Hollywood-style violence is catharsis, not cause

June 16, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

NOW THAT the National Rifle Association has had its turn at bat as the culprits who inspired two nut cases to gun down 13 people at a Littleton, Colo., high school in April, attention has turned to another scapegoat: Hollywood.

The same liberal crowd that, with knee-jerk orneriness, tried to place the blame for all America's firearms violence at the feet of the NRA is now demanding that Hollywood producers, directors and screenwriters clean up their acts and delete or tone down violence in movies and television. When that happens, the liberals assume, America's "troubled" youngsters will no longer have violent images to inspire them and will somehow morph into good little boys and girls.

The truth is exactly the opposite: Violent movies and television shows serve as a catharsis by allowing youth to vicariously experience violence they may otherwise act out in reality. Violence in movies and television decreases the amount of real violence in society. Those who fret that media depiction of violence makes America a more violent place have been reading the history of an America that exists in a parallel universe. They've probably been watching the science fiction television series "Sliders" too much. The real history of America reads something like this:

From "Violence and Culture in the Antebellum South" by Dickson D. Bruce Jr.: Texas, 1841: "Some Texas marauders lately crossed the line into Louisiana and took forcible possession of a citizen in the parish of Caddo. After they had carried him into the territory of Texas, it was proposed to bury him alive. With this intention, a grave was then dug -- the unfortunate man being a witness to their movements. He stood helpless, counting each shovel-full of earth, as the quick termination of his life; surrounded by a gang of desperadoes, ready to crush him beneath the clod, and from whose sentence the escape was death. Overpowered by the frightful fate before him, he bounded from his keepers and rushed into an adjacent thicket; but before his steps had measured many paces over the earth, a heavy volley of musketry brought him to the ground. ... His body, after being cut up, was hung upon the branches of the neighboring trees. ... The deceased man ... had thus offended them: he had, with others of his fellow citizens, declared himself openly to be opposed to them. ... The citizens of our border country have witnessed these men, under the name of Regulators or Moderators, committing in the territory of Texas some of the most barbarous cruelties of the 19th century."

Georgia, 1899: "Sam Hose ... was burned at the stake in a public road. ... Before the torch was applied to the pyre, the Negro was deprived of his ears, fingers and other portions of his body with surprising fortitude. Before the body was cool, it was cut into pieces, the bones were crushed into small bits and even the tree upon which the wretch met his fate was torn up and disposed of as souvenirs. The Negro's heart was cut into several pieces, as was also his liver. Those unable to obtain ghastly relics directly, paid more fortunate possessors extravagant sums for them. Small pieces of bone went for 25 cents and a bit of liver, crisply cooked, went for 10 cents." From "A Festival of Violence" by Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck.

Normally, I wouldn't put accounts of such disgusting vulgarity in a column, but Americans need a reality check. Our country is not a haven of pacifism made more dangerous by the NRA and Hollywood. Those who claim school massacres never happened in the good old days conveniently forget things more gruesome took place.

Those asking what happened in Littleton, Colo., now have the answer: business as usual in America, only not as nasty as it's been in the past.

And it's not as nasty precisely because of the violence in mass entertainment. There was a time when lynchings like the one described in "A Festival of Violence" were a form of entertainment. People would come from miles around, with their picnic baskets loaded with eats, to enjoy the burning or hanging of the victim du jour. I think we would all agree it's much better for Americans to pay eight to 10 bucks a pop to watch violence on the big screen than to pay for the various body parts of a Sam Hose.

Those looking for a link between Hollywood's violence and society's violence need to be reminded that folks in other countries watch the same movies we do and have nowhere near our level of violence. Americans dispatching each other in sometimes grisly ways has been our drug for years. Apparently, we are only beginning to withdraw from it. Violence -- on the big screen and small -- helps to ease the withdrawal.

Pub Date: 06/16/99

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