Thursday 18 January 2018

Of course films affect us -- but we can't blame art for mass murder

The accused:
in court in
The accused: James Holmes in court in Colorado
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

After all, we had just passed the first anniversary of Anders Breivik's deranged spree killing in Norway and now, with thoroughly depressing inevitability, we were here again.

And not only were we here again, but we were back in Colorado, a State which will forever be synonymous with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two cowards who were responsible for Columbine, perhaps the most gruesomely iconic mass murder in recent American history.

Within hours, it seemed, there was an array of chin- stroking commentators appearing on TV and radio giving their tuppence worth on what caused James Holmes to walk into a cinema and start killing people.

In fact, it has emerged over the last few days that not only did he walk into the cinema with the express intention of killing as many people as he could, he even made his terrified victims stand up out of their seats before killing them, execution-style.

Was it drugs?

Was it the break-up of a relationship?

Was it the fact that he was flunking out of college?

Nope -- the answer for this degenerate and the atrocity he committed was, we were told, quite simple: it was the movies what made him do it.

Any time something utterly unfathomable, something so incomprehensible in its mindless savagery happens, we feel an instinctive need to find some sort of explanation; some way of quantifying the unquantifiable.

And movies, or video games, or rap music, or whatever you're having yourself, usually get an early mention.

In this case, it was the Batman franchise itself that has been coming under fire from people who have maintained that the violence in the flicks was responsible for triggering a psychotic response in a supposedly psychologically 'vulnerable' young man like Holmes.

So, do movies have an effect on people's brains? Can a movie, or series of movies, actually change people's behaviour?

Well, despite the claims of well meaning, liberal critics, the simple answer to that is . . . a resounding yes.

After all, if movies had no impact on us, then why would we go to see them?

The best films -- and in a perverse, opposite way, the same is true of the worst of them -- can obviously change how we think and feel and act.

But having said that, are they responsible for the actions of someone whose head has been turned by them?

Absolutely not.

A small example -- after watching The Godfather, I insisted on only drinking red wine from a glass tumbler rather than an actual wine glass, because that's the way they drank in the film. I also went through a rather intense pasta phase.

I did not, however, go out and start my own mafia gang and leave heads of dead horses in people's beds.

But when it comes to looking for an easy excuse to blame society's apparent failing, mass entertainment is a very handy scapegoat.

I remember when Marilyn Manson was blamed for the Columbine massacre.

Confronted with this allegation and asked what he would say to Harris and Klebold, Manson replied with devastating eloquence: "I wouldn't say a word. I'd just listen to them, and maybe if someone had done that, this wouldn't have happened."

You see, the thing is that . . . there has always been violence in movies because it is a primal instinct of man to be violent.

The trick is how to channel it.

I mean, have you watched any of Jimmy Cagney's movies lately?

If the likes of White Heat were released today there would, even now, be controversy over it.

Likewise, in the brilliant Cagney vehicle, The Public Enemy, there is that iconic scene where he smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face.

If that came out today there would be protests from victims' groups saying that it glamorised domestic abuse.

Gone With The Wind? A pure, unadulterated celebration of misogyny -- should we ban it?

Violence has been with us since the flicks started, and it merely gives evil or deranged people -- and while I don't agree with the traditional view of evil as some sort of demonic spirit, there are some things people do that can only be described as such -- an easy excuse to escape responsibility for their actions.

A perfect example of that came when tedious author John Grisham criticised maverick director Oliver Stone.

The reason?

Two of Grisham's friends had been brutally murdered and the perpetrators claimed that they had been influenced by Stone's brilliant and slyly subversive Natural Born Killers.

So, Grisham decided that the man behind the film was directly responsible.

Taking that to its logical level, after I watched the truly harrowing, but brilliantly powerful Auschwitz film The Grey Zone -- the single greatest film ever to deal with the Holocaust, by the way -- I would have wanted to go out and start burning me some Jews.

The point is this -- of course movies have the power to influence people, they wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't.

But ultimate responsibility for our actions lies with us and we cannot pretend that the cinema, or any other art form, is to blame when some nutter decides to use it as a cipher for their own psychotic urges.

Irish Independent

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