Should We Censor Movie Violence?

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Last week, in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado shooting by James Holmes at the midnight showing of the magnificent film, The Dark Knight Rises, the press called for a closer eye on film violence. Peter Bogdanovich, one of the most overrated filmmakers in modern history, wrote a piece decrying movie violence: “[What happened last weekend was] modern horror. At first, some of the people [at The Dark Knight Rises] thought it was part of the movie. That’s very telling. Violence on the screen has increased tenfold. It’s almost pornographic. In fact, it is pornographic. Video games are violent, too. It’s all out of control. I can see where it would drive somebody crazy.” Bogdanovich made sure to tap the right wing as the source of gun violence in the United States, too: “Politicians are afraid to touch [gun control] because of the right wing. And nothing ever changes. We’re living in the Wild West.”

First off, it’s worthwhile noting that Hollywood, which calls the violence it itself produces “pornographic,” has no problem with actual pornography which it also produces. Secondly, Hollywood isn’t interested in horror movies, which truly are awash in blood and guts. They generally target action movies, which have good guys and bad guys and suggest that bad guys must be dealt with violently from time to time. It’s one thing to let crazies butcher scantily-clad girls on film; it’s another to show Dirty Harry blowing away criminals. The New York Times wrote about Dirty Harry, “It has no pretensions to art; it is a simply told story of the Nietzschean superman and his sadomasochistic pleasures.” The same paper wrote of Saw, “the movie’s picture of two bewildered captives, each shackled by an ankle to a rusty pipe on opposite sides of a filthy subterranean bathroom, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the infamous Iraqi prison photos. The movie does a better-than-average job of conveying the panic and helplessness of men terrorized by a sadist in a degrading environment.”

In other words, random violence is violence with a point; violence in the name of morality is simply evil.

The media has been all-too-eager to pile on to The Dark Knight Rises, largely because it’s a right-wing film. Had James Holmes dressed up as a character from Avatar and gone on a murder spree, would there have been a comparable condemnation of the violence of liberal director James Cameron’s Avatar? Certainly Bogdanovich wouldn’t.

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  • southwood

    This article is a disgrace. The fact is that a film such as "A Clock Work Orange" spawned copycat killings and behavior. The writer questions how much violence stems from movies. Other than finding out which movies every sadist and murderer watches how are we to know / One thing is crystal clear: ideas portayed in films can fire the imagination of filmgoers. I don't watch films anymore but I saw a review of Dark Knight Rises and it sounds like a disgusting level of violence is shown in that film. The serial killer Ted Bundy said he was influenced by pornography to carry out his evil deeds. James Holmes spent all his time watching violent video games. Surely this tells us plenty. Why was it that the explicit violence ( as well as the sex and bad language) of today's movies was never considered, let alone shown in movies of a bygone era. The horror of such things was still sensed but gradually society has become desensitized through introducing explicit sex and violence.

    Shapiro states:

    " So what should be done about movie violence? Not much. Acts of real violence, for instance– snuff films– should not be made, let alone seen. There is a difference between extreme violence and normal film violence. But millions of people see a film, and should filmmakers be held to account for one crazed individual whose pathological trigger is pulled by this film? Should filmmakers worry about the fantasies of the craziest members of society before writing a script? "

    Frankly, this is incredible. Here we have the writer saying it's worth it to make violent movies as long as it's only one crazy guy going on a mass murder and wounding spree because of this film and his video games.

    This article is a liberal whitewash job. It's repugnant. Censorship is needed to say the least.

    • aleric_kong

      Concern understood, however censorship sets a dangerous precedent for the growth of government. Next they will poorly try to regulate all aspects of perceived violence like books, hunting, slaughtering animals, and physical contact sports. It will be ineffective and corrupt and would create worse killers.

      Words of manipulative child killers posses no credibility. Freaks debuted in the 1920s and to me ranks as the most disturbing movie ever made. Sadism has much more to do with bad parenting and drug use than media violence. It's as old as history with psychopaths and killers growing up in childhoods devoid of love and turn into power mad adults craving control.

