- Politics and Social Issues
Violent Films, Society and Role of MPAA
Imagine Hollywood without The Godfather, Terminator 2, Silence of the Lambs, Scarface, Rambo, 300 and Gladiator. Would Hollywood be the same without these films? All these films have some violence that make people like John Grisham concerned. John Grisham sees films as a product and not as a work of art, which makes his judgment questionable. Art should not be censored and it should be allowed to flow, unlike a product. Quality control can be an issue for consumer products, but it should not work the same way for a work of art, as suggested by Grisham. As a representative of all violent movies, Gran Torino (2008) is a good example of a proper blend of violence and emotion. In Gran Torino, criticized for the blunt racist statements made by the leading character, the overall teaching of this film is anything but racism. Although the violent scenes of this movie are not of an extreme level, the language, gestures and a few scenes can be described as violent. As a form of art, films should be exempt from strict censorship; but in order to prevent the abuse of art, there should be
some sort of censorship which will ensure pornography and other gory material cannot make it into mainstream distribution. Thus all films, except for pornographic ones, should be guaranteed mass distribution. In order to provide the viewer with a hint of the content of a film, the Motion Picture Association of America should come forward and introduce a more standardized and effective film rating system.
Gran Torino (2008) is a film about a racist Korean War veteran living in a crime ridden Detroit neighborhood. Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is an old school, grumpy, prickly person and his language is a growly, snarly slew of curses and blunt insults. Kowalski had a Hmong family as neighbors and he didn't like them because of his Korean War experience; but Kowalski's relationship with this Hmong family took a whole new turn when he saved Sue, the girl; and Thao, the son, of the Hmong family from local gangsters. Kowalski became the local hero of the neighborhood and people started liking him. Kowalski also fall in love with the young siblings, Thao and Sue. The film ends with Kowalski sacrificing his life to ensure a safe environment for the siblings to grow up in, which was indeed very touching and emotional despite the violence from the gangsters. Christine Champs effectively described the film as a mirror of the face of an American dream in decline. According to Champs, “The gritty, warts-and-all detail, understated truth and heartbreaking familiarity we see compose a reflection of ourselves that arguably no filmmaker or actor has revealed to audiences so accurately - a face that’s hard to forget while it still haunts us.” The film ends with a tragedy which sings aloud, blurring all the violence in the background. The emotional appeal of this film is way stronger than the violence depicted here but, without the violence, the film could not have portrayed the picture as accurately as it did. The violence depicted in Gran Torino can be harsh for some people but it was essential for the story.
Also, the Academy Award winning film 127 Hours (2010) has some gory violence, but it was simply introduced to portray the extreme situation of Aron Ralston. The film was based on the true story of Aron Ralston, who became trapped alone in a Utah canyon for days after slipping on a loose rock; and resorted to an extraordinary measure in order to make it out of his dire predicament alive. Ralston stepped on a loose rock and pinned his hand to an unforgiving wall of stone. He was trapped there for more than five days while he was trying everything he could think of to free himself. As he was trying to survive, he found that there was no other way out of the situation without leaving his hand behind. With his limited resources, Ralston started cutting off his hand with a cheap, blunt, made in China pocket knife. The particular scene of him cutting off his arm is indeed gory; and is disturbing to most people, but the story of this film is not about cutting off ones hand, but surviving in an extreme situation; and Ralston's character was highly motivational. If the scenes of him cutting off his hand would have been censored, there would have been no way this film could have made its notion and appeal so clear. The film is an inspirational one, as reflected in the review of Colin Covert, “The nightmare becomes a tribute to Ralston's bravery - without casting him as a hero. He just got tired of waiting to die and decided to live”. Again, this pure work of art would never be 100% without the extreme violent hand cutting scene. Thus this scene was an inspirational dimension, rather than just gory entertainment.
