Violent movies: Do they inspire madmen?

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One violent movie does not a mass killer make, said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. But the pornographic violence that now fills popular films has “the cumulative power to desensitize and destabilize” impressionable minds. Disturbed young men like James Holmes, the accused Aurora, Colo., killer, may be unable to process the nihilistic, sadistically violent world of movies like The Dark Knight Rises as entertainment. “They let the darkness in,” and sometimes it consumes and inspires them.

Before his massacre at a showing of that Batman film, Holmes dyed his hair red, and he later identified himself to police as Batman’s nemesis The Joker, a demonic fiend who delights in inflicting pain and death. Even Hollywood is now squirming about a possible connection, said Alex Pham in the Los Angeles Times. Harvey Weinstein, producer of the “violence-laden” Pulp Fiction, said this week that he wanted “all of us who deal in violence in movies” to sit down together and “discuss our role in that.”

Let’s not blame the movies, said Richard Corliss in Yes, some movies glamorize acts of violence—but for the overwhelming majority of young viewers they act as a “fantasy safety valve,” not a model for behavior. In films, violence is almost always portrayed from the point of view of the victim, and the perpetrator usually suffers dire consequences. And while it’s true that dark, vengeance-filled movies could potentially spark a fuse in a violent madman’s head, said Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter, so could “religious or ideological fanaticism, grudges, personal slights, or soccer team rivalries.” The occasional psycho with “delusions of homicidal grandeur can’t be allowed to hold our most basic desires for creative, social, and escapist gratification hostage.” , No danger of that—violent movies are here to stay, said Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

Hollywood’s prime demographic is young men who love explosions and gore, and it won’t risk losing its key audience to self-censorship, even if Harvey Weinstein is having a momentary spasm of guilt. But to limit the impact of the violence, ratings system so that extreme violence would be treated like pornographic sex. If gore-filled films were rated R or NC-17 and theaters were given strict penalties for not enforcing those age limits, “it would cut into box office grosses—the only language the movie business understands.”