      This article and your comment forgets the most damaging behavior Hollywood promotes, drug abuse, which does much more harm. Most of the time they show drug use as cute, and The Wire or Traffic are fairy tales which do not even touch the tip of the iceberg of the evils of drug use. Although I disagree with the big government anti-tobacco campaign, those disturbing commercials did present an honest reality of what any drug, including alcohol, does to people.

      • southwood

        Agreed, censorship can be abused but surely the free pass which the entertainment media gets goes too much in the opposite direction. Why was there/is there still any need for censorship ? It is or was to avoid what would give offence. Desensitization has virtually destroyed that. Let me ask you: should books attacking the US constitution be widely used as text books in university ? Laws are used to restrict behavior in the street so why should the arts be exempt. You mention contact sports. Here we have the dilemma of when a foul becomes criminal assault.

        Drug abuse is a major problem. A very good point. It is glamorized by movies and rock stars. How many people took cannabis and LSD because of the Beatles ? Smoking was glamorized by James Bond and such. Alcohol too. I mean what could be cooler than smoking a cigarette and sipping a dry martini while surrounded by beautiful women.

        • banastre tarleton

          There are two types of pornography ; the pornography of sex and the pornography of violence and both bring out the carnal nature of mankind
          Let's face it , civilisation is a slow taming process , not unlike the domestication of animals; the attempt to bring out the ''angels of our better nature '' and repress our atavistic , primal nature…Golding's ''Lord of the Flies '' , Conrad's ''Heart of Darkness '' and Mccarty's ''Blood Meridian '' all ponder this very theme ; the fragility of civilisation and temptation to regress and degenerate back to the beast within
          It was Lenin who said that Cinema is the greatest propaganda device ever created , and so it is ; it can incite , arouse , de-moralise and seduce ; it can appeal to our better nature OR seduce us into violence and evil
          Back in the 18th C , blood sports like Bear Baiting and bullfighting were outlawed in England , not because of ''animal rights '' but because it was clearly bringing out something primal and evil in the spectators

        • aleric_kong

          Bad parenting is more to blame. We are free to present any ideas as long as it is not an active plot to harm others. I could see the censorship committee now, Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer, Charles Schummer, John McCain, Olympia Snow, Joe Liberman, Al Gore. Before I went down that bureaucratic road to hell I would:

          Eliminate social spending, at least make it conditional on sobriety
          Take every truant and send them to military school and send their parents to drug rehab
          Expand conceal carry permits
          Expand federal over site for leftist crime sewers like Chicago, DC, Atlanta and Detroit
          Reform tort so charities aren't sued out of existence by scumbag trial lawyers ie John Edwards conducting seances in front of juries so he can build his million dollar orgy palace.

          • Banastre tarleton

            BAD PARENTING ? hahaha that's something a silly liberal would say …..so I guess Ghengis Khan , the Vikings and the Nazis were all the result of ''bad parenting ''' ….DUDE , you write a load of rubbish

    • Jim_C

      I don't think you take an otherwise upstanding person, show them some violent action films, and turn them into monsters. I think there's a screw loose in them already looking for the final "twist" to become unhinged.

      I look at it this way: everything is "appropriate" subject matter in art. It's just that we're besotted by, and addicted to entertainment; we've culturally lost sight of what "art" is, and celebrate mediocrity, sensationalism, and decadence. Art should bring us closer to our humanity, or point toward the divine in the human spirit. Sometimes violence, and sometimes sex, can be an ingredient. I agree–there's too much of it, used in the place of imagination–but sometimes, it works.

      • southwood

        Sex should not be an ingredient in art. Violence is different. A painting of a great battle is acceptable. Sex is always used unnecessarily.

  • Stephan

    I think it is more complicated (no, not really). What movie critics are doing is something I would call “smoke screen technique”. If there is a movie with a moral message they dislike/hate/do not want to support, then, as seen with Battleship, they talk about the blondness of the love interest instead of Battleship’s patriotism. (They will never say: “We hate patriotism.”) . In TDKR they do not talk about TDKR’s moral values. Instead they talk about/compare the performance of the villains Joker/Bane. (They will never say: “We hate movies in which good fights evil and in which good wins and evil loses.”) Or they “discuss” movie violence.

