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Violent cinema isn’t to ‘blame’ for Colorado movie massacre

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Posted: Friday, August 3, 2012 7:32 am

You may have noted that last week’s review of “The Dark Knight Rises” lacked any mention of the tragedy in Aurora, Colo. This was not meant as a show of disrespect to the victims, but as recognition that regardless of its now-infamous status, Christopher Nolan’s concluding Batman film deserved to be discussed on its own merits, as a movie — not as the alleged trigger that set off a madman’s rampage.

Any discussion of the shooting and its implications for the film industry, I thought, should be reserved for another column. (And since “The Watch” is currently the lowest-rated wide release on Rotten Tomatoes, I suppose this is a prime opportunity.)

However, I will not pretend that I have anything meaningful or even useful to say about the massacre itself, because really, what is there to say at this point that hasn’t already been said? I could rant briefly about the need for increased security measures at movie theaters, or rile some feathers by proselytizing about the merits of concealed carry as a means of self-protection in these increasingly chaotic and dark times, or cause an all-out ruckus by submitting that, this senseless catastrophe aside, there is nothing inherently “wrong” with civilians having access to semi-automatic rifles. But writers far more qualified than I have covered that well-worn ground.

Rather, I wish to make some observations in regards to the public response that the killings have inspired — primarily the question of whether or not violent movies are to “blame” for the events in Colorado and, more broadly, the general desensitization to violence that we see in our society. You can guess where I stand on the issue, and I was pleased to see that, according to a recent LodiNews.com poll, a solid majority of readers agree with me: Violence in media has become a convenient scapegoat for people who fail to realize that, to put it bluntly, crazy people sometimes do crazy things.

Perhaps they were malformed by a horribly abusive childhood. Maybe the voices in their head told them to do it, and they simply suffer from a chemical imbalance in the brain. There’s always the possibility that evil does in fact exist, and some men just want to watch the world burn. Whatever the “reason,” though, it probably wasn’t because of Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino or other purveyors of “violent cinema” you want to point your lazy finger at. To slap a blame label on violent movies is so incomprehensibly shortsighted and flat-out stupid that it almost defies belief.

Hundreds of millions of Americans watch films that include graphic depictions of violence. And tens of millions of those sane, law-abiding viewers take in a steady diet of some pretty atrocious stuff. I myself have seen more depraved films than you could ever imagine, in numbers too vast to comprehend. But look at me, not going out and committing random acts of violence. Look at those tens of millions of other action/horror fans, being all sane and relatively passive and unlikely to commit any atrocities. But the minute some nut snaps and includes any kind of pop culture reference in their madness, the moralizers rise up in full force and try to act like just because a movie (or video game, or song, or whatever) might have partially inspired some small aspect of a tragedy, cinema itself is to blame for all our ills. I guess “Helter Skelter” was to blame for the Tate-Labianca murders, and “The Catcher in the Rye” killed John Lennon, eh?

Critics might have some semblance of a point if the films they’re targeting sensationalized or made light of serious forms of violence, but by and large, movies don’t do that. Take the two examples of Tarantino and Nolan. The former frequently makes expect use of cartoonish violence for specific comedic effect, and depicts serious violence in a very brutal manner that is not in any way “light” or “fun.” And Nolan? His violence isn’t what any reasonable person would consider graphic, and in any case the Batman films in particular do a great job of illustrating the effects of violent acts in very somber, sober manner. The car chases and explosions and crazy flying Batplane are meant to be thrilling — but the violence itself is often quite ugly.

Recently, filmmaker and former critic Peter Bogdanovich voiced his disgust with violence in cinema, even going so far as to state that he regrets making his great 1968 film “Targets,” which brilliantly probed the shifting nature of fear in American society — and featured a finale in which an unhinged sniper opens fire at a crowded drive-in movie theater. Something is wrong, I think, when even our artists are second-guessing their own contributions to cinema, driven by guilt over something that has absolutely nothing to do with them.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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