- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2012



HOLLYWOOD, Calif — Hollywood is terrified of the backlash against the movie violence that has become its stock-in-trade. This time the big moguls, and some of the little moguls, can see that the public is angry, but they don’t know what to do about it.

Maybe the anger will go away. Once upon a time, the moguls big and little had an ear for the music of America, but the flesh-and-blood ear has turned to tin. Some of the moguls can still occasionally mumble the words, but they don’t recognize the music.

All over Hollywood, the men and women who make the movies are talking about the anger, frustration and confusion in the wake of the Colorado massacre. Rarely on the record, of course. They’re afraid of suggesting a link between violence and the violent images they project on the big screen (and on the little screen in the corner of the living room). The link, says one such executive, has not been “empirically established.”

“And then there is this,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “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.”

Hypocrisy in Hollywood? Who knew? Hypocrisy is the black magic that links Hollywood and Washington, the reason why the spinners at the dream factory and the superintendents at the law factory see themselves projected in each other. Harry Reid wants to be a matinee idol and Martin Sheen gets to preside over the West Wing.

But the dream factory is turning out more nightmares than dreams, and some of the dream-weavers at first thought they could see warnings written on the wall. They were searching for what passes for “soul” in Hollywood. “Like every person who works in the movies and is following the event in Colorado,” says Rob Cohen, director of several movies soaked in gratuitous blood, “I’m asking myself what are we responsible for, if anything.

“Some say we’re complicit in this violence and I’m not sure we are. But it does give me great pause. We want our movies to be shown to the widest possible audience — we are in a commercial business — but now I have to look deeper.”

Just not too deep. “Moral responsibility” — such as it is measured in certain Hollywood precincts — is a concept based not on the Bible, the Torah or other ancient codes of right and wrong, but on the box office. “The Dark Knight Rises” took in $161 million in the first weekend after the massacre, good but about $12 million less than expected. That wasn’t scary enough to scare anybody straight, but scary enough.

“Woke up to the news about the shooting,” one writer-producer tweeted to his friends on the bloody morning after. “This kinda thing always makes me question my liberal use of violence in storytelling.”

Harvey Weinstein, an independent producer who set loose Quentin Tarantino on the public, suggested that he, Mr. Tarantino and Martin Scorsese “sit down and discuss our role in that.”

But these were vague promises of hope and change, of no more substance than a lover’s promise in the third reel of a soap opera, and as the sting of the massacre accounts began to go away, so did the idea that it may be time to do right. The box office of “The Dark Knight Rises” has since recovered the pace to set box-office records, and so has rue and resolve.

Frank Gibeau, a video game producer, likens his mindless blood-and-guts games to cave paintings, primitive animal hunts and even Homer’s “Iliad.”

“But it’s hard to imagine how someone can suggest that the film playing that night in any way provoked this horrible crime,” he says. “Rational people know the difference between fantasy and real violence.”

Which is, of course, precisely the point. James Holmes, charged with killing 12 men, women and even children at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, looks none too rational. His bright orange hair and disguise as the Joker, a villain from the Batman comics, shout loud and clear that he doesn’t understand the difference between movie fantasy and real life.

The only man responsible for the slayings in the Colorado massacre is the man who pulled the trigger, of course, but what’s hard to imagine is how anyone could look at an entertainment culture amok in gore and guts and not recognize the culture’s culpability in madness. A few more massacres and maybe even Hollywood will get it.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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