I went to the theater to see Promised Land with Matt Damon this weekend. But, as ever, it’s impossible to go to a movie without having to endure at least ten minutes of trailers prior to the sigh of relief when the words “Featured Presentation” come on the screen and we are cautioned to turn off our cell phones.
During the ten minutes or more of trailers I find that I am empty of enthusiasm for the most part. My wife and I are continually turning to each other and saying something like “Well that’s one we won’t rush right out to see.” After the first couple of them, it gets shortened to “Not so much.”
The high-volume, fast-paced previews of gore, mayhem, blood, and endless death and destruction does nothing for me except disgust me. But as I look around the theater in which the lights are not yet lowered, it is clear that I am a dinosaur when it comes to such films. The crowd is really into it.
Several months ago my blogging colleague, John McIntyre, posted his “word of the day” and it was eldritch. I had never heard the word used in anything I had read, so it caught my attention. He pointed out that it is a word, probably of Scottish origin, which means weird, other-worldly, or frightening. That is clearly what is being featured in these horror movies that are titillating to the crowd in the theater.
I don’t find it titillating. I find it boring, overly violent, and distasteful. But I’m a good fifty years or more older than most of the people I’m watching in the theater. (Yes, it, too, can be a good place for people-watching.) They tend to be younger, far more relaxed and casual than my generation, and easily more entertained by such productions.
I’ve thought about that as I have listened to the debates around violence and gun ownership over the past several weeks. There is a school of thought that says that violence in movies and video games contributes to the violence in our society. I’m not sure where I come down on that. I share a concern about the First Amendment rights of film makers and video game producers. I’m not really keen on having the government censor them.
But I also can’t quibble with those who are saying that the viewing of such violence on the screen (large or small) contributes to an atmosphere of violence in society. The eldritch depictions of violence and mayhem can’t help but de-sensitize the viewers to such violence. To many of them it is funny. To others it may be instructive. Mowing down large numbers of “others” with high-powered weaponry may seem glamorous. Stabbing, chain-sawing, or chopping off body parts may have some entertainment value, but I fail to see it.
I watch Criminal Minds on TV so I can’t claim to be 100% violence free. But the over-whelming amount of violence on the screen must be having some effect on those who view it regularly. Some, they tell me, are almost addicted to violent video games. There must be a connection, and it makes me nervous.
In the end, I hope it is the entertainment industry that takes the moves necessary to respond to this concern. Simply labeling films and games for purchasers doesn’t seem to be enough. Film makers and producers are creative by nature. I hope they will use that creativity to respond to this issue.
Cartoon Credit: Drew Rausch and Aaron Alexovich