Movie Violence and Social Responsibility Directors Should Recognize the Emotional Power Films Exert, and Make Movies to Defuse Violence

By David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

Movie Violence and Social Responsibility Directors Should Recognize the Emotional Power Films Exert, and Make Movies to Defuse Violence


David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


ALTHOUGH I'm prepared to argue rather loudly that violent movies do trigger aggressive behavior in people, particularly many young men and children, some film critics, studio executives, and directors say this isn't so.

Essentially they reason as follows:

(1) Some movies with violence in them like "Juice,New Jack City,Boyz N the Hood" (and even "Terminator 2") actually offer messages of anti-violence or social redemption. They can't be blamed for the murders and violence that occur at theaters when the movies open. One critic wrote, "How can a group be incited by watching what they are already living?" Others say violent movies shouldn't be blamed when individuals see movies and commit "copy-cat" crimes.

(2) Violent movies are cathartic and relieve some viewers of violent tendencies. Society is violent; people can be nasty, and movie violence stems violent urges.

(3) Movies are a business. If audiences stopped buying tickets to violent films, such films wouldn't be made.

(4) Any kind of mandated censoring of violent movies, or other explicit movies, would deny First Amendment rights. The movie-rating code helps parents decide what is suitable for children. Adults, of course, may see whatever they want.

Assuming that it is hard to agree on a definition of a "violent" movie, here are some responses to the above four points.

First, no proof exists that violent movies are cathartic. Hundreds of conclusive studies done by professional and educational institutions over the last decade link aggressive and violent behavior to violent movies seen in theaters or on TV. The evidence is overwhelming.

For instance, the staff of Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois, in formulating a proposal (the Television Violence Act), found 85 studies connecting aggressive acts to children and TV violence.

It is not necessarily one movie by itself that triggers violent, aggressive behavior (although this does happen); it is more often the accumulation of hundreds of powerful images seen in dozens of movies that shapes negative aspects of behavior.

Not a single study suggests that all people react the same way to violent movies; but all together the studies present an alarming picture.

Under the guise of entertainment, society is experiencing the subjugating of innocence, reason, and kindness in many people to aggression and killing as acceptable norms.

The rating code for movies no doubt helps some parents select appropriate movies for children. …

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