After reading the January 19th 2013 article in The Atlantic entitled, ‘There's Violence in the Bible': Famous Directors on Violence in Film, by Emily Temple, I, too, wanted to rant.
The article began by focusing on this statement: “The issue of whether movies should show graphic killing is as polarizing within Hollywood as it is among audiences.” However, like all media saturated topics, such as gun control and mass murder, there never seems to be a logical end to the rant.
I have highlighted a few quotes found in this article, made by directors I actually admire. I was affected by these statements, being a Crime Victim Advocate for the past eleven years.
Quote #1: Peter Bogdanovich said, “Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, ‘We’re brutalizing the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum. The respect for human life seems to be eroding.’ ” (From The Hollywood Reporter, 2012).
What Peter and Orson are referring to is a term called desensitization. My therapist husband reminded me, “That’s what military training is…from the time you enter boot camp, you are taught to have a non-emotional response to violence, aggression, and harm; naturally protective in nature, but it gets in the way when you’re trying to be an effective killing machine.” I responded, “So, our society condones violence in some instances, but condemns it in others.” He replied, “Yes. I think they call that ‘sociology.’ ”
Science agrees that desensitization to violence also occurs while children play violent video games. A 2011 article published in Science Daily, Violent Video Games Reduce Brain Response to Violence and Increase Aggressive Behavior, invites us to understand the research. This same research is often used to blame real-time mass violence on entertainment that exploits it.
Quote #2: Michael Winterbottom states, “Clearly there is violence against men and women in society; in films and books, and in this case I think it’s important that the violence is ugly.” (At a 2010 Berlin film festival, reported in The Guardian). I get that; if we are healthy, compassionate human beings, we recognize that the Three Stooges act in a morally wrong way. My concern then is, what if we are not healthy, compassionate people, and who makes that distinction? Experts at the Center for Disease Control say that violence is pandemic. “From infants to the elderly, violence affects people in all stages of life and is linked to many chronic diseases, obesity, substance abuse and other physical, reproductive, and mental health consequences. It is also costly.” Therefore, it is logical to assume that we all pay the price of exposure to violence.
Quote #3: “I did not have to show it. Violence for the sake of violence I don’t think has any effect. I don’t even think the audience is moved by it.” (Alfred Hitchcock in an interview with Dr. Fredric Wertham in Redbook, 1963). Someone as skilled and brilliant as Alfred is suggesting that it is not necessary to flood the senses with offensive images to make a theatrical statement or cause an emotional reaction. We apparently are sophisticated enough as a species to pick up on inferred violence, terror, suspense, etc.
Quote #4: Kathryn Bigelow recently directed Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, both considered Oscar-worthy films. She was asked, “Why does violence play such an important role in your movies?” She replied, “I think that film has the potential to be very cathartic…It’s wonderful in the safe confines of a theater to experience that aspect of your imagination or subconscious.” And, "Do you think that the audience’s response stays in the theater? What about the stories of people who get pumped up on watching violent films and then go on a shooting spree?” Her response: “My feeling is that those are very disturbed individuals anyway and are the exception rather than the rule. I don’t believe in censorship in any form. One should make moral judgments for oneself. Someone who is disturbed could be sensitive to anything—look at the violence in the evening news. Someone like that would have to live in a black box not to be exposed to violence.” (From an interview at The Tech, 1990).
There are those of us who A) do not live in a box; B) are not desensitized to violence; C) want to stop the spread of violence and its effect. I agree, for the most part, with this final quote from Stanley Kubrick.
Quote #5: “There has always been violence in art. There is violence in the Bible, violence in Homer, violence in Shakespeare, and many psychiatrists believe that it serves as a catharsis rather than a model. I think the question of whether there has been an increase in screen violence and, if so, what effect this has had, is to a very great extent a media-defined issue. I know there are well-intentioned people who sincerely believe that films and TV contribute to violence, but almost all of the official studies of this question have concluded that there is no evidence to support this view. At the same time, I think the media tend to exploit the issue because it allows them to display and discuss the so-called harmful things from a lofty position of moral superiority…Films and TV are also convenient whipping boys for politicians because they allow them to look away from the social and economic causes of crime, about which they are either unwilling or unable to do anything.” (From an interview with Michel Ciment on A Clockwork Orange).
I am resolved, by my training as an advocate and my fifty-five year existence, to encourage everyone to make a decision about violence in their own life. Take careful consideration of how you have responded to it, as well as those around you. Awareness increases your ability to control your own environment. I hope that this article places you on a path to do just that.