Monday, June 25, 2007

POP, POP CULTURE, AND POPCORN

Does viewing movies cause violent tendencies in those who watch them? I can answer this from personal experience and my answer is unreservedly yes.

I was working at the West Theatre (owned and operated by the Slovenian Community since 1942) when “E.T.” came to town. The West was an old time single screen theater and everything from collecting tickets to selling popcorn took place in that one auditorium. My job as assistant manager (which meant I was paid 25 cents more than everyone else) was to watch the movie and make sure the it remained clear and the sound was good, and to see to it that nobody was smoking or talking, and that, in general, everything ran smoothly, which it did most of the time, which made the job after seeing any movie two or three screening incredibly boring.

Well “E.T.” was so popular it ran for two weeks, which meant at least two screening every single day of the week and three on the weekend. Mercifully that little extra terrestrial left. But he came back again for three more weeks. This is where I can testify that movies cause violence. By the end of the run I was wishing that just once that ugly little thing would die a slow horrible death at the end of the movie.

All joking aside the issue of how we portray life in the movies, sexuality, about what it important and what makes us happy, and the amount a violence we see has an effect on our lives. It is like Scriptures that call us to task when we blame God when everything goes wrong in our lives and take all the credit when thing go right. Karen Hershenson brought this notion up in her book, “Hollywood vs America”. Here is an excerpt from an old article on the book;

The book exposes what Medved contends are Hollywood’s "three big lies" — that movies and TV don’t influence, they just entertain; that they merely reflect what’s going on in society; and that producers are just being good business people."What has happened in Hollywood," he says, "is the lunatics have taken over the asylum."

"Medved recalls talking recently to a top studio executive who claimed "Lethal Weapon 3" — last year’s action blockbuster — "saved thousands of lives" with a four-second close-up of stars Danny Glover and Mel Gibson fastening their seatbelts. Never mind the exploding office buildings and 150-mph car
chases.”

It's one way or the other guys. You can't have it one way when you are blowing up people and another when you are putting on seatbelts. Either art influences or it does not. I happen to believe that art - even bad movies - has a great impact on our lives.

This whole notion came up the other day with a man whom I have a great deal of respect and he shared his observations.
A few weeks ago, yet another all-too-familiar tragedy played itself out in the news. A young woman, eighteen years old and only recently graduated from high school was abducted from the parking lot of a shipping center in suburban Kansas City. Her body was found a few days later in a secluded area outside of town. She had been strangled, and a local man is in custody for the crime. No connection has been established between suspect and victim at this writing, and this appears to be yet another random tragedy.

“On the increasing-ominous web site My Space, the young man’s “profile” contained a number is disturbing entries including his desire to torture and kill. According to one article in the days following his arrest, a connection was made between the crime committed and a similar crime depicted in a movie.

“The charge that movies incite, or at least inspire – behavior is not new. It’s also pretty hard to debate on an empirical level. How many violent acts can be attributed to an urban gang film? I’m not sure; how many people suddenly went out to feed the birds after watching “Mary Poppins”?

“But consider this detail, which I have not seen in any article relating to this crime. The victim was employed at a movie theater. It is conceivable, as I allow my undisciplined imagination free reign, that this was not such a random action after all. Did the victim, on some occasion, meet the suspect perhaps serve him his popcorn or tell him to, “Enjoy the show?” Was she, in fact, targeted as an indirect result of her job?

“On a larger scale, what culpability does the movie industry – indeed this entire culture – share in this sad sequence of events? As our senses are assaulted and our nerves dulled by depictions of violence, do we even shake our heads and cluck our tongues anymore as we switch from CNN to HBO?

“Movies such as the “Saw” and “Hostel” franchise depict unspeakable acts of depravity committed in the name of entertainment. The egregiously flawed rating system in use by the movie industry restricts admission solely on the basis of age. While there can be no practical way to assess mental stability, the notion that “Saw” or Hostel is truly intended for “mature audiences” is ludicrous. No mature and reasonable individual would patronize such films.

“The week after the girl in Kansas City was killed, “Hostel 2” opened in theaters across the country. Hundreds of refreshments stand and box office clerks waited on thousands of complete strangers who paid to see brutality and carnage enacted on the screen. We can only imagine what twisted fantasies were indulged there in the darkness. Who knows what unspeakable plans were made on the way out the doors?”

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

A terrific musing, here (as always). Indeed. It's frightening what's out there.. and what my daughter and her friends rent for videos. Also, Stephen King (et al) is a great writer, but a horrible teacher.

There've been so many times a movie was recommended to me/us, and I found it was but a long drawn-out gratuitous sex scene with terrific music, when I could've thrown on some favorite tunes myself and I dunno, watched rabbits, all for free. Hollywood reduces humans to animals with an ice cube, chocolate, butter or apple pie.

But the violence upheld as power, now that is even more cause for pause. It reduces the value of life even more-- even more! And it sends the wrong message, even if "the bad guy" dies.

Violence has its place - in history, i.e., "The Passion," "Oscar Romero".. when we exited the theaters from viewing "The Passion," we couldn't bear to see life-as-usual.. we had to hug in the parking lot, and then again in the kitchen, all quite wordlessly. That's the only impact violence should have on us.. to know that we are part of it, and to see to it that we work for peace instead.

