White Flight: "Chuck & Buck" scribe chides movie violence

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 ways.”

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 of Rock.”

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.

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