American Elephants

Movies, Violence, Hypocrisy and Real Life. by The Elephant's Child

In all the conversation about “assault weapons” most of the commentary has concerned the cosmetic appearance of guns, and the number of bullets in a magazine. Some small number of the comments have concerned violent video games but there have been no serious studies that show a connection to disturbed people committing mass shootings.

On the other hand, let’s admit that movies are violent, unnecessarily so.  Hollywood’s minor celebrities, always anxious to get their faces and names before the public rushed to make a commercial to advance the president’s efforts to ban gun violence and guns. Though he claims to appreciate the Second Amendment, Obama is on record saying that he does not believe that people should be allowed to own guns.

The Hollywood celebrity bunch made a forgettable commercial for Obama’s original campaign for the presidency, so this one was much in the same style — a little gag inducing. Conservatives re-did the commercial, inserting clips from each particular celebrity’s very own movie, celebrating the very kind of gun violence they were so pompously opposing. It’s fun to see hypocrisy exposed. Demand a plan. Heh.

The president, you will notice, said not a word about violence in movies. Hollywood people are major campaign supporters and celebrities flock to the White House. When the CDC studies the causes of gun violence, movies will probably not be included.

Commenters write about seeing World War II movies, which only demonstrates how superficial the thinking. Hollywood is in business to make money. When a movie is popular, they pay attention to what was different about the movie. It is not an accident that so many popular movies have been remade several times. (Think Superman or Robin Hood) Special effects have taken over. What was once a simple car crash, is now a major spectacle with dozens of flaming cars flung high over freeway overpasses. A real-life Volt bursting into flame isn’t really shocking any more.

There was a time when most gun violence was in cowboy movies, where the hero pointed his six-shooter in the general direction of the bad guy, sound-effects provided the necessary sounds, and the bad guy fell down dead. Gangster movies were about the 20s and bank robberies and prohibition and car chases. The gangsters were recognizable because they had tommy-guns, wore black and black hats and drove big black cars that had a back seat or trunk large enough to hold a body. But the story was about bravery and cowardice, honesty and dishonor.

Special effects have taken over, and each movie must top the last. Heads explode in pink mist, wounds rip bodies apart, limbs are amputated. Whole groups of people are torn to pieces. What make-up cannot create, technical wizards will create with their computers. The sad thing is that Hollywood has lost the art of storytelling. Movies are just not so appealing any more. More violence, more gore, more blood, more sex, more squalor, more evil, more vulgarity, more bad language.

Movies once concerned the human condition, not in its excesses, but in its ordinary foibles. People are very human and struggle to understand their own human failings. Good storytelling makes you laugh or cry as you recognize bits of yourself and your friends and realize that perhaps you’re normal after all. That’s what storytelling has always been about, from how to have courage, how to be a hero when you are frightened, how to cope with the death of a loved one, how to be a good person, how to survive.

Think of some of the great movies: High Noon, Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, To Kill a Mockingbird, It’s a Wonderful Life, E.T., The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Singing In The Rain, Lawrence of Arabia, It Happened One Night. Shakespeare told stories, Homer told stories, Aesop told stories — all about being human.

People use movies as examples in conversation and thought. They justify ideas, not by history, but with movie scenes. Movie dialogue has become an integral part of conversation and speech. I notice because it is not natural to me, and I have been surprised by its prevalence. Often notions of history come from the movies rather than from historians’ evidence from the past.  The behavior of celebrities in real life is influential and imitated. So to assume that violence in movies has no effect on violence in society is absurd. Will that connection be investigated? Not by Obama’s Executive Orders.

2 Comments so far
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Concerning graphic depictions of violence in movies, think of the films of the 70’s… “Dirty Harry” had gun violence, but was carefully edited to minimize the effect. More damage to the human body was shown as the effect of getting beaten with fists, rather than shot with a .44 magnum, or a shotgun, or a rifle. Same thing with “The French Connection”. The scenes showing killings in “The Godfather” were elaborately stage, but once again, the damage done by guns was minimised so it would not detract from the story. And you know what you never saw in the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”? Someone getting killed with a chainsaw (all of the violence was implied, and happened off-screen)… and it was still one of the most frightening movies of it’s time.
In modern film, most filmmakers don’t hesitate to show the gore (lookin’ at you, Tarantino!). They claim it’s to make the film more “realistic”, which is a laugh because of the frequently UNrealistic storylines they try to push on us. And some of these same actors ad filmmakers that are trying to say that it’s the “culture” which is making gun violence more prevalent will, in the very next breath, tell you how silly you’re being for blaming violence in movies, because, well, it’s only a movie, not real-life, and you’d have to be crazy to confuse the two, right?

John Hickley fixated on actress Jodie Foster in the movie “Taxi Driver”
Mark David Chapman believed he was the main character in the novel “Catcher in the Rye”.
The University of Texas Tower sniper, Charles Whitman, had mental issues.
More recently, Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech), Jared Loughner (Tucson, AZ, shooter of Gabrielle Giffords), James Holmes (The Aurora, CO theater), and Adam Lanza (The Sandy hook School) are all know to have exhibited abnormal behavior and been treated for psychological issues before the fact.


Comment by Lon Mead

Last big car crash I saw in a movie, and I can’t even remember what the movie was, was so over-the-top that it would have believable only to the most gullible. Fascinated with what they could accomplish with special effects, they’ve neglected the story. I just don’t watch as many movies any more. Storytelling isn’t what it used to be. Neither Mel Gibson nor Viggo Mortenson were able to carry of the St.Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V, nor were the writers able to measure up to Shakespeare, but they were all trying to tell the same story over. I’d like to see the movies get back to telling good stories and being a positive influence.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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