Wednesday 21 February 2018

Battles at the box office - are superhero movies at fault for violence

Studies show there's more violence than ever in films aimed at children. Are superhero movies to blame
Shields up: Captain America and Iron Man settle their differences with a little hand-to-hand combat
Shields up: Captain America and Iron Man settle their differences with a little hand-to-hand combat
Morphin time: Power Rangers are back for me
Ed Power

Ed Power

In the new sci-fi action adventure Power Rangers, five photogenic teens battle a succession of trans-dimensional nasties. Our mighty morphin heroes punch, high-kick and body-slam their way through the movie, while taking time out for wisecracks and some off-the-books snogging. The dude from Breaking Bad turns up as an extra-planar guru who lives down a well. What more could a cinema-goer want for their €10?

With a 12A rating, the adaptation of the popular 90s franchise is largely aimed at a teenage-and-younger audience. But should we be concerned that one of the year's biggest kid's films is, in essence, one long fight scene?

With movies aimed at children becoming increasingly brutal, a recent American study found the incidence of gunplay in the 30 top-grossing PG-13 films - the US equivalent of the 12A certificate - was actually higher than in R-rated movies (restricted to audiences 17 and over).

"Hollywood continues to rely on gun violence as a prominent feature in its highly popular PG-13 action-oriented films," said the author of the research, Dan Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania.

Some of the examples cited in the report were egregious in the extreme. In GI Joe Retaliation - a brand extension of a popular toy, lest we forget - gun violence was found to have featured in 40pc of the running time.

One caveat is that this violence is often "bloodless" and is in large part driven by the popularity of superhero capers such as Iron Man and Captain America. In these movies, heroes and villains biff and bosh each other with no real consequences.

"So we worry that maybe a five- or six-year-old watching something like that could get the impression that these kinds of weapons wouldn't really be all that harmful," Romer has said.

The issue is inter-woven with Hollywood's love affair with guns. Statistics show an 11pc increase in the number of weapons featured on screen between 1995 and 2015. As far back as 1990, a starring role for a Glock pistol in Die Hard 2 led to a tripling in sales of the equivalent real-world model.

The backlash has been relatively subdued. Writer Lena Dunham was among the high profile figures to object to the prominence of a firearm in a poster for last year's Jason Bourne. And Rogue One director Gareth Edwards defended his weapon choices in the film (plenty of guns and barely a single lightsaber) by arguing that they were historically accurate in the Star Wars universe.

"Children often mimic what they see on TV and also interpret what they see to represent real life," says Colman Noctor, a child and adolescent psychoanalytical psychotherapist and author of Putting Harry Potter on the Couch. "Therefore, they may come to see violence as normal and acceptable."

A complicating factor, he points out, is the challenge of obtaining categorical data regarding the impact of screen violence on young minds.

"The ethics of subjecting children to violent images for the purposes of research is a non-runner obviously and those who are exposed to these images often have many other environmental variables at play too."

Context is crucial when assessing the age appropriateness of a release, according to the Irish Film Classification Office: "Where certain material is presented in a fantasy or comic context, for example, its impact may be softened. We try to retain a flexibility of approach and look at the context and impact of the film as a whole."

"We are conscious that no two children are the same and we try to provide, on our website, a piece of consumer advice for each title which will aid parents/guardians, who know their own children best, make informed viewing choices," says Ger Connolly, director of film classification.

"Our guidelines at PG state 'Any frightening sequences should not be sustained or graphic. However, some stronger violence may be permissible in what is clearly a fantasy or comic context.'

"'Moderate violence and more prolonged threat/horror' are acceptable at 12A. This is particularly the case when depicted in a fantasy context."

It remains unclear whether kids can distinguish between realistic violence and "bloodless" violence perpetrated by supernatural characters, but one thing is certain - with more than 25 superhero films slated for release by 2020, the trend is not slowing down.

Irish Independent

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