Joe Scarborough: “Entertainment moguls do not have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America.”
So can anyone point to movies, television shows, video games, etc., that explicitly glorify and/or endorse murder, as opposed to depicting it? (This is aside from the rather important question of whether any particular piece of media spurred a person to commit a violent act.)
Sure, there are lots of movies, television shows, video games, etc., that depict murders, and there are quite a few in which the protagonist or hero murders others. But there are very, very few in which the protagonist murders “innocent” people and is still supposed to be seen as heroic by the audience. Our cultural sensibilities – even in godless, hedonistic, depraved Hollywood – won’t allow us to see the intentional killing of innocent people as consistent with a heroic character.*
I asked on Twitter for examples of movies in which murder was not merely depicted, but celebrated and glorified.
The first suggestion was the television series “Dexter”, which I admit I haven’t watched. The knew the protagonist was “a serial killer who targets other serial killers who have evaded the police,” but apparently he has killed innocent people to cover up his crimes.
(I think some of the later portrayals of Hannibal Lecter may best fit the description of “glamorizing” an irredeemable, indisputably evil and murderous character as a hero, and may be the best example of Hollywood’s creative class reaching a total moral inversion. But I’m skeptical that either of the little-watched 2001 film “Hannibal” or the 2007 film “Hannibal Rising” are guilty of any crime to our society beyond fleecing gullible film-goers.)
Another person nominated the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” films, but I think that’s perhaps a perfect example of the “moral context” I’m talking about: Charles Bronson seems to shoot every mugger in late-1970s New York City after his wife is murdered and his daughter is raped. We can argue whether the muggers he encounters deserve to be shot for their actions, but Bronson’s character’s violent acts are only in response to those who threaten him or others.
Others suggested mob movies, but even there most of the portrayals (The Godfather series, HBO’s “The Sopranos”) often depict the strange code of honor among the mobsters, in that they’re not supposed to kill “civilians” (those not in the mob) and a common plot is the gangsters hoping to avoid an all-out gang war.
Some pointed to the “Call of Duty” video game franchise, although they started out as a World War Two combat game and have moved on modern or slightly futuristic settings. In those, the player is playing the role of a soldier and the antagonists are ultra-nationalist Russians and Middle East radicals. I fail to see how modern portrayals of good soldiers killing evil men is somehow more psychologically dangerous to view than, say, John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movies.
What kind of depictions of violence in media spur “mayhem in young minds”? The Star Wars movies? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Ben 10?
Lurking behind these arguments of “glorifying violence” is the matter of taste and sensibility; some works linger upon the terrible deeds of their villains to emphasize their moral degeneracy. Some audiences can appreciate it as part of the context of the story, others can’t. Very few people believe that the media they choose to consume is the type that manufactures murderers; it’s the television shows, movies, and video games of other people that ought to be banned for the good of society.
Of course, some depictions of violence will be inappropriate for young viewers; that’s why we have movie, game, and television ratings and parental discretion is advised. But I think Scarborough is attacking a foe that doesn’t really exist. There is no “In the Mouth of Madness“-style piece of work that we can identify as the trigger of murderous rampages. The world would be an easier place to live in if we could find those works and ban them.
Unfortunately, as we look at the shooters of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tuscon, and Newtown, we see intense mental problems in which any one of a wide variety of factors could have spurred the decision to slaughter others.
We’re fools if we decide to empower government to limit the creative arts depending upon what they think will cause a murderous rampage in disturbed minds already inclined to lashing out in that manner. It would make as much sense as banning dogs because David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer, believed that his neighbor’s dog was telling him to kill young women.
And while some might argue that self-censorship is a better option, I don’t want our storytellers in any medium limiting their work by thinking, “what will the murderously disturbed take away from it?”
(*I suppose I should specify “intentional”; one of the funnier bits of dialogue in Kevin Smith’s movie “Clerks” is speculation about the civilian contractors killed in “Star Wars” when the Rebels blow up the Death Star.)