On the morning of Wednesday, 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, a middle-aged man with no criminal record, walked into the primary school in the small Scottish town of Dunblane, shot sixteen children and a teacher and then killed himself. It was a deeply disturbing incident and, although there was no evidence that he had a particular interest in watching screen violence, it prompted a rash of commentary condemning the morality of popular film and television. Here is Andrew Neil, writing in the Sunday Times:
There are some crimes so horrific that they make us all wonder what kind of country we have become… It should be cause for concern that, in the values and mores of modern society, we have created a quagmire from which monsters are bound to emerge…far too much of what passes for popular entertainment pollutes our society and creates a new tolerance in which what was thought to be beyond the pale becomes acceptable. Young minds are particularly vulnerable.
(Neil, 1996, p. 5)
An almost identical catalogue of complaint followed two other traumatic events of recent years: Michael Ryan's random shootings in Hungerford and the brutal murder of 2-year-old James Bulger by two boys of 10. Again, although there was no firm evidence of direct 'effects' in either case, screen violence was singled out as a major contributory cause. In recent discussions, a small number of films containing scenes of violence have come to stand for the state of contemporary cinema. Quentin Tarantino's début feature Reservoir Dogs has been a particular target. One popular cartoon, which appeared in the wake of the intense debate on the James Bulger case, showed two children sitting in front of a television set displaying the film's title. One is turning to the other saying: 'Let's go and drown some puppies.'