IN YA HEAD: What Are Our Social Responsibilities When It Comes to Violence On Screen?

Posted by Anthony - March 25, 2013 - Panels and Conversations - 3 Comments

So last week I shared Ilya Naishuller’s video, Bad Motherf***er (Insane Office Escape 2) on this blog.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s a very violent Rated “R” action music video that lives up to it’s provocative title.  It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re into that sort of action film, you probably loved it and thought it was very creative and clever.

When I posted a link to the blog post on Facebook an old friend questioned whether the video was “socially responsible” in a post-Newtown world and  I think that’s a very fair and valid question, so wanted to pose the question to a larger audience.

Perhaps I should have, but I honestly hadn’t thought about it in that way at all at the time that I posted it.  I just saw it as a very well-crafted bit of (adult) entertainment making clever use of a GoPro HeroCam.  I see it as pretty much in the same vein as other over-the-top action films like Django Unchained, Kick-AssThe Bourne Supremacy, Scarface and many many others.

As long as I can remember, I have generally enjoyed graphically violent action movies like those above as fun and escapist entertainment… for adults.  And as long as I can remember it’s never made me feel more likely to commit an act of violence.  (On the contrary, I personally feel like the outlet has done more to help me and others release any feelings of violence.)  I certainly have seen movies that were way over my own personal line of what I think is decent, acceptable and responsible.  Rob Zombie’s movie, The Devil’s Rejectsis one such movie that comes quickly to mind.  But I still worry about who gets to draw the line for everyone?

I don’t think anyone’s debating whether we have the right to make, show and enjoy such films and video game images.  That’s pretty much covered in the constitution and previous court battles.   However, I think the particular questions my friend posed are deeper and harder to answer questions of:

  • Should we even make such fare? 
  • Is it irresponsible to put such things out into the universe? 
  • Are we as filmmakers and media consumers doing some deeper harm to our collective psyche? 
  • Are filmmakers who portray graphic violence breeding or spurring on homicidal maniacs?

It’s an easy mental connection to make at first glance, but thusfar I don’t think the science is there to demonstrate that as much as it seems “obvious”.  So no, I don’t think violent movies and video games are the real (or even secondary) problem behind the real violence in America, as much as many may find them distasteful.  Given that our homicide rate is 10-100 times greater than other countries where the exact same violent media is also popular, it’s clear that something else deeper is going on in America that’s contributing to the level of real violence.

Evenso, that still leaves the larger core question here – Should we make such images?  

  • What  (if any) responsibilities do you think we have to society as filmmakers when it comes to violence in movies? 
  • Is there a place for such films in our society?  What is it? 
  • How do you decide what content is too graphic or violent for you to portray as a filmmaker?  
  • To consume as a viewer? Do you consume violent media?  Why or why not? 

These are serious social, moral and personal questions that some filmmakers grapple with and others ignore.  I personally, believe these questions have to be answered on a project-by-project, scene-by-scene basis. What’s acceptable for one film, character or scene, may be completely wrong for another.

I certainly don’t pretend have a concrete answer to such complex questions, but I’m interested in hearing anyone elses thoughts on the subject and offering up this post as a space for filmmakers and film fans to weigh in with their opinions.  I’m likely to stay on the fence trying to mentally balance what’s right for storytellers, our stories, our art, our audience and our society.

Eventhough I have no plans to ever make one, no doubt I’ll continue to enjoy watching violent action films.  However, as one of my colleagues is fond of saying, “I’m willing to be convinced” one way or the other.  So holla back below if YOU have something to say on the subject of creating and consuming violent images.

(*Please keep the debate intelligent and respectful.  Rude and inappropriate comments will NOT be approved.)

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  • atom says:

    I think that movies are meant to step out of the real world and put yourself into a world you cant imagine. horror,action,gore,comedy are all things that make the world go round. if filmmakers dont put these on screen we will still see them on the news and other media outlets.

  • Zubin says:

    Even some of the most beautiful explosions and deaths and violence I have seen has never incited me to do any of it. The fact that i used beautiful to describe it, itself means something. But yes I believe in today’s age you cant control what you want your kids to watch. But you can only make sure that you spend more time with them and in a way supervise what they watch will help better. Violence is not a means to an end-it is but an extension to the inner alter ego of man- ‘ANIMAL’.

  • Here’s the internal conflict…Parental side vs. Business side vs. Spartacus on Starz.

    The conservative parent in me continues to ask, “why all the violence.” Followed by the BS generational parental, “when I was growing up…” The business side, “violence, on the web = more viewers. Make sure it’s within the context of the story.” But when I watch Spartacus, it’s totally caveman, give me more, “aaahhh. You see that. Rewind. And play in slow motion.”

    I’ve always pushed for warning the intended viewers, giving adults better and improved parental control, household personal responsibilities, and just flat-out disconnecting reality from fiction…it’s called ENTERTAINMENT for a reason.

    Not all entertainment is suppose to be or should be socially responsible. That’s so boring. I personally want a mix. I want the Sally Do Good Stuff. Stories about struggles and triumphs. But I also want the blood and guts (without kids around). Social responsibility has it’s own category. In this case, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with silos.

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