Mindless Violence

While the media is appalled when an “wardrobe malfunction” accidentally exposes some woman’s skin, nothing is ever said about the routine exposure of mindless and sadistic violence. The horrifying shooting incident at the opening of the latest Batman movie shows the result of this trivialization of pain and loss. We took our children to one of the earlier Batman movies a long time ago, and took them back out a few minutes later when the gross violence started. Of course we have never been to any since, and hearing about this latest ode to sadism disgusts me.

Is there a link between screen violence and actual violence? Fans of violent films will tell you – frequently in the most aggressive terms – that there is not. Yet we know that children are, to greater and lesser degrees, highly imitative of what they see. We know that there is escalating public concern about violent crime, particularly knife crime, among teenagers.

And we know that entertainment aimed at young people is becoming markedly more violent. My generation was terrified by the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; the current one is diverted with torture and agonising death.

Little boys have always played with swords and guns. But they did not always play at beating a prisoner’s genitals with a rope, or stitching a live bomb inside a man’s stomach. For that innovation we must thank Hollywood, the industrious factory of dreams, now frequently devoted to churning out nightmares.

I seldom go to the movies because far too many films seem to take advantage of a public addiction to violence and cruelty. I am reminded of the Roman emperors who kept the mob pacified with “panem et circenses” – bread and circuses – where the circus was mostly gladiators killing one another and criminals being torn to pieces and eaten  by starving animals. The close relationship between politicians and Hollywood luminaries is no accident – they need one another. I understand that the Obama campaign is going so far as to try to link Romney to “Bane,” a character in the movie. Perhaps it will rethink this sick idea now.

I am a libertarian and do not advocate censorship. But this pursuit of money without taking responsibility for the damage caused reminds me of the banking industry. We need to find a way to price this damage so that the perverse incentives disappear. Perhaps it should be easier to establish contributory negligence in this kind of situation.

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