In 2007, Mike White, producer, director, and actor wrote a compelling Op-Ed in The New York Times in response to the shooting in Virginia that killed 32 members of the Virginia Tech community.
White, who has directed, written and/or produced films and TV series such as Freaks and Geeks, School of Rock and The Good Girl (and also competed on The Amazing Race alongside his dad) wrote a moving exploration of the role that media violence plays in encouraging violence in young American men. The Op-Ed is a great, easy read that everyone should check out but I will excerpt a few paragraphs as starting points for the conversation about how media violence influences real-life violence:
The first movie I ever made was called “Death Creek Camp.” It told the age-old story of a group of teenage guys who set out on a fun-filled wilderness excursion only to be stalked and murdered by a psychopath disguised in a hockey mask and a blue kimono. It was no masterpiece of cinema… I was 12.
The inspirations for this home movie (and the centerpieces of many Saturday night sleepovers) were slasher films like “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween” and “Terror Train.” My friends and I would eat junk food, drink soda and watch these cinematic bloodbaths until we dozed off, visions of gore and mayhem dancing in our heads.
Even though we all came from religious families — my father was a minister — it was rarely questioned whether our adolescent minds should be exposed to this kind of gruesome material. And clearly, we were the intended audience. My parents never sat and watched, nor did my sister, for that matter. The movies were titillating, shocking and dumb — and we teenage boys thought they were so cool. We devoured them and they, in turn, juiced us up.
White goes on to describe how Americans, reflecting on the tragedy at Virginia Tech, were searching their souls and our culture to try to figure out what may have motivated the shooter. Filmmakers and other producers of media had to ask themselves if somehow they may have been responsible.
These commentators insist there’s no point debating which came first, the violent chicken or her violent representational egg, since no causal link has ever been proven between egg and chicken anyway. Besides, violent images can be found everywhere — on the news, in great art and literature, even Shakespeare!
For those who believe that violence in cinema consists of either harmless action spectacles or Martin Scorsese masterpieces, I might suggest heading down to the local multiplex and taking a look at some of the grotesque, morbid creations being projected on the walls. To defend mindless exercises in sadism like “The Hills Have Eyes II” by citing “Macbeth” is almost like using “Romeo and Juliet” to justify child pornography.
Mike calls on his fellow Hollywood bigwigs and asks them to take a moment to search their souls:
Most of us who chose careers in this field were seduced by cinema’s spell at an early age. We know better than anyone the power films have to capture our imaginations, shape our thinking and inform our choices, for better and for worse. At the risk of being labeled a scold — the ultimate in uncool — I have to ask: before cashing those big checks, shouldn’t we at least pause to consider what we are saying with our movies about the value of life and the pleasures of mayhem?
What do you think of White’s challenge to fellow screenwriters?
Is it true that “movies don’t kill people, people kill people” or is that an oversimplification of a much more complicated relationship between boys, media, mental illness and violence?
Or is the focus upon media and guns as the reasons for the horrific mass-killings at the hands of young men a red herring, intended to distract us from digging into the meat of what is happening with young men in our society?
Read Mike White’s “Making a Killing” in the New York Times
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