Jul 21, 2012

The Dark $ide of Hollywood

Back in the spring my thoughts turned to summer science fiction movies and my personal fantasy that Hollywood might actually depict an interesting space alien adventure on the big screen. But, now, on second thought, I wonder why we need look "out there" for space aliens when we have, right here at home, Hollywood and what passes for the modern "entertainment" industry.

When looking online for lists of 2012 SciFi movies I was surprised by some of the listed flicks. Part of the problem is that there has long been a blurring of the boundary between science fiction and fantasy. Another problem is that "superhero" movies like The Avengers often crossover into science fiction. Some SciFi fans included The Dark Knight Rises on their lists of anticipated summer films (example) and, sadly, some SciFi fans have gone to see The Dark Knight Rises, expecting summer time science fiction fun (example).

We find ourselves, all of us, as part of a great experiment in which "artists" try to top each other with ever more shocking video game and film depictions of murder and mayhem. We've gone from Psycho to Dark Knight in 50 years, from the innocent days when a bloody knife and the fictional death of one woman was shocking and on into a brave new era when the ca$h-centric folks in Hollywood can coolly and quickly calculate the marketing advantages to be had from shooting 70 moviegoers at a theater.

What, no movie theater massacre?
"Among the hundreds of innocent people he kills are numerous police officers, the police commissioner, a judge, and, of course, Rachel Dawes. Oh, and don't forget the he also blew up a hospital."

Don't forget. We know you will. Yawn. What is the new venue for mass murder this year? Give us something unexpected and cool, maybe a football stadium. But no murders at movie theaters! That would be too upsetting. Seriously, who in Hollywood could even imagine the mass murder of moviegoers?

When you go to see The Dark Knight Rises, who do you think you are going to be sitting next to? Hint.

Who are the kinds of people who thrive on -and flock to- the violence of Hollywood's Dark Knights? Hollywood marketing department motto: "depict a mass murder on screen and audiences will come." The pop gurus of the entertainment industry will keep telling us that we must respect the artistry, realism and deep philosophical meaning of the violence and anarchy that they $ell to us. Just as the tobacco industry assures us that $moking does no harm, just as oil companie$ assure us that global warming is natural, so too the entertainment industry assures us that flooding the minds of moviegoers with images of ever-more-realistically depicted "fanta$y violence" does no harm. And just to make $ure, the merchants of death will spend billions on marketing and anti-science disinformation campaigns.

The Joker is my Guru
"Is it bad that a homicidal, creepy, makeup wearing murderer can put a smile on my face?"

If it is only one in ten million fans of the Joker who is inspired to mass murder, can we ever, with scientific certainty, know that violence in movies has deleterious consequences?

On the day when 60 or 70 moviegoers were shot in Colorado,  my local newspaper described the Joker as a "valuable villain" who was "damaged in every way" and "doesn't care about the consequences". The secret to success in Hollywood? Find a drug-addled actor who can bring to the big screen a new "twist" on a mass murderer who jaded audiences have become bored with....and then collect your Oscars. If the actor manage$ to end up in rehab -or a grave- about at the relea$e time for the flick, then kick back and enjoy the wonder$ of free marketing.

Coming to a theater near you.
The human brain evolved so as to have neural circuits that promote survival, including special circuits that provide us with empathy. Scientific measures of altered brain activity in low empathy individuals might one day become possible. I'd like to run a test for empathy on the folks in Hollywood who have made it their mission in life to keep inventing new and audience-pleasing depictions of mass murder.

What brain changes occur in late adolescence and how might genetic predispositions or an environment full of fantasy violence deflect human brains from a healthy developmental pattern? Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner, James Holmes. Who will step up to be the next case study?

While the scientific mills grind slowly, get out there and enjoy all those violence-filled summer flicks. Maybe you will want to drop by your local "sporting goods" store along the way and pick out a nice firearm.

related reading: 
Associations between Electronic Media Use and Involvement in Violence, Alcohol and Drug Use among United States High School Students.

An uncertain line between fantasy’s lure, nightmare" by Ty Burr

"Today, there's a general numbing of the audience. There's too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it's not so terrible." - Peter Bogdanovich

Samson Smash

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