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Foul Whisperings: Hollywood's Liberal Use Of Violence Makes It the Modern Lady MacBeth

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Some liberals are attempting to co-opt the tragic Aurora massacre. As the San Francisco Chronicle observes:

Each time there is a mass killing on American soil, the angry sound bites about gun control start long before funeral services are scheduled. The frustrated proponents of strict gun laws see each new tragedy as vindication of their views and as political opportunity.

It would show far more integrity for liberals to point their fingers at the real culprit here and their own partner in crime: liberal Hollywood. The liberal call for gun control is not unlike Lady Macbeth muttering “Out, damned spot” in an attempt to expiate herself from complicity with murder.

Will the liberals prove akin to Macbeth, who is, as summarized by Wikipedia, “racked with guilt and paranoia … forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion. The bloodbath swiftly takes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into realms of arrogance, madness, and death”?

We soon will find out. As the Los Angeles Times observed in a July 28th piece entitled Hollywood Trying to Avoid Villain Role in Film Violence:

Kurt Sutter, the writer-producer of such TV shows as”Sons of Anarchy” and “The Shield,” … “Woke up to the news about shooting,” he said in a Twitter message last Friday after 12 people were killed and 58 injured. “This kinda thing always makes me question my liberal use of violence in storytelling.”

All over Hollywood, studio executives, filmmakers and other entertainment professionals were having similar conversations. But few were willing to talk on the record, fearing that their comments may suggest a link between violence and violent images that has not been empirically established.

And then there is this: Violence is good for the box office. Talking about corporate responsibility to tone down on-screen aggression could leave executives open to accusations of hypocrisy when they release their next blood-soaked blockbuster.

Fearing that their comments may suggest a link between violence and violent images that has not been empirically established? Not so fast.

Hollywood wishes to weasel out of blame. Of course. However, the connection between violent “entertainment” and real violence is not new news. In 2009 CBS presented a piece headlined Study, TV Violence Begets Violence:

… L. Rowell Huesmann and colleagues at the University’s Institute for Social Research…. said televised violence suggests to young children that aggression is appropriate in some situations, especially when it’s used by charismatic heroes. It also erodes a natural aversion to violence, he said.

He recommended that parents restrict viewing of violent TV and movies by toddlers through pre-teens as much as possible.

[M]en who had scored in the top 20 percent on childhood exposure [to high violence shows] were about twice as likely as other men to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their wives during an argument in the year preceding the interview. Women in the top 20 percent were about twice as likely as other women to have thrown something at their husbands.

“They report having punched, beaten or choked another adult at over four times the rate of women who were not exposed to media violence,” said McIntyre…

Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said not all studies find a relationship between TV viewing and violent behavior, and “I think the jury is still out about whether there is a link.”

The American Psychological Association, however, has concluded that viewing violence on TV or other mass media does promote aggressive behavior, particularly in children.

Hardly anyone but the most venally motivated disputes that “a link between violence and violent images” has “been empirically established.” A leading meta-analysis published in Communication Research reviews dozens of analyses. A 2008 study published by The American Behavioral Scientist, Media Violence: Is There a Case for Causality is representative:

Fifty years of research on the effect of TV violence on children leads to the inescapable conclusion that viewing media violence is related to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behaviors. The changes in aggression are both short term and long term, and these changes may be mediated by neurological changes in the young viewer. The effects of media violence are both real and strong and are confirmed by the careful reviews of research evidence by various scientific and professional organizations that are concerned with children’s mental health and development.

Hollywood isn’t the first industry, in the face of absolutely damning evidence, to take pusillanimous refuge in a “the jury is still out” defense. Will the MPAA go the way of the Tobacco Institute?

So, what to do?

This writer is a civil liberties fundamentalist. He takes the Bill of Rights seriously and is an unapologetic defender of freedom of speech and press — the First Amendment — and the right to bear arms— the Second Amendment. Much of the nobility of America lies in our taking our civil liberties seriously. Those “frustrated proponents of strict gun laws [who] see each new tragedy as political opportunity” should be ashamed of themselves for opportunistically attempting to erode our Constitutional rights.

So censorship is out. Censorship even of a cynical, corrupt, greed-driven industry like Hollywood would, unacceptably, risk a ban on production of, for example, the bloody tragedy of Macbeth. It would put at risk many other classics. Romeo and Juliet — a cultural treasure — is about street gangs, murder, vengeance, teen lust, defiance of parental authority, drugs, and suicide.

Yet neither liberty nor opposition to censorship vindicates the abdication of social responsibility. There is a ready, waiting, and very appropriate mechanism available for the “entertainment” industry to police itself: a serious-minded upgrade of the MPAA rating system. Rate the kind of graphic violence that damages children NC-17.

The literature on the violence-inducing effects of violent “entertainment” is unequivocal: high violence damages impressionable children and youth. Youth is a factor of neuroplasticity and the process of cultivating decency. One of the poignant vignettes of the Aurora shooting was the presence, in this midnight showing, of the tragically doomed 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan. Many other minors were there (at 10 or so bucks a throw).

There is no place for children at an orgy of violence like the (merely R-rated) Pulp Fiction or a torture-themed demented fantasy like Dark Knight. Aurora calls out for industry-embrace of self-imposed rigorous age limits to prevent vulnerable children from exposure to “blood-soaked blockbusters.” Aurora calls for an NC-17 — not an R, or, as with Dark Night or Dark Knight Rising, merely PG-13 — rating for movies themed with graphic violence or torture and psychopaths.

If Hollywood decides to behave as a socially responsible actor instead of, in search of the next billion dollar box office, a purveyor to children of “pornography of brutality” … there’s a ready way. If Hollywood adopts serious age-restrictions to protect our kids and culture … then perhaps, just perhaps, a human heart with a touch of decency still beats, hidden, in that decadent village.

Let liberals turn their ire on their Hollywood allies rather than taking cheap shots at Second Amendment champions. Let liberals remind Hollywood that if it seeks to atone with cheap gestures it would do well to recall the speech of the doctor attending upon the demented Lady Macbeth …

Foul whisperings are abroad. Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets; More needs she the divine than the physician. God, God forgive us all!

Let liberals contemplate Lady Macbeth’s desperate fate. It is time for Hollywood to protect vulnerable children from its “liberal use of violence.”

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