Taken that films can influence some people to imitate, John Grisham has solely blamed the film Natural Born Killers (1994) in his article “Unnatural Killers” for several assaults committed by Sarah Edmondson and her boyfriend, Benjamin Darras, but in the same article Grisham described the background of these two individuals. Sarah started using drugs and alcohol at a very early age (thirteen to be precise); and she even received psychiatric treatment when she was fourteen, while Benjamin had a difficult childhood, as his father was an alcoholic. His parents got divorced twice and his father committed suicide. Like Sarah, Banjamin too had a history of drug abuse and psychiatric treatment. Thus it is pretty clear that these two individuals were already disturbed and that they had some serious issues. According to Grisham, Ben and Sarah started their own massacre by imitating Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers,but from the records it was pretty clear that these two individuals had a tendency to get into trouble from a very early age. Secondly, no one forces anyone to see a movie that can influence one to imitate what is in a violent movie. As a grown adult, the state expects every citizen to act responsibly. If someone gets him or herself into trouble and claims that he or she is in that situation because of some movie’s influence, it may be convincing for Grisham; but not for a judge. An artist cannot be held responsible for what its audience does. Also, Grisham tries to compare films with a product, which is objectionable. There is certain difference between a work of art and a product. It is offensive and insulting for an artist if his creation is addressed as anything but a work of art.
There are certain movies that are really hard to classify as works of art. Pornography, some parodies, and few gory films without a proper story or plot should be considered, before allowing them on to mainstream distribution. This is where the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America, should come into play. A more effective film rating system should be introduced, which would warn the audience of the type of content to be experienced in a certain film, so that one can at least be prepared. Also, people with mental or physical issues should consider seeing certain shows. The new MPAA rating system should comprise of classification of certain films for not only certain age groups, but also for people with certain physical or mental states. Films like Salo (1975, Italy) should be seriously considered before letting them enter public distribution as it is more than a gory entertainment galore than a work of art in any sense. Films without any plot that are simply meant for gory entertainment, should be classified separately. Censorship is probably not the best option for the huge film industry, but an effective rating system can be a defensive approach for viewers with certain issues. This type of act will serve both the viewers and the film makers. The MPAA has to ensure that it does not discourage justifiable violence and gore in films in order to encourage creativity but, at the same time, it also has to make sure this encouragement is not violated. This is indeed a challenging task but, if managed, will benefit both the film industry and the audience.
Finally, films are not the only media where violence is exhibited. Other entertainment forms like music, cartoons, video games and even sports, have violence galore. Some of these can really influence an individual to imitate and engage in violent acts. Again, censoring is not the solution to this problem. In order to promote a free and friendly environment for the entertainment industry, creativity should be encouraged, but to help an immature audience in the entertainment industry, it is necessary to educate him/her that there is a distinction between reality and the entertainment world. Not everything seen on TV, listened to on radio or played on a PlayStation is meant to be imitated in real life. The entertainment industry should act responsibly by stepping forward and adding a small message to the effect that their fictional work is only meant for entertainment purposes; and it should not be imitated in real life in any way. Another thing often forgotten or overlooked is parental guidance. For a young audience it is crucial that an adult accompany the youngster to help the child to understand what is fiction and what is reality. Some forms of music also can be very distracting for a young person. If he or she starts imitating the language of certain hip-hop songs and starts using that language in public (for example at school), the disaster can be easily imagined. The same goes for video games, as it is not uncommon for a third or fourth grader to start beating up his friends simply because he does the same thing with his PlayStation opponent. Thus young people should not be exposed to these types of entertainment, as they are not physically or mentally prepared for them. Same goes with some cartoons. Here is where the cartoon makers should act responsibly, but often they seem to deliver wrong message to the new generation which is very disappointing. Cartoons should avoid sexual content and violence as they are mostly meant for children. Again, it is not a matter of censorship but it is a matter of responsibility which society expects from the cartoonists. Censorship often back fires as people tend to be more curious about films that have been banned or censored. But if a more responsible film industry and audience is there – they can support each other and come up with better movies with better messages than just light entertainment. If we can ensure a healthy, responsible audience who is aware of the idea of imaginary work and is able distinguish between fiction and the real world, there would be no need for censorship, which would benefit both the entertainment industry and society. The responsible audience will then be able to choose for themselves and ultimately they will start ignoring 'bad' movies. Eventually, it will push the film makers to come up with better films without the pushing of censorship which barely works.