The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Bonnie and Clyde co-writer Robert Benton and asked him if he thought movies were responsible for promoting American gun violence. (NRA president Wayne LaPierre suggested media depictions of violence were to blame after Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 20 of his victims between the ages of six and seven years old.) Benton answered, “The Senate is responsible. The House is responsible. The fact that the Congress is in the hands of — being paid by — gun lobbyists. No. They want to blame it on somebody else… let’s look at the NRA or the weapons manufacturers.”
What do you think? Who’s to blame for the violence we see in society? Political leaders? Creatives who depict violence in their art?
While I concede violent depictions in books, films, and songs can inspire real-life violence in some cases, the truth is that violence is as old as the human race. Whether we’re talking about negative spoken words that can kill a person’s spirit, or physical weapons that aim to maim or snuff out a life; people have been visiting mortal brutality against each other forever.
Artists, who traditionally document and embellish what they’ve seen or personally experienced, attempt to translate the violence in human culture into popular culture with their work. Does this translation desensitize us to violent acts? I don’t think so. Most of us remain shocked and devastated every time we hear about yet another shooting or bombing; and the majority of us resent these acts of violence and want them to stop. Just as creators use their respective arts to depict, examine, and provoke consumers of their work, most people consume said art to better understand or escape their immediate reality.
Ironically, author Petra Lewis wrote her novel The Sons and Daughters of Ham to address the epidemic of gun violence because she found that the consistency of real-life killings were numbing people to the fact that the frequency is abnormal. “I’d be having normal conversations with people I know, and somehow it would suddenly come out that their child or a relative had been murdered. This had become like a new kind of urban parlor conversation… I dare to speculate that the vast majority of Black and Brown America knows someone who has been murdered, or knows someone who knows someone.”
For his part, screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, who regularly eschews any connection between the graphic gore in his films and the violence in society, believes “movie violence” is about tapping into what the viewer would like to express and do if placed in the same situation as the onscreen story. Speaking specifically about his film Django Unchained, Tarantino explained to NPR, “…there’s two types of violence in this film: There’s the brutal reality that slaves lived under for … 245 years, and then there’s the violence of Django’s retribution. And that’s movie violence, and that’s fun and that’s cool, and that’s really enjoyable and kind of what you’re waiting for.”
Benton says we just need to face the fact that America is a violent country. “Violence runs like a bloodline through this country, from its inception until now. I wish it weren’t so, but it seems to me to be a part of us.”