  • http://www.LifesHaven.net GaryMcAleer

    Two key points on this issue that are not addressed but they should be included in the debate:
    1. Keep children from the violence in movies. Their tender hearts are shocked when they see these levels of violence. They look at their parents who treat it as something normal. We keep 'em from driving cars until their physical coordination is ready. We keep 'em from liquor until they’re emotionally mature and they’re out of college. They need to be happy and free in their childhood and not caught up in the typical pastimes that do nothing to build character or leave a lasting legacy for future generations. He'll have 50+ years to endure life's political and social quagmire once he grows up.
    2. When will the heart of this crime get addressed? This sadistic imbecile Holmes along with the Columbine massacre and a host other insane shootings are all tied to PHARMACEUTICALS! It’s the drugs and the companies who sell them that are destroying the mind and judgment of 100's of 1000's of people. Stupid, arrogant, Constitution-bashing legislators! Their actions prove they are unfit to lead their own lives let alone ours. (Remember, we elected them to prevent the criminal meltdown and the single greatest swindle of American history.)
    How many suicides are associated with anti-depressants, when their whole purpose was to prevent them? I keep hearing news reports about pharmaceutical related crimes and suicides including Mary Kennedy's! Its time to call sin by its right name and assign responsibility for the crimes to those who play key roles in their perpetration. And its not the gun makers or law abiding Americans who admire and respect the Constitution.
    Maybe we can regain some lost ground in common sense and oust the real criminals here, who sell men's lives down the toilet under the guise of virtue and freedom. There’s no freedom at all for those who are victimized by its abuse! If this nation is to survive, Constitutional authority must be restored with criminal punishment assigned to every violator in government, business and law.

  • rogo65

    Ben you're running out of ideas . Not that Hollywood isn't worthy of some criticism nor are those on the right and left to sieze upon convoluted theories after tragedies occur .And EVERY time one of these shootings occur , the same players jump in looking to affix blame .All the time . This article is particularly deceptive in that you claim one thing -it's the shooter alone who bears responsibility -which is correct , but by the end of your article you're right back there blaming the usual suspects . BTW , people thought that noise FROM THE SHOTS FIRED were part of the movie , you left that distinction out .And then you broadbrush Hollywood with that bit about "pornography " . when in fact NONE of the big Movie makers like Paramount , MGM , Orion , and who knows how many sitcoms , or NCIS and the genre DO NOT MAKE pornography . Pornography happens to be the work of some organized [only by trade ] but independent film makers .

  • rogo65

    So the bit on pornography is just part of "the setup " .C'mon Ben ! Deepthroat was produced by a couple of Brooklyn Mobsters , and much of the earlier pornography movies were made in Kentiucky and North Carolina . And why denigrate Bogdonovitch ? All big producers have made blockbusters and bombs .
    Ben , you have exceptional writing skills too bad you use them for propaganda purposes ./

  • clarespark

    Since I wrote my blog on how pundits would respond to the Aurora massacre, it seems that Holmes was indeed psychotic. But the blog is still relevant, for it reported that some pundits would blame Hollywood violence for the crime, and that the event would be assimilated to pre-existent narratives, having to do with the Promethean impulse that created the modern world, not to speak of capitalism or Captain Ahab (the latter anti-statist). See http://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-…. "The cracked and cracking loner as mass murderer."

    • Amused

      Are you just getting that clarespark ? Hows about the "pundits " have their own reality , which exists only in their own minds . [ and of course in their respective right or left echo-chambers ] In the real world the cops hypothetically checking the ID items found on the suspect would happen upon his voter registration card , and ignore the party affiliation , concerned only with a source of identification , WHEREAS , one our partisan denizens [take your pick ] Would say AHA A DEMOCRAT !!! or AHA A REPULICAN !! No wonder , each side looking to hang yet another tag , in this endless pisssing context , on their partisan opposite .

