By Tim Arnold
February 13, 2013
It’s doubtful anyone can prove a direct link between “movie violence” and the abhorrent level of murder by guns in the US. But it is certainly part of the reinvigorated and broader debate on gun control following the horrifying mass murders at the Newtown Elementary School – an issue caught in the “cultural violence” element of the debate that also includes video games, television and the like.
Based on my recent movie-going experience, it’s the movie producers and marketers who have themselves to blame for their industry coming under such criticism. It’s one thing to respond to the “dumbing down of America,” or at least the perceived interests of potential movie goers, by creating such a vast array of films that include gratuitous violence, because after all, it’s “good box office.” But it’s quite another to promote these films based solely on the violence they include.
Hear this first: I am a devout defender of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech it guarantees us. I’m a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism master’s program, where we were taught freedom of speech and press (media) is everything. I’ve produced some advertising over a 35-year career that is perhaps vulnerable to criticism (the first GoDaddy Super Bowl commercial). And I’m even “in the film business,” as such – attached to low-budget film that is currently in production.
But I sat through some 25 minutes of upcoming movie trailers this week that, viewed end to end – would rain criticism down on the movie business like a ton of bricks.
Two-and-a-half minute trailers of feature films set for broad release between now and March, sweeping, big-budget films by major studios. My in-theater take away was a blur of spectacular, tumbling, flying, fiery multi-car collisions; savage beatings, facials, knee breakers; people falling several stories, crashing through roofs, smashing on floors; human torture; steroid busting human gorillas – and the endless, exquisitely graphic, macho, multi-round rapid firing carnage from semi and fully automatic guns, rifles, hand guns and assault weapons – all of it hyper-amplified by digital sound, just to make sure you get their point. Second and third viewings of these trailers online only confirmed my initial impression: movie producers and marketers are presenting graphic, multi-cut, bass-heavy music and SFX-driven snapshots of all this violence to sell their movies. I can only assume it’s because it’s the ongoing themes of these films, or at least the plot drivers. Regardless, it’s the focus of their marketing. And I can only assume that that is because it works to attract audiences, or at least they think it will.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first film since Terminator Three – The Last Stand (in between he was a governor…) – focuses on his character, a retired small town sheriff, who mans up to stop a drug kingpin and his gang, and their hostage, from escaping across the border to Mexico. The trailer opens with three knuckleheads blasting away at a side of beef, comparing it to an elephant – the one they presumably would hunt with this same arsenal of savage weapons. Multiple car wrecks (including one traveling 200mph!), huge, fiery explosions, multi-round assault weapons blazing away at who knows who and finally an energized quick-cut sequence of various townies locking and loading various weapons to the hyper sound of exquisite clicks.
Makes me wondering what the hell is going on here? And I’m not alone. Actor-Director Robert Redford used his opening address for this year’s Sundance Film Festival (17 Jan) to call attention to “the prevalence of guns in movie posters and promotional spots,” and “suggested the film business contributes to America’s obsession with firearms. ‘Does my industry think guns sell movies? I think it’s worth asking that question,’ he said.
So do I. And from what I’m seeing the answer is a clear, ‘hell yes.’
But wait, there’s more …
Bullet to the Head stars Sylvester Stallone, who in the opening sequence of the trailer proclaims, “I’m a problem solver. I take out the trash,” as he wastes somebody with a high-powered, long-barrel pistol, and then we see him fire off several more rounds at various … thugs. All of which you’d have to call a fabulous trailer intro if you’re the movie marketer. Then the requisite spectacular explosions, brutal fighting, amplified blows to the heads, all of it rife with automatic weapons. “Bang. Down. Owned,” as Stallone’s character describes his mission in life. And just to be sure we get the studios’ motives, a lead bullet (Hollow point? Round nose? Soft point?) is fired straight at camera, at the audience, ripping through the Warner Brothers, Dark Castle and IM Global logos in rapid-fire sequence.
Are you talkin’ to me? Or the suburban family with two teenaged kids? No, actually they’re talking to 18-24 year olds, the highest per-capita movie attendees in the country (MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics, 2011), and arguably the ones most likely to be influenced by this kind of madness. You know what would really be informative? Conduct surveys of viewers coming out of these movies and get their take on gun control, the NRA, the Second Amendment, background checks, et al. I’m betting there’s a lot to learn about pro and anti-gun control supporters and movie audiences, and their political affiliations. NBC Nightly News reported recently that 55 percent of Republicans compared to 27 percent of Democrats owned guns – which shouldn’t surprise anyone given their respective stances on gun control.
And here’s a related example of the bloodied path the NRA would have us on: the announcement this week that the NRA has its own video game, called “NRA Practice Range,” originally classified for users ages 4 and up, and callously introduced a mere month after the Newtown tragedy. “Players” aim at targets in the shape of coffins, and for an extra $.99 get access to use assault weapons, like the AK-47, and M-11 sniper rifles.
And in response, here comes a video game called “Bullet to the Head of the NRA” – launched on the Dramatica Encyclopedia Forums website this week by someone known only as “gizmo 01942” – which has NRA’s president Wayne LaPiere in the crosshairs of a weapon, and with the click of the mouse the player can “kill” him, and see his head disintegrate in blood (ibid).
Remember – LaPiere steadfastly claims “guns don’t kill people,” and, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, said “… there exists in this country … a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people” in the form of “vicious, violent video games.” Indeed.
But I digress – back to more movie trailers from this week …
The trailer for Parker has two characters dressed as a clown and a priest – that’s reassuring, right? – committing what look like flat out executions; Pain and Gain – based on a true story “… about a couple of Florida steroid-abusing knucklehead body builders who become criminals involved in an extortion ring …”
The upcoming movie, Pain and Gain, includes a mass killing in a Chinese restaurant with assault weapons – a sure fire feel good flick, right?; Dead Man Down offers up what looks like a special break down assault weapon with its own executive-style briefcase, destined to facilitate murder, assassination, torture and massive wreckage in the film because, as it advertises, “Blood Demands Blood;” and on it goes … Broken City, The Call, Oblivion, Dead Man Down – each set to debut between now and March, and each with its own unique version of gun-driven violence. There’s more; these are just trailers I saw at two movies this week.
To be clear: I am not advocating censorship of any kind. The movie industry has a rating system designed to at least address who can see these films in general release. Censorship of any kind has no place in our society, none. But I do wonder just what the hell is going on with all this? Why these kinds of movies have so much appeal? And to who? And where does it all go? How far? And what does it all say about the world we live in? And finally… what impact it has on the grotesque level of murders by guns in the US?
NRA’s LaPiere also claims, “The only way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.” In other words – arm everyone.
It all makes you wonder who will be the last person standing, doesn’t it?