C.O.

Anonymous said...

America spends billions of dollars each year on the belief that glorifying a bar of soap for thrity seconds will make you want to buy that soap. Yet, when we glorify violence for three hours, they claim there is no connection?

Anonymous said...

Whoa.. are you saying Irish Spring isn't more special than other soaps?? I've been duped for 20 years??

(Good point, Anon.)
C.O.

Fr. V said...

C.O. - Nice insight. Thanks.

Anon. - Yes! You got it! Remember that old, old, public service commercial (I almot included it in today's post) "Like Father, Like Son" to get people to quit smoking? (I was VERY little!) Obviously the industry believes that what is seen on T.V. effects our lives. If not the whole advertizing industry is a hoax.

Jeron said...

I significantly cut back on my hours of t.v. ove the past 3 years or so such that I only watch either PBS, EWTN, or get Blockbuster movies mailed to me that I choose. I can't watch most t.v. anymore; not even commercials. Everything is so sexualized and sensationalized, it's disturbing. The more time I spend in prayer (lectio, the Office) the more sensitized I've become to all the crap that's out there. Gotta stay vigilant.

uncle jim said...

annon's comment about advertising is right on the mark.
companies spend billions annually to implant the idea in your head that their product is the one on which you should spend your money.
and studies show that music and 'jingles' sell it better and faster ... so the same fingers can point at much of today's pop culture, including the music, and see exactly from where the influence comes.
take the 'good / positive' descriptives in Phil 4:8 and replace them with 'bad / negative' ones and the result is what we are seeing.
now turn it around and take Phil 4:8 to heart and we may start a revolution again.
i'm done - i'll get off my soap-box - it is your turn

Adoro te Devote said...

Movies absolutely have an influence on us. Other people's views enter us through our own senses...what we read enters our souls. Our prof actually spoke to this during the class I took this last spring, and he asked us (rhetorically)...what are we reading? What is entering our souls?

I realized he was right, and I have gotten away from the violent stuff. I'll admit to a bit of guilt and occasionally I enjoy a good horror movie, but it affects me more now.

Confession time: when I was preparing for Law Enforcement and when I was taking an EMT class some years later, do you know what I watched? "Faces of Death". I knew I was going to see some "stuff", and I also knew that I needed a thick skin and the ability to see these everyday horrors and not react to them. So I used these movies to desensitize myself.

If that isn't an endorsement of Fr. V.'s and Michael Medved's position, I don't know what is. And here's the problem...once you've seen this stuff, it doesn't go away, you can't get the images out of your head, and I'm still trying to RE-sensitize myself, because all too often, I'm almost immune. When the V-Tech shootings happened....very little emotional response from me. I wanted to have a response, because that would be normal, and I DID pray for the victims and their families, etc.. But the violence didn't really affect me. That part of me has been somewhat destroyed.

The "Desensitization" training I put myself through worked a little too well. Thanks, Hollywood.

Granted, I sought it out, and I did really enjoy horror movies to begin with, and I know that I would not have changed my practice had I been able to look into the future because I was a cocky little feminist and couldn't be bothered with the truth at that time. So I now regret the images and the aftereffects of my "training".

Oh, and in law enf training, that's where I got the idea to watch FOD - because that's also what they used to desensitize us to autopsies, which they knew we'd have to witness as part of our jobs, at some point. (Not FOD - but they used reality in a video)

Sorry so long, but I think it really adds to the point....

In class, they didn't have the ability , as they did some years, of bringing us to a live autopsy so we could observe. This is a legitimate practice for the realities of the job.

Since they couldn't bring us, the instructor got ahold of a copy of an autopsy that was absolute butchery. The ME in that case was certifiably nuts, did a lot of things wrong, and literally treated the deceased as a piece of meat. The instructor explained he chose this video because it was so gory, because he could not give us the "experience" without doing so. He explained that a properly done autopsy, if seen after this video, would not freak us out.

In watching the video in class, I literally felt sick. One guy passed out as he was trying to exit the room(the big ones always are the first to go down...dunno why).

We women were always under pressure, often self-imposed, to not give in to our natural "sensitivities", so I remember looking at the screen and telling myself over and over, "It's just makeup. It's ketchup, and they put it in little bags they cut open to make it look real. It's just a dummy, not a real person...." and so on.

The nausea would abate, my vision would clear...and the very moment I allowed the reality that this was a REAL HUMAN BEING, even deceased, penetrate my thoughts, the sick feelings would wash over me again, and I'd have to renew with more vigor my mantra, "It's not real, it's just a movie", although I knew different. It WAS real. That's why this was being used.

It's all about desensitization and the subsequent dehumanization that results...that's Hollywood. That's why they avoid the true and the good and the beautiful, because those things would put them out of business.

OK, /soapbox.

Martin O'Shea said...

A graphic novel which may interest visitors to your blog is available from:

www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk

'The Least Among Us' explores the response of the Church to suffering in itself and a preview is available at: http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/ann-theleast.html

Whilst the book challenges certain attitudes and dogma it remains a Catholic (if underground) comic.

All best wishes,

Martin