Magazine article The Christian Century

More Than Entertainment

Magazine article The Christian Century

More Than Entertainment

Article excerpt

The shootings in Newtown are old news, but their effects are still on my mind and heart. They've affected the way I see movies. Before Newtown, I probably would have gone to see Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher without hesitating. But now I cringe at the idea, knowing that the film begins with a sniper surveying his targets among civilians. I feel similarly about Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, knowing that it contains stretches of prolific gun violence, a whipping, and the fighting of slaves to the death.

I worry, too, about other films that I would never see but that have reportedly been met with glee by the audiences that have flocked to see them. The lead example here is Texas Chainsaw 3D, which opened little more than a month after the Newtown events. It scored $23 million on its opening weekend. As the antihero Leatherface chops off the hands and feet of his victims, viewers with 3D glasses see (virtually) globs of blood fly from the screen. One film critic reported that during these scenes the theater audience shrieked and sometimes clapped.

One favorite defense of cinematic violence among filmmakers is to draw a line between film entertainment and real-world violence. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, recently argued that fictional violence and Newtown must be kept "separate." He elaborated, "This is entertainment, and the other is a tragedy beyond belief and serious and the real deal."

Similarly, Tarantino was nettled by a journalist who wondered about a connection between movie violence and actual violence. "Don't ask me a question like that," he shot back. "I'm not biting. I refuse your question. ... I'm shutting your butt down."

One problem with the "it's just entertainment" argument is that it radically (if unintentionally) devalues the work filmmakers do. It says that films don't really matter, that they can't affect the way we see and interpret and experience our world. In other words, it denies that films are--or can be--art.

Of course, the relation of art to the real world is complicated and complex. Consuming good art doesn't automatically or necessarily make one a better person. The premier, if hackneyed, example here is that of the Nazis who enjoyed listening to Schubert while operating the concentration camps. …

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