Living in Connecticut seldom does a day go by without hearing about the recent shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Actually, considering the news media are still lingering around the place that may be true for the rest of you as well. It doesn’t help that Sandy Hook has essentially become Ground Zero in the latest political war over guns and entertainment. Now BW Media Spotlight isn’t a political blog, but let me get these thoughts out of the way if I may.
- Guns: It’s one thing to talk about how many more people can be killed by a gunman than, say, a guy with a crossbow. It’s another to act like an inanimate object is making people kill. Reading the words of the Founding Fathers, the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights, additions to the Constitution demanded by the people of the day, were in part to keep the Government in check, something the Constitution and the Bill of Rights does a lot and you can’t really blame them considering what they fought against. Now I would like to hear the other side make a stronger defense of supposed “assault-style” weapons and body armor beyond worried about slowly taking away our gun rights (and I could point to a few examples that supports that worry) because I don’t understand the need for them either, unless you are that afraid.. That said, considering the majority of gun owners aren’t going on a killing spree I don’t believe in punishing them for the acts of few, especially when I hear stories of people stopping bad people from hurting them or their kids with those very same firearms.
- Mental Illness: I’m probably less able to discuss this than I am guns, but while it’s good to see this become a concern it is for the wrong reasons. From what I hear many forms of mental illness do not lead to the sufferer going on a killing spree. All this will do is make people even more scared of a small section of the population who are not a threat and are just trying to survive from day to day wishing they could do things most of us take for granted. But if people weren’t being over-reactionary I could be talking about something more pleasant. Or I’d just be complaining about the latest rumor about the Man of Steel movie, so at least this topic matters.
The third “source” of everything that’s wrong ever, so we’re told, is violent media, specifically violent video games. (So at least they don’t sound like they’re blaming Pac-Man or Angry Birds anymore.) Now this is something I can talk about, because storytelling media is all I ever talk about on here anyway over the past five years. Naturally I take an interest here and naturally I have an opinion on the matter. That opinion is: all three positions are getting it wrong!
So what are these three positions? Well, you have the critics, the fans, and the studios that produce movies, TV shows, music, comics, video games, etc., and all three sides are defending their points of view and all three are making fools of themselves in their biases. The fans are on the media’s side, which is a contrast to when it comes to the rights of the creators but that’s a rant for another time. I just find it interesting. But let’s start with…
Oh, I’m sure some of you are happy to see me use that symbol, aren’t you? Well, NRA vice-president and spokesman Wayne LaPierre has become the latest “blame the media” voice out there so we’ll go with it.
Actually, I could have used Jack Thompson but he was finally discredited as the well-meaning (giving him the benefit of the doubt) fool that he is. Admittedly I haven’t heard or read LaPierre’s comments but I’m sure it’s nothing we’ve heard before. The comments about “violent video games” has been going on for a while. It’s the same thing that movies and comic books have dealt with, the notion that they’re protecting the kids. Of course, any parent or grandparent who buys their kid an “M”-rated game shows how little attention they pay to what their kids are watching or playing. Now I’m not absolving “violent media” of any part in things (I’ll get into that in the next two sections) but everything I say there must be tempered with this:
VIOLENT MEDIA DOES NOT MAKE PEOPLE VIOLENT!
To think so is to show how little you think of your fellow man (or woman before I get yelled at by people completely missing the point). People turn to video games because they want a release for the stresses of the day. For some (like me) this is done with platformers or puzzle games and the like. For some its sports games. And for some it’s first person shooters. Just as the majority of gun owners don’t go around shooting people the majority of video game players don’t plan to do the same once the game system is turned off. They could be nicer to each other during in-game chats, but that’s yet another rant.
You know all those studies about how people become more aggressive after playing a violent video game? What if those same people go to play paintball? Or football/rugby? Or a good water balloon fight? I imagine the latter would be less aggressive because you’re all being silly but it would still be there. Or perhaps they were already in a bad mood and used the video game to KEEP from hurting really people. That’s possible, too. To claim that video games make them into killers is silly, but is there a grain of truth in there? Let me ask…
Yeah, I went with the Angry Bird. It seems fitting because the fans get angry whenever they’re favorite medium gets attacked, whether it’s their games or their movies. Also, it’s a “casual game” and “hardcore” gamers hate casual games so that makes them angry, too. I suppose I could have tried to get a Farmville image to come up. 🙂
Okay, guys, we’re going to start by getting one term straight here: “murder simulation”. This is a term that the critics love to throw at games like the Borderlands series or FPS; the thought that video games are murder simulators. Naturally, gamers hate that term and insist they’re nothing of the sort. Now please hear me out when I say…they’re right. TO A POINT! Think about this: After Burner could be considered a flight simulator, and if that doesn’t help there are actual flight simulators. Need For Speed is a racing simulator. WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw is a wrestling simulator. That’s what a video game does. It simulates an experience, many of which are impossible for a normal human, some of which are impossible in this reality. So yeah, there are games where you simulate mowing people down. Of course, if you consider war to be murdering, then the term does apply. Otherwise you have Assassin’s Creed, where you go around, as the game implies, assassinating people. Assassination is murder with a different PR firm behind it.
What you should be pointing out is that video games are not a “murder TRAINER. I’ll give you an example to use. Back when G4 actually cared about being a video game channel (as opposed to whatever it is they’re becoming now) there was a gaming competition show called Arena. On one episode they brought in actual Navy SEALS to play gamers in a Navy SEALS video game. The soldiers had their virtual butts handed to them, although I bet you (and you’d be a fool to take that bet) if the situation was reversed and those kids were in an actual engagement those SEALS would have mopped the floor, the walls, and the ceiling with them. You may be the best Doom player ever, but you wouldn’t last five seconds going up against real monsters any more than you could land a fighter jet because you finally landed the plane in Top Gun. These games are not training simulators and that difference should be pointed out.
