LOS ANGELES — The recent school shootings in Connecticut have again raised questions about the role of violent media in mass shootings. People in Hollywood are asking the same questions, but they say that violent action films are a staple in Hollywood and are not likely to disappear anytime soon.
By Mike O’Sullivan
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the kind of film that earns money for Hollywood by appealing to teenage boys with its action, fighting and explosions.
Tim Gray of the entertainment business publication Variety said the debate over violent entertainment goes back to the paper’s founding 100 years ago, and even further.
“It actually goes back 2,000 years, if you look at the plays that the Greeks wrote, the Greek tragedies, if you think about the gladiators in the Coliseum, violence and entertainment have always gone together, but it’s so pervasive now. That’s the big difference,” said Gray.
The famed shower stabbing scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Psycho, shocked viewers in 1960, but it was one short segment in a highly crafted film that relied on dialogue to tell its story.
The upcoming Sylvester Stallone film, Bullet to the Head, uses action to hold the viewer’s attention.
The science-fiction film, Pacific Rim, about an alien invasion, also should draw its share of adolescent movie-goers.
Jonathan Taplin is a producer whose credits include the early Martin Scorsese film, Mean Streets, starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel. He is now a media analyst with the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. Taplin said that guns, explosions and exciting chases sometimes substitute for careful story-telling.
“Action films are action films, and that’s one of the things that Hollywood does well. And I’m not positive they know how to sustain a teenage audience without a lot of violence,” he said.
Taplin and others in Hollywood point to violent video games aimed at individual players, so-called first-person shooter games, as a much bigger problem than movies or television.
Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobbying group, has blamed both game and movie makers for the ongoing violence in the real world, as he rejected calls for stricter gun controls.
But much of the world watches Hollywood entertainment without a problem, said analyst Taplin. He said people elsewhere do not have easy access to high-powered weapons.
“You don’t see mass shootings of children in many, many countries where Hollywood movies are the key source of entertainment,” he said.
Still, Taplin is disturbed by the violence that now pervades films, especially from movie makers like Quentin Tarantino, whose new release, Django Unchained, tells a story of slavery and retribution in the American South before the Civil War.
The recent school shootings have many in Hollywood asking whether movie makers need to tone down the violence, said Gray.
“People are talking about the Connecticut shootings as if it’s the tipping point that could make a difference. Maybe, but we have heard that before,” he said.
And youthful audiences show no signs that they are tired of violent action films.