Boiling Point

In the wake of the most recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, where a gunman murdered twenty-seven people, many of them children, people look first for answers and second for responsibility. What caused this event and who is to blame? It doesn’t take long for people to point the blame at things they don’t understand: guns, video games, movies.

As objects can’t bear responsibility for actions, being inanimate, I’ve always considered this to be a silly, borderline maddening ordeal. When looking to lay blame, we should look for people, not things. But, none the less, in the world of an ever-present, ever-on media, there is bound to be rampant speculation and accusations against the things many of us love.

Even some within the system, like Django Unchained star Jamie Foxx, have allowed some blame to be set upon violence in Hollywood films. Does fictional violence cause real world action? Is entertainment to blame for real world tragedy?

In a word, no.

On Saturday, Foxx said the following in an interview: “We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence.”

I would disagree with the specific statement, but not necessarily the sentiment. Film, television, and any other form or art, whether it’s a painting, a radio broadcast, or a play, can create powerful emotions in people. I know that movies have inspired me in many ways, sometimes to change my course of action. Whether it’s getting a better understanding of an emotion, deciding to look further into a topic, or attempting to get my life on a better track, film, music, and other forms of entertainment can be very inspirational.

But what happens in these instances is that entertainment often spurs on something that is already there. If I’m interested in getting in shape, watching Spartacus might motivate me into the gym a bit more. But if you have no interest in getting in shape, it doesn’t matter how many Arnold Schwarzenegger films you watch, you’re never going to get his physique.

Violence, then, does not spur non-violent people on to action. Could someone who is prone to violence already be pushed over the edge by seeing violence? Unlikely, actually. There are plenty of studies and books on the topic, which often reach the conclusion that violence in media helps release tension in a safe manner via film and video games, rather than in a deadly manner in the real world.

You can check out The Lust for Blood or any similar book and read that for yourself.

It’s like a logic problem: Not everyone who watches violent films becomes violent, but all violent people watch violent films. That’s not even true, since there have been plenty of seemingly normal people who have just snapped, but the point is just because someone watches violent movies or plays violent video games, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to commit violence. Likewise, if someone has committed violence, you can’t point to something in their past and definitively blame that one thing. It’s all more complex than that.

Personally, I watch all kinds of fucked up horror films full of violence. I watch action movies where dozens of people get blown away. And yet, I’ve never committed a violent crime. I don’t kick puppies. Hell, I pick up earth worms from the concrete and move them to the grass to prevent them from drying out in the sun. When I’m done with that, I might kill 150 people in two hours of video game playing with knives, guns, and bombs. They’re all unrelated.

Does Hollywood have influence? Sure. Movies are powerful tools to communicate a message – but even acknowledging that, almost no movie ever preaches violence against innocents as anything other than repugnant. Those are the bad people – Hollywood shows as much.

Assigning blame to violent media is just that -assigning blame. When something that is virtually incomprehensible happens, we search for a way to comprehend it – and simply. It’s a lot easier to blame movies, video games, and other inanimate objects than to ask what really makes a person do something terrible. What could we have done, as a society, to prevent a person from making that decision? Blaming Hollywood or guns or this or that is blaming tools, blaming methods, but coming nowhere close to the origins of the issue.

I love movies. I love fantasy. Like most people, I can keep fantasy separate from reality. There are thousands of movies released every year with billions of viewers – occasionally, someone who has some  connection to something does a bad thing – but that’s just because the world is so interconnected. We all watch TV, movies, news. We all use Twitter, Facebook, microwaves. These objects do not control us and to blame them is bullshit. The world is fucked up, sometimes. People do fucked up shit, sometimes. Rather than try to blame something exterior to the situation, why not look for real answers?

Why not try to identify things earlier?

The world can be crazy, so can people. We’re never going to predict or prevent all bad things from happening and we must always be weary of sacrificing things in some vain attempt to do so. Restricting violent movies and video games won’t stop a sick or terrible person from doing something terrifying and to place the blame where it doesn’t belong pushes me past my boiling point.


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