  • tagalog

    Where Peter Bogdanovich goes wrong is in the implications of his claim that action movies dwell on the theme of what is, essentially, vigilante justice outside of the justice system. In real life, the people who do the unlawful killing aren't killing criminals (well, in some cases, they ARE criminals, but they aren't being killed for the reason that they're criminals, but for some other feud-type reason), but instead it's most publicly the innocent victims, as in the Aurora movie theater, who are being slaughtered. In the movies, the vigilantes are almost always virtuous, except for the sub-genre (Magnum Force, The Star Chamber, that Jody Foster movie, quite a few others) that spends its time discussing the ways that vigilante justice can go wrong. Bogdanovich has it backwards: the action movies vindicate the principle that sometimes the justice system results in injustice and then it's up to us to decide whether or not we should administer justice (which belongs to us) ourselves.

    I wholly agree on the gratuitously violent, blood-and-guts graphic horror movies. I stopped watching them long ago for that reason; the violence in them is clearly manufactured for the effect on the audience.

  • oldtimer

    Violent movies may or may not influence peoples actions. But it does seem that since violence on tv and movies has increased, so has violence on the streets. But again, we have not taken into account violent video games, which most likely also have a influence on a mind open to be influenced.

  • mrbean

    The big studios are putting pressure on film-makers not only to avoid any negative or unflattering portrayals of China, but to find ways of working heroic or positive Chinese characters into their movies, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to The Wall Street Journal, China is now the world’s fastest-growing movie market, boosting the Hollywood box office "by as much as $US50 million a film, up from $15 million per film a year earlier. Now we have only good and kindly Chinese Communists, not like thise in reality in China, where they try polyical prisoners in one day, shoot them in the back of the head at dawn, and their families are billed for the bullet and body disposal, after the state has had their organs harvested for transplants.

  • mlcblog

    Mr. Shapiro, I think you are right. I like your stance.

  • Amused

    The truth is movies are movies , they make money at the box office or flop .Gratuitus violence does not always sell .The last Vigilante /Death Wish3 ? or 4 ? was a flop , the movie has to entertain …and sell or it winds up as one of Comcasts free movies .
    If no Aurora shooting , no hue and cry about violence in movies , especially this political finger-pointing . Ironicaly one of the red-meat tossing authors here had it half-right for all the wrong reasons ….since it is impossible him to see but only through his political lense – the satetment was made alluding to different results [hypothetically ] if it was a Woody Allen Movie [code for Liberal ] there would be no one in the audience packing heat to hypothetically stop the shooter , whereas with a tough guy movie , it would be more likely someone in the audience WOULD BE packing heat and may have a shot at the shooter ...how juvenile , how transparently deceptive ! Well guess what - tough guy movie - tough guy part of the country - much more likely to have someone in the audience packing heat ...........the shooter stopped when he was either out of ammo or targets . Authors theory ? Flush it . As I said before No One Outsmarts Crazy ...same as the Gabby Shooting .

  • Amused

    Conclusion – a movie is make believe …just a movie …with ACTORS …..Action and Violence sells at the box office , and homicidal psychotics pick their targets according to their own unscrutable thought process .This particular homicidal maniac just did a bit more planning and decided he would act in the vaine of his chosen target …he would be the Joker and murder people at the Batman movie . Just like guns dont kill people /people do …movies for all their violence

  • Amused

    - movies for all their violence gratuitus or otherwise do no create homicidal maniacs , nor do video games . And clarespark for all her/his academic Promethian mechanisms – people just don't snap ,and turn into homicidal murderers, it's usually a long process ,sometimes short but always caused by trauma visited upon the individual by others or it's congenital or pathologic brain damage . 1 year ago Holmes would be considered the envy of any parent atleast outwardly , nothing wrong with a loner in and of itself . It's common amongst those immersed in studies ,and to even be considered for a PHD program , one must have academic credentials easpecially in Neuro science . No Exuse for his act just an explanationof how a mind can be damaged by incidents , abuse early on in life . For Dhamer it was something so common as the normal trauma associated with children and divorced parents .

  • Amused

    Well Mr.Bean , you can give the credit to Tricky Dick for opening the door , and Saint Reagan for knocking down the door altogether , allowing greedy buisinessmen looking for cheap labor , to make cheap products to sell back or produce for us .[ and dont forget the jobs ]
    I guess what their respective fathers must have taught them was also LOST on them both – "There Ain't No Free Lunch " .

  • Amused

    In fact we did such a good job , that China now can spend almost 30% of their GNP on their Military .