Monday, May 14, 2018

Dear Entertainment industry: please, stop shooting people in the head for entertainment

It's not just the This is America clip which has brought this to a head (no pun intended.)

I had been noticing over the last couple of months how incredibly ubiquitous the Hollywood/TV/entertainment industry use of "gun shot to one part of the head, blood sprayed out the other side" has become.

I think I can blame Stanley Kubrick, who was the first I remember to show a gun suicide up close with brain spatter on the wall behind the victim, back in Full Metal Jacket.   At least that was, at the time, an R rated movie.   Now, a similar technical device (or perhaps, post production effects?) is used in a widely popular Youtube music video?   Sensitivities have changed incredibly in the space of a few decades.

Other shows which have featured it:   Mindhunter (more a head explosion, in the first 5 minutes);  Mr Robot (Dark Army operatives in particular);  Dirk Gently (Netflix version);  Babylon Berlin (second episode.)

Honest to God, it seems I can't watch a series made for adults which does not feature in pretty close up detail the old gun shot to the head, splatter out the other side.

Is it a case of technology leading art?   Do directors think "we can make this look pretty realistic with Acme Company's patented "Head Splatter for Hollywood" explosive kit.  So let's do it!"

Now, despite my complaint, readers will know I have not stopped watching these shows because of this (with the except on Mindhunter, which was awful in other ways) - I'm not curling up in a corner  worried. 

But I do object to it on both moral and aesthetic grounds and I WISH HOLLYWOOD AND TV WOULD STOP DOING IT.

Here's the moral reasoning:

* surely it's unpleasant for those who have been touched by gun violence, be they ex military with PTSD, the relatives of those recently shot (of whom there must be many in the US, but we have our gunshot murder-suicides in this country too), or police.   And children - surely children who have not yet had the deadening effect of too much exposure to fictional violence feel an unpleasant impact from first seeing this portrayal.  Yes, they shouldn't be watching such adult shows anyway, but still we know they do.  Even free to air TV has incredibly looser censorship standards than it ever did before.

*   surely for the not-quite-mentally-right, it could play into murderous fantasy.  Mind you, I strongly suspect video games with their repeated head and body splattering violence are worse.

*  there's something just "off" about the casualisation of violence when it gets to the extent of comprising on screen maiming for entertainment.   I've never had a problem with a fist fight in entertainment - and I don't think the Three Stooges led to moral decay.    But violence when it depicts bodily maiming - it reaches a line where I just can't see it as something that people should want to see. 

Here's the aesthetic reasoning (although some may argue I've already crossed over to it in my last point):

* it never used to be necessary to made a gun shot a realistic one to make it have emotional impact as part of a story.   In fact, there's a recent example of that in the tense movie 10 Cloverfield Lane.   There is an off screen killing of someone by a sudden shot obviously aimed at his head - and it has more impact than many of the shots complained about above.  Strangely, just because you can show something in fiction that apparently looks realistic, it doesn't necessarily mean you get the most impact by showing it that way.

I've made this point here before, as it was one that occurred to me right back to the suicide scene in Full Metal Jacket:   technically accomplished, overly explicit violence can easily be enough to pull people out of the fictional story, because it heightens your awareness that it is fiction - there's not a guy really being killed for your entertainment - and you can start to wonder about how it feels to the actor to have a explosive with a bag of red jam go off on the back of their head. Why even let part of the audience start to think that way?

Now, anyone reading this will notice that my arguments seem contradictory - if the aesthetic argument is true, shouldn't I be less concerned that the images are disturbing to people who have been touched by gun violence?  

No, I'm not going to concede that:   I don't think that my feeling of being sometimes being distanced from the impact of depicted fictional shooting is a reliable guide to the feeling of those who have lived with the images they have seen or imagined of real people with gunshot wounds to the head.

I just wish there was some sort of revival of moral argument against the depictions of violence from the entertainment industry, but it seems so far from happening....

1 comment:

John said...

I just wish there was some sort of revival of moral argument against the depictions of violence from the entertainment industry, but it seems so far from happening....

You'll die waiting.

In some contexts like war movies the violence is a necessary part of the realism. I take your point, all too often it is just gratuitous.

Not unique to Hollywood Steve. I watch movies from a variety of countries and if anything Asian movies are the worst for violence.