Is there a link between movie violence and ‘real’ violence?

The possible link between violent movies and “real” violence seems to be discussed every time we have a mass shooting incident like the one in Colorado last week.

What makes the most recent massacre even more troubling is the fact that it happened in a movie theater that was showing a violent, comic-book derived film of the sort that is especially popular among boys and young men.

The alleged perp — 24-year-old James Holmes — dyed his hair red before he went to the theater, in an apparent attempt to look like a character from the “Batman” series (he was reported to have referred to himself as “The Joker”).

It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that the shooting spree took place at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the most heavily promoted and most widely anticipated comic book film of the year.

Like everyone else who loves movies, I get nervous when pundits try to draw a connection between on-screen violence and violence in real life.

A couple of days after the Aurora shooting I got a note from one of my favorite movie bloggers, Ken Anderson, who raised some very provocative points about the way film might influence us:

“When I watch the Academy Awards and some socially uplifting film wins big, all night long you get speeches about film’s power to influence, affect change,and inspire action. However, when word gets out that some negative or violent act was inspired by a film, all you get are Hollywood people saying that entertainment is entertainment…that it has no power to MAKE anyone do anything and film can’t incite or influence action. ?!?!?

I don’t get it.

Sometimes I think we’re all just a little afraid to admit/accept that film is as influential and powerful as I suspect it to be.”

Ken also pointed out that Stanley Kubrick withdrew “A Clockwork Orange” in England for many years because he was so disturbed by copycat violence there that followed the original 1971 release of his movie.

It is interesting that Hollywood will pat itself on the back for aiding in social change through such landmark movies as “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Philadelphia” but tries to pull the covers up over its head when it is suggested that rampant violence in movies might have a negative social impact.

Liberals and conservatives alike have pushed for less smoking in films under the assumption that when young people see Julia Roberts or Sarah Jessica Parker puffing on a cig in a romantic comedy they will go and do likewise.

I doubt that there is much that can be done to reverse the tide of violence in nearly every form of entertainment, but the questions raised by Ken Anderson should be discussed.