Right now, there’s a fierce debate going on across this country about guns. I’m not going to get into that debate on this blog. I’m not the voice folks should be listening to in regards to that issue. I’m an entertainer and certainly not an expert on guns. My blog is (usually) about entertainment, not politics. However, the gun debate has spawned another peripheral debate that hits my domain pretty directly. It’s about the entertainment industry and, like I said, I am an entertainer so I feel it’s appropriate for me to voice an opinion here…
Lately, I’m seeing more and more criticisms about violence in our entertainment industry, from video games to TV to movies. Now, there are certain things that defenders of the entertainment industry really have to acknowledge…
Modern entertainment does depict violence much more graphically than it used to. It just does.
The video game Dead Island is more violent than, say, Pac-Man.
There’s a massive visual difference between the on-screen violence in the 1931 Dracula and the 1992 movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula (although I should point out that the ’92 version is closer to the book, which was written in 1897).
Dexter would have never been aired in the 50′s.
There’s a huge difference between how violence was depicted on Gunsmoke and how it’s depicted on Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
So, yeah. I’ll completely concede that modern media depicts violence much more graphically than it used to.
But do modern films inspire violence in this country? Do video games inspire people to do violent things?
I don’t know. I’m not a statistician, although I kind of wish I were. I just read that statisticians can make around 72k a year. What the hell?
Anyway, I’m not an expert on statistics, but I do know that violent movies are popular around the world. Violent video games are popular around the world. And yet violence varies wildly in all these countries where violent entertainment is popular. That alone makes me think we need to do more research before we start drawing conclusions.
That said, this blog isn’t really about whether or not entertainment inspires violence. It’s about something else. Something that I personally find quite scary.
It’s about the precedent we’re setting by asking our government to take action against the entertainment industry based on the moral standards of part of the population.
It’s a dangerous game to be playing.
I mean, where’s the line? Is Rambo too violent? Do we need the government to remove John Rambo from circulation? What about Platoon? It’s a very violent film. What about Night of the Living Dead from 1969? People get shot in the head on that film.
When I was a kid, I put myself in danger quite often because of Indiana Jones. I explored dangerous caves and climbed some pretty big trees, all because of Indy’s inspiring adventures. Should Indy be banned ? I know that if I ever hurt myself or destroyed good clothes while being Indy, “Well Indy did it!” would not have been a valid excuse for my parents. As a matter of fact, my punishment would have been increased for trying to feed them a line of crap.
And what other forms of entertainment should be targeted? When I was 13, I broke my collar bone playing backyard football. My friends and I were inspired to play after watching an NFL game on TV. Should we end football in this country?
And if we’re targeting all other forms of entertainment, does that mean books should be included? I read The Red Badge of Courage in high school. You know what “the red badge of courage” is referring to in that book? It’s a bloody wound.
My Day Soldiers novels are about humanity’s full scale war against vampires and werewolves. Naturally, there’s some violence in those books. Should they be banned?
My point is simply this: When we start asking the government to make censorship decisions about entertainment based on the morality of a portion of the population, we’re taking a dangerous step toward book burning and removing “indecent” genitalia from ancient statues. It has happened before. Many times.
If society had that mentality between the 8th and 11th century, we wouldn’t have Beowulf today. If the ancient Greeks had that mentality, we wouldn’t have the Iliad or Medea or a thousand other great works.
Look, I’m not suggesting the entertainment industry should have no scruples. I’m not even saying we should ignore the possibility that there’s a connection between violence and entertainment. Knowledge is never something we should hide from, so I’m all for more research on this topic.
Art is a reflection of culture. Our art can tell us more about our culture than any well-paid statistician can. And yes, art we personally find distasteful is part of that. Perhaps the most important part. Almost everything we know about the lives of the ancient Greeks comes from their plays and poems. The same is true of pretty much every culture in the history of the world. In my opinion, a campaign to stop art from reflecting culture is a campaign in favor of ignorance. It’s us attempting to hide ourselves from the parts of our culture we’re not willing to face.
Maybe… just maybe… if we think violent video games are a problem, we should examine why they’re popular instead of blaming them for being popular. The best way to change the tone of art is to change the tone of the culture it reflects.
Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t study a possible connection. I have no problem with retailers taking actions to make sure a 12 year old kid isn’t buying a game that’s rated M. I’m fine with the entertainment industry taking action to keep a 9 year old out of a movie that’s intended for adults. Those are good things.
But we should not be drawing massive conclusions that could have massive consequences based on untested speculation just because it makes us feel better. Our culture should be deciding what our art conveys, not our laws. Censorship of art should be left in the hands of the person experiencing the art. The government has no place there. Culture is a far more powerful regulator of entertainment than any law could ever be. In other words, if you think a movie is too violent, don’t watch it. If enough people agree with you, that movie will go away, simply because there’s no money to be made from it.
So let’s tread carefully, folks. I know many people are concerned about their constitutional rights lately. A good friend of mine put it this way: Let’s not trade one Amendment for another.
So there it is.
P.S. This is just my opinion. Please don’t hate me for it. I cry when people hate me, and I’m a very ugly crier.