I might have been a little harsh in assessing the late
former MPAA head Jack Valenti’s legacy a couple of postings ago, but at least I
didn’t accuse him of being responsible for the Virginia Tech shootings. We’ll
leave that for David Thomson in the Guardian film blog where the esteemed critic and author of "The Encyclopedia of Film" claims Valenti’s favoring violence over sex in the ratings system contributed
to the atmosphere of violence that resulted in the murder of 32 people. Valenti
was a tool of the studios, and he was their enabler when it came to selling their main products: guns, mayhem and death.
On the other hand, the film industry wouldn’t have pushed
this product if there wasn’t already a market for it, so you can’t really say
that the violence in films causes the audience’s fascination with violence but
that maybe the pre-existing fascination with
violence presents a demand that Hollywood,
like all businesses motivated by profit, readily supplies. In other words, the
violence in film is at worst at symptom and at best a reflection of the
pathology and mindset of those who buy it.
Add to that the fact that no scientific study has
demonstrated a link between film violence and behavior, and I’d say that, in
this instance at least, Valenti is getting a raw deal.
Actually, when you come right down to it, if the film
violence/violent behavior link had any substance, shouldn’t critics like
Thomson, who have probably seen more movies and acts of film violence than any
other group, also be among the most violent and criminal people? I haven’t done the
research (I know a couple of local colleagues with outstanding traffic
tickets), but I don’t think that’s the case.
Meanwhile, my concern that opportunistic politicians might
take advantage of the recent bloodletting to gain political points by yammering
for decency and censorship hasn’t quite panned out. Why? Maybe it’s because knee-jerk liberal wimps like Thomson have been doing the job for them. And
moviemakers like the usually perverse but suddenly holier-than-thou Mike White.
In his guest op-ed in “The New York Times” White again brings up the non-issue of “OldBoy:”
“Was Seung-Hui Cho
inspired by a movie (the South Korean revenge flick “Oldboy”) when he murdered
32 of his classmates and teachers?”
Answer: no. Or yes,
if he could have been inspired by something that he didn’t see, as absolutely no
evidence exists that he did except for an image of him holding a hammer (what
if he had chosen a different object? A tennis racket? A rolling pin? Would we
be blaming Andy Roddick or Rachael Ray?).
Moving from this idle speculation based on no evidence,
White surges ahead in his argument by enlisting irrelevant personal anecdotes. He points out
how trashy horror movies inspired him when a teenager to become a filmmaker,
and how in general
“for my friends and
me, movies were a big influence on our clothes and our slang, and on how we
thought about and spoke to authority figures, our girlfriends and one another.
Movies permeated our fantasy lives and our real lives in subtle and profound
Well, “subtle and profound” for the haircut and slang crowd;
ie, the smart guys and future filmmakers. But for dummies like Cho, the next
stop apparently was loading up at the closest gun shop.
On the other hand, if Cho had, for some reason, like
White, chosen to make movies, might he
have sublimated his murderous obsessions? Might violent movies thus serve a
cathartic, therapeutic purpose, as they have since Gilgamesh, Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare?
Poppycock! “The Hills
Have Eyes II,” White points out, isn’t Shakespeare.But then, not many movies are, including his. Be that as it
may, White goes on to suggest that for every auteur like himself there are
probably a lot more bloodthirsty pissants like Cho we must deal with. And for
further evidence of that plague spawned by violent movies, it’s back to Mike
White neighborhood, where:
“It’s true nobody
ever got shot in the face in my backyard, but there were acts of male bravado
performed in emulation of our movie anti-heroes that ranged from stupid to
cruel. ... Can we really in good conscience conclude that the violence
saturating our popular culture has no impact on our neighborhoods and schools?”
Well, no, though there’s no reason why we should, either. Can we conclude that the Bible, too much
sugar, footage from Abu Ghraib, Boy Scout training, lack of gun control, or a million other factors don’t have more impact? But
none of those is as easy a target as the movies. And we can pretty safely
conclude that once the hammer comes down on violence, as White implicitly
advocates, it’s not going to stop with the carnage of “The Hills Have Eyes II” but extend to the “indecency”
of his own “Chuck & Buck” and the non-conforming role model of his “School
In conclusion, White writes: “Maybe we’re not
responsible for Mr. Cho’s awful actions, but does that abrogate our
responsibility to the world around us?”
Indeed. And I think White’s first responsibility is to stick up
for the freedoms that he’s cashed in on.