The best way for us as a nation to show support for those suffering from the tragedy in Sandy Hook, or Aurora, or Happy Valley, or for that matter, the other similar, but smaller, gun-related attempts as mass killings this year (and there were more than ten others) is to to start a meaningful discussion where everyone listens.
Does the violence in American movies and television and worse, video games, contribute to a culture where violence is commonplace?
Now, I know, I’ve just lost my filmmaker friends. But before you stop reading, I’m looking at all sides, here.
For instance, it’s worth pointing out that Japan has virtually eliminated all gun related deaths, by, no surprise, making gun ownership illegal. Some years the number of gun-related homicides is as low as two per year. (See The Atlantic Monthly) Where as in the United States, where guns are legal, we average almost 90 gun-related-deaths a day.
And now I’ve just lost my NRA readers. And that’s the problem with the discussion. There is none. It’s a yelling match, where no one listens and thinks.
Guns don’t kill people… Well, perhaps. But at the same time, with the same argument, movies don’t kill people either. Guns have a right to exist, some argue. According to a piece in today’s New York Times, the new language used to discuss the issue is “gun rights.” As if, guns, like corporations, are people, and have rights too.
I joke, but these are serious issues.
Now, before I take on the movie’s role in this, I do think there’s a compelling point made with the argument that when the framers of the constitution gave its citizens the right to keep and bear arms, we were using muskets, which can fire, at best, once a minute. Certainly those are different weapons than a semi-automatic. Taken to it’s furthest extreme, if an “arm” in 1776 was a musket, and gun advocates argue that an “arm” in 2012 is a semi-automatic, doesn’t it follow that in 2022, when pocket nuclear bombs exist, we should be able to carry one of those ~ as guaranteed by the Second Amendment? Is that what WE want?
And do we really believe that if in any of these horrible events, if the teachers, and in this case, the children, had been carrying guns this would not have happened?
Now, what about the First Amendment which essentially guarantees me the right to make a movie about whatever I want. So let’s say I want to make a movie about a cool hip guy who goes around killing people for fun. It might be called, Super Ultra Violence 3D. Do I have the right to do it?
Keep in mind, people who die in the movies are only actors after all, and I hope I don’t ruin the illusion when I tell you that the actors who get shot in the movies don’t really die, they pretend to die. When the director yells “cut” the actors get up, unhurt.
Maybe that is a difference between movie gun battles and real ones.
But what if the violence in movies, pretend as it is, puts an idea in someone’s head. What then?
If artists are the cutting edge of thought in a society, (the Engineer of Human Souls as Stalin said, in reference to writers) what are we saying by continually producing such extremely violent media-art. If artists are instead, simply reflecting the values of the society in which they live, what does that say about us as a society?
Why are video games so violent? Why do extremely violent movies usually do so well at the box office? Keep in mind Movie Moguls make what sells, or at least they try to. Why does the MPAA regularly rate very violent movies PG or PG-13 and movies that deal responsibly with love and sex as “R”. It is the opposite in Europe, by the way. And there, they have fewer gun deaths.
And what about those Romans and their lions? Perhaps, “The fault… is not in our stars,
But in ourselves…”
Consider this, (paraphrasing from an uncredited comment I saw on Facebook) The First Amendment guarantees Freedom Of Speech, but you can’t yell “Fire-Fire” in a crowded theater (so claimed Oliver Wendell Holmes) nor can you issue certain threats or defame someone. We have the right of Freedom of Association, but we can’t associate with terrorists, and, even though we’ve Freedom of Religion, we can’t make human sacrifices in the name of our religion. EVERY right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is subject to limits when those rights infringe on either national security or human life. All, that is, except the 2nd. Guns BY THEIR VERY EXISTENCE threaten life. They exist for no other purpose other than to cause death or grave bodily harm or the threat thereof.
So what is the answer? I don’t know. I do know that the only way we as a society will find it is if we have a meaningful discussion about it.
A discussion about the proper role of guns in out society, about the role of the media and entertainment, and most importantly a discussion of our values and what we hold most dear.
And often what we seem to hold dear, is just the bottom line.
My prayers and thoughts to the thousands who are suffering this weekend .
Comments are always welcome.