michael Medved’s Hollywood Vs. America for ample evidence of the fiscal failure of R-rated movies!
Now, let’s look at the video games. I’m old enough to remember Atari’s first video game, Pong. It was a simple competition of “hitting” a virtual ball back and forth. Nobody had to die, and it was a lot of fun. Today’s video games often try to out-do one another with gore, blood, and violence. The very successful “Grand Theft Auto” video game series took this even further by demonizing the police and giving the player more points when they killed police and innocents. Hooray for Hollywood. Hooray for the Gaming Industry.
Where do we parents come into this discussion? How many parents give in to their children’s pleas to go to the latest PG-13 or R-rated movie before their children are anywhere close to mature enough to see them? What about the games and Internet access allowed to many kids?
Do you think the Colorado shooter was watching the Discovery Channel, renting Pixar movies, and playing Mario Brothers video games? I’m sure he avoided all those excessively violent horror movies, so many of which had sequel after sequel. The same goes for the Columbine killers. Their favorite music was The Four Seasons, wasn’t it? No, I think it was Patti Page.
I haven’t even touched on the lack of responsibility within the music industry, which completely shares Hollywood’s and the gaming industry’s lack of soul.
To paint these industries as the bad guys with one brush stroke is too simple. This is a complicated societal problem that has grown over time during my generation – the boomers. The solution isn’t simple either. But, maybe if these industries thought about their five-year-old boys and girls a little more, they might choose to make a Batman movie with slightly less gore, skip the horror movies altogether, and maybe strive to create stories that enrich, educate, and inspire.