But let’s not dismiss the critic offhand, folks. When they hear you talking about how you enjoyed seeing people explode into meat chunks, they’re going to get a bit concerned. Can you really blame them? They aren’t you. They didn’t grow up with video games. My generation was the first to be exposed to games that didn’t require a board or some kind of equipment and a large field. And games are more graphic than in the days of Atari Vs. Intellivision and getting more so all the time. And if they aren’t bloodbaths you lot throw a fit. If you honestly hate the Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat because they took out the gore and not because of bad game controls or something you need to rethink your priorities when it comes to games. If that’s the only way you can enjoy a game, or you can’t enjoy a movie without topless women exploding while some guy swears up a storm, you’re not exactly pleading your case well to those who worry about the images in games and movies, are you? You almost prove their point; that the media is turning you evil or some such nonsense. That’s not what they’re doing, of course, but let’s segue into…
We could be talking movie studios, television studios, or video game studios. We could even be talking comic studios but nobody seems to have noticed the current state of comic books outside of comic fans so we’ll leave that. Now let’s get THIS straight: these studios are only playing to what they perceive the fans want. You can question that perception. And yes, there are a few out there who are just producing what they want, but those are mostly independent studios that also go below notice since they don’t have as wide a dispersal. If they make an 85th Saw movie it’s because enough of you went to the first 84 and what the hell is wrong with you? (Seriously, what do you see in that franchise?) But it’s your doing that it is a franchise. And Hollywood responds because despite what jokes I and my fellow bloggers and reviewers make they actually do like money.
That isn’t to say that the studios not making more family-friendly games and movies isn’t a foolish move. I’ve read reports that indicate they do BETTER in the box office. Why? More people going to see them! You have the kids and their parents who still do things together (rare as that’s becoming). You have the grown-ups and teens/college kids who can still appreciate a movie that doesn’t have gore and titties. Sometimes you have a school field trip. Then you have the home video market. There’s a reason that Pixar is considered one of the best movie studios out there even without the connection to Disney. They have good writers and most of the time put out great films. Even if some of us don’t get it, Cars must be doing well enough as a franchise for them to make a second one, the occasional comic book, and a series of shorts where Mater makes up stories. I’d easily put Up among of my favorite movies of all time and I’m sure many of you do as well.
However, revenge movies do well, and that’s what a lot of the violent movies are; dudes swearing revenge and mowing the bad guys down to get it. There’s a certain catharsis there. That’s why they made Falling Down. (That and everyone makes a mistake now and then.) But you need not look any further than remakes to show where Hollywood’s gone. Compare Battlestar Galactica, Clash of the Titans, Total Recall, or even the new Doctor Who to the originals. They’re darker in tone and have larger body counts than their predecessors. Action movies in general have always had a lot of body counts but the violence was over the top to the point you couldn’t take it seriously. I imagine that if they remade Commando, the daughter wouldn’t just be kidnapped, she’d be raped and brutally murdered. And the guy in Arnold’s role couldn’t throw a steampipe through a guy and into the heater behind them. That’s too goofy, isn’t it?
Look, you don’t have to slap “E/I” on a production like a Saturday morning TV show to at least influence people to an extent. I get that, and I do think the studios should take a look at the movies and games they produce, or at least try to balance out their libraries a bit. Or send some kind of positive message to direct that anger people have. Ultimately this what is the real problem right now. Not inanimate objects and not what we see on TV. These products wouldn’t have an audience if people weren’t already in such a bad mood or in some cases terrified. Even World War 2…that’s WORLD WAR FLIPPIN’ 2…had more optimism in their productions and operations than the world today. Think about that. Still considered the worst war in world history and they had better attitudes than we do now. Now I could go on about the absence or outright hostility towards God, the economic issues, relative moralism, the tearing down of the traditional family, bringing heroes up just to bring them down or just a general cynical mindset, and at least some of these things and a lot more are the real issue here. Yes, TV, movies, comics, music, and video games could fight against this trend, but that isn’t the “easy way” to make money, even though independent studios are popping up saying “forget money, let’s do something positive that’s still entertaining”. And occasionally succeeding. But to blame the media for our current mental state is to either not pay attention or just to take the easy way out.
Critics: stop looking for boogeymen and scapegoats and try to look at the reasons WHY violent media is so popular. Fans: realize that you are freaking people out and try to reach out to the critics and explain yourselves rather than trying to shove it in Thompson or LaPierre’s face. Studios: take a look at the entertainment your producing and ask if you can do better. And all of you open some monkey-fighting dialog instead of hiding in your little holes convinced you’re the only ones who can save the world or that it doesn’t need saving. Media didn’t create the beast but it could be feeding it when it also has the potential to counteract it. That said, critics and fans both need to rethink their perspective, and that of the other side, and have a meaningful debate, hopefully finding some common ground. If we somehow got rid of all the violent media, considering we figured out what the criteria is for too much violence, it wouldn’t solve the problem. If we were all doused with gamma rays…we’d all die horribly but fans of the Incredible Hulk know where I’m going with that. The problem isn’t in our media, or even our guns. The problem is within us and if we don’t figure out why we’re so angry and work to turn that negative into a positive the rise in murders, whether one person or an entire building full of people, will not stop. Taking the guns may limit the bodies but it won’t solve the root causes of our anger.
Media isn’t the problem either. But it’s rallied the people in the past, so it could be the solution. If it really wanted to be.