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Issue #1621      December 4, 2013

Culture & Life

Movie violence and celebrating WW1

According to a new study of American movies aimed at children, the level of gun violence in films rated PG-13 (parental guidance recommended for children under 13) has more than tripled since 1985.

Liam Neeson in Taken 2 – a very violent film but still getting a PG-13 rating.

PG-13 movies are big business in the US. The seven top-grossing movies last year were all rated PG-13, and PG-13 movies took in US$5.7 billion at the box office – more than 50 percent of total box office revenue – despite being less than 20 percent of the titles released.

Clearly, action sells, and especially action with violence. Dan Romer, one of the authors of the study and Director of the Adolescent Communication Institute at the Annenberg Public Policy Centre, acknowledged this, saying: “Violence sells. We recognise that, and the movie industry realises it.” Critics of the rating system in the USA say it is tougher on sex than it is on violence. “It’s disturbing that PG-13 movies are filled with so much gun violence”, says Romer. “We know that movies teach children how adults behave, and they make gun use appear exciting and attractive.”

Apparently conscious that opposing guns and gun violence in the US is like pushing excrement uphill with a stick, Romer concluded rather wistfully, “We just think that violence, especially the kind being shown with guns, should be thought of a little more critically.”

The question of the extent to which viewing action movies involving gun violence actually influences violent behaviour has been argued for decades, ever since Porter’s The Great Train Robbery in the early 1900s. Today, debating the merits or otherwise of letting young people watch simulated gun killings in cinemas seems moot when the lobbies of those cinemas, and the amusement arcades to be found in most of the shopping complexes associated with them, feature electronic and very cinematic “games” where the kids not only see shootings but actually learn how to stand and aim and shoot to kill lifelike “baddies” in large numbers.

However, to blame violence in the movies for violence in real life is simplistic and diverts attention from the real causes. Chris Ferguson, the Chair of the Psychology Department at Stetson University in Florida, believes that blaming the movies distracts people from “more probable causes of gun violence like poverty, educational disparities and mental health”.

In the USA, where the various police forces all share a common behaviour pattern, that of an army of occupation keeping the poor (especially the coloured poor) under control, and where it is known that the justice system treats the rich very differently to the poor, respect for law and order is minimal at best.

Nevertheless, the commonsense reaction of most people – that viewing copious numbers of violent deaths nightly for “entertainment” cannot be socially healthy – is almost certainly true. It is the conclusion that is generally drawn from this that is questionable: watching action films will probably not make you want to go and kill someone with a gun.

But if you are raised on a diet of TV and movies in which the problems of life are routinely solved by resorting to violence and “blowing the bad guys away”, you are more likely to think that that is how the problems of life should be tackled. And if things don’t go your way and your life reaches some sort of climax, the desperate gesture of “taking your guns to town” and confronting everyone who could be seen as your “enemy” becomes reasonable, even romantic.

Knowing who are the real villains in society, knowing why social problems arise and having confidence in the might of the people to overcome them is the reason very few Communists ever run riot in a shopping mall with a gun. It is a phenomenon that is firmly rooted in the ethos of capitalism.

Speaking of gun violence, next year is the anniversary of the outbreak of WW1, and already the ruling class is preparing to celebrate the occasion with literally all flags flying. British PM David Cameron has announced a budget of millions of pounds to “mark the anniversary” and has compared it to the celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee. But not everyone – thankfully – sees the Great War as a cause for celebration. One of those is the senior interviewer for the BBC’s Newsnight program, Jeremy Paxman.

Appearing on Graham Norton’s chat show, Paxman snorted: “Only a complete idiot would celebrate such a calamity. Three quarters of a million men never came back to this country. Millions of men served. Millions of men were wounded mentally and physically. No one would celebrate that. It was just Cameron’s clumsy use of language.”

Even with Paxman’s caveat that “it was just Cameron’s clumsy use of language”, Downing Street was outraged and demanded an apology from the BBC staffer. “Mr Paxman should make a full and public apology for his comments. He should make it clear to BBC viewers and license fee payers that his remarks were inaccurate and ill-founded. This sneering and aggressive approach is one of the reasons many people are put off politics.”

Note that the substantive issue – whether the slaughter of WW1 in pursuit of markets and colonies was something to celebrate – was ignored by Downing Street’s rep (a senior aide, Rob Wilson, MP) in order to concentrate on taking umbrage that Paxman implied that Cameron was a “complete idiot”.

As for the reasons many people are put off politics, I suggest that has a lot more to do with Cameron’s complete indifference to the plight of the poor in Britain and his obvious intention to create a lot more of them. His government’s harsh “austerity measures”, their attacks on disabled people (taking away disabled parking rights, for heaven’s sake), the arrest of a woman demonstrator for displaying a banner accusing the Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith of having “blood on his hands”, and recent UK police actions against the high profile campaigning group Disable People Against the Cuts, not to mention attacks by security agencies on the press seeking unchecked and unfettered access to all electronic communications.

Cameron is not an idiot, he is just anti-working class.

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