Friday, January 25, 2013

The Gun Show: Should Movies be any part of America's debate on gun violence?

In the constant drone of cable news and in hushed conversations on the back lots and secluded offices of Hollywood studios, the debate has begun, again.

It's an unavoidable point of discussion. A sign of the times.

It is a debate that spurs far more questions than answers. Questions that build, one to the next, with increasing intensity and complexity.

For this post, it begins here: Should movies be part of today's gun debate? I wish I could simply answer no.

As a writer and a movie fan, that's what I believe. That, regardless of perception, entertainment is just that and nothing more. Storytelling. Not propaganda, not soapbox, not a mood altering, visceral attempt at persuasion. Except, that movies are, and have been, all of that.

In a sane world, a reasonable world, my opinion is clear. Entertainment, no matter how provocative, should not be censored. Why defer that choice to someone else's sensibilities when you have the power of personal censorship within your own control? Shut it off, don't see it, don't buy it, don't consume it, don't promote it. Each to his or her own.

However, movies are entertainment and entertainment is experiential. And while the experience is individual, I recognize that the potential impact of the experience is collective. And so, regardless of my view, I agree that movies have entered the debate with reason.

But is that debate purposeful or is it overreaching? Should we consider the impact of only movies? Or should we discuss TV shows, books, journalism, 24 hour cable news, conversations at the water cooler, political email blasts, web blogs, or any spontaneous consumption of public information? Before the debate can be substantive, is there even agreement on its scope?

Should we explore the perception of incitement? Are violent movies an instigation or only an artistic representation of American culture, not influencing, but rather influenced by, the violence we seem resigned to accept in every day life? Did the movie or the violent act come first?

An examination then of subject? Can you tell stories of the old west, the 40's era of Chicagoland prohibition, or a modern day bank heist without guns in the film frame? Or do we cease telling those stories?

Should we sanitize the images of weapons to look somehow less lethal? Should a bullet striking a person not draw blood? Do we more inadvertently desensitize death by making it sterile or a bloody, gory mess?

If you find that you've been rattling off quick answers, you're not part of the solution, if there is one. Rather, I would hope, you're realizing the complexity and depth of the issues that these questions barely scratch.

Now take another step into the difficulty of this issue. We are looking at a genuine life and death debate. Albeit, one that raises issues of freedom, censorship, constitutional rights, and the civil liberties that are cornerstone to our democracy. And we are looking through reasoned but passionately opinionated eyes. All while we are attempting to legislate insanity.

How and to whom do you affix responsibility? Is a film that depicts gun violence as an intolerable crime acceptable, while a film that shows slaughter with indiscrimination and sensationalized imagery an outrage? Can we say that there is a discernible difference to the mind of a sociopath? Can images on a theater screen be any influence at all to a mind fogged with hatred, paranoia or delusion?

Is there anyway to put a trigger guard on someone hell bent to kill? Can a mere movie push an individual committed to violence, to ultimately act? And if so, how does a movie produced to entertain, mutate into the motivation to take life? Does storytelling of a violent nature unintentionally and unavoidably condone violence in its telling?

Movies are part of the gun debate. But should they be? Is their inclusion in America's gun violence debate only a sideshow? A diversion from focusing on the more requisite discussions at hand. Intelligent debate regarding the proliferation of high-capacity ammunition magazines, semi-automatic firearms, limits and registrations and the repair of our mental health system, all hold the potential for far more direct impact.

Are we looking at movies because it is simply an easier topic?

To engage in a conversation that is more readily controlled and contained, rather than confront the line in the sand drawn by gun activists who would wage a virtual arms war, as preparation to defend themselves from their own self-elected government?

Is it possible to have a truthful and reasonable debate about ending the mass destruction of life and lives by gun violence in America? Or will Americans settle instead, into a debate about violence in our culture? Specifically a movie culture, that is now exported globally more widely than in any other time in history. Yet the violence remains, overwhelmingly, America's problem.

Is America's debate on gun violence then, nothing more than a Gun Show? A transparent soothing of nerves without substance or effect? And if so, how should it influence reasonable people to act? To so very many questions, most certainly, movies are not at the core of any of the answers we continue to struggle toward. To use a film production term, we need to pull focus. Now.

Movie posters are for current releases and are used through the curtesy of their studios. No indication of their story content is implied.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the fact that movies are made to entertain and that they should not be brought into the gun control debate. If someone is angry, upset, or driven to do something bad in this world, seeing a movie will not persuade them to do otherwise. I would also agree with the fact that if we limit the rounds in a gun or the types of guns someone can purchase - evil will still find a way. That person who is angry, upset, or driven will still find his/her way to commit a crime against others. I agree that movies shouldn't be a part of the debate but I feel that tougher laws on guns aren't the answer either. (Even though I don't own a gun and could care less if they made the laws tougher) The major problem in this crazy world is getting the appropriate help for those that need help. Mental health is key. Parents that are present and aware are key!

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