Violence – We All Bear Responsibility

Posted on by Larry

[ I wrote this blog a month ago at the request of a publisher who ultimately decided not to run it. I’m posting it here in hopes of starting a conversation about the subject. Comments are moderated and intolerant comments will not be allowed. Discussion and disagreement are encouraged. ]

After the tragedy in Sandy Hook, there is a rush to find villains and assign blame. But the situation isn’t that easy. It took a lot of hard work from a lot of people in a lot of organizations to get us into this mess. It will take a lot of work to get us out.

There is no one villain. There is no one single “magic bullet” (pun intended) that will resolve the issue of violence in our society.

However, I was struck by how quickly our industry tried to distance itself from any responsibility for the attack, or violence in general. The current flashpoint is Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” described as an an ultra-violent take on slavery and societal division.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Samuel Jackson echoing the industry theme when he said: “I don’t think movies or video games have anything to do with [whether on-screen violence has an influence on someone who decides to behave violently in real life]”

While it is true that violence is bigger than a single industry, to say the media industry bears no responsibility misses the larger point. Ask yourself the following questions and see where the answers lead you.

If films have no impact on real-life, why is film merchandizing a billion dollar industry?

If films have no impact on “real-life,” why do producers make millions of dollars in product placements within their movies?

If the programs we create have no impact, why does the multi-billion-dollar advertising industry exist?

If the messages we create have no impact, why did advertisers play $7 million dollars a minute to advertise on the SuperBowl?

If what stars wear, do, or say makes no difference, why does the tabloid industry exist?

If what our scripts say makes no difference, why have so many catch-phrases entered every day speech? I mean, “go ahead, make my day.”

If what we do makes no difference, then why is “Django Unchained” the fourth Hollywood-related event to be postposed or canceled since last Friday (according to the Los Angeles Times)?

Can you honestly say that a film titled “Bullet to the Head” has no societal implications?

If we are being honest, we could say: “The money is more important.”

Or, “My story is more important.”

Or, “I’m not really paying attention to the results of my work.”

Or, “I don’t really care what happens to some little kid.”

All too often, we add violence to our stories because we don’t have any better ideas.  Now look at where that attitude has taken us.

We could say that we are simply cogs in the machine, doing what we are told to do. But this is disingenuous — we always have a choice – to say “yes,” or say “no.”  How can you explain to a group of children that you blow people up for a living?

Violence is complex, there are many different factors involved. But we can’t say: “What we do doesn’t matter.” None of us would be in this industry if that were true.

When pointing fingers of blame, one of them needs to point to us.

As always, let me know what you think.


– – –

UPDATE – Feb. 4, 2013

I am very grateful for the thought-provoking reactions and comments to this blog. Please click the Comments button below to read what others have said.

33 Responses to Violence – We All Bear Responsibility

← Older Comments
  1. Ken Ackerman says:

    Justin, I agree the larger portion of humans can and do think for themselves and are seldom prone to mimic what ever they saw on any screen or stage.

    There are some among us, however small a percentage, that do not have “normally” developed brains, not the least of which are young children. Children do not usually have enough “street” or worldly experience and haven’t yet learned right from wrong, and many other things. Their young minds are shaped from what they see & hear and touch & taste, etc.

    There are others who for one reason or another have disturbed brains and slip into other patterns of behavior some of which are violent. There is little doubt in MY brain, that this extremely small segment of humanity are the ones at risk to perpetrate these horrific actions.

    Unfortunately, many of these disturbed people that live among us enjoy the same freedoms that we all do. It seems that even though others in their community may sense something “Different” about them, it is rare that support and treatment reach them for thousands of reasons.

  2. Butch says:

    I disagree with you Larry…but only to an extent. Mass murders and genocide has happened well before the influence of the media and in absence of major media influences. Don’t get me wrong the influence of media is powerful and does manipulate people’s brains to one extent or another, but media is not solely responsible for violence in the 21st century. Anyone that wants to own guns should, as a matter of course, constantly be psychologically evaluated and investigated as well as anyone living within reach of those weapons. That’s the only way to effectively regulate gun ownership.

  3. Michael Cox says:

    Larry, when I worked as a grip in the film industry I got so sick of the scripts which would offer violent action, often involving guns, as the answer to a conflict, that I refused work on a couple of movies. Look at the posters and DVD covers for many of the action films: the lead character is holding a gun! From a Canadian perspective, the American obsession with bullets and the damage they can do (and I do not wish to imply that we are gun-free, nor that guns don’t play a significant role in Canadian films) is quite bizarre. We understand your 2 Amendment, which was to allow for the creation of a stable, organized militia to fight any further actions by the British, not to arm every man woman and child with an automatic rifle.

    Actually I think the film and video game industries have a great deal to answer for, that the violence they perpetrate onscreen is not simply a reflection of society, but an inducement to settle one’s disagreements violently. And lets not forget TV news, which labels violent incidents, however trivial: the highway car chase is a good example, as “news,” contributes to a sense that the world is violent, that you are under siege, that terrorists lurk everywhere, that you need the protection not only of multiple and redundant levels of heavily armed government agents, but your own personal armament.

    Violence begets violence, and if that violence is “virtual” in the sense of being represented on-screen in films and games, it is instilling in impressionable minds the message that guns are cool, aggressive, rapid response is manly, and violence makes for good drama.

  4. Michael Cox says:

    And in response to Justin’s comment Feb 6 above, might I quote from the journal “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” produced by the Asociation for Psychological Science, the following excerpts:

    Research on violent television and films, video games, and music reveals unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts….

    Short-term exposure increases the likelihood of physically and verbally aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions. Recent large-scale longitudinal studies provide converging evidence linking frequent exposure to violent media in childhood with aggression later in life, including physical assaults and spouse abuse….

    Media violence produces short-term increases by priming existing aggressive scripts and cognitions, increasing physiological arousal, and triggering an automatic tendency to imitate observed behaviors. Media violence produces long-term effects via several types of learning processes leading to the acquisition of lasting (and automatically accessible) aggressive scripts, interpretational schemas, and aggression-supporting beliefs about social behavior, and by reducing individuals’ normal negative emotional responses to violence (i.e., desensitization).


  5. Jac Colon says:

    Three thoughts to ponder:
    “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Pro. 23:7 NKJV)

    “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45).

    “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

    There may be something to the old Book after all!
    Good job Larry

  6. Drew says:

    Many thoughtful and thought-provoking responses have been posted – I’d just like to add a bit of technical correction:
    This Super Bowl, advertisers paid $7 million per minute, not $2 million. Last time that a minute cost $2m was in 1985.

  7. Seymour says:

    How many people here have experienced first hand…. violence in their life the likes of what we see poretrayed in pop culture? If your still alive that is. So is real life being portrayed ? For some perhaps, for many not so much.
    But we are, for some reason, fascinated by it.

    Having said that, my guess is Hollywood will bend over backwards, make any excuse, do anything, to protect the flow of money and preserve celebrity. All they need do is appear on talk shows and PSA’s decrying gun violence and penance has been paid.

    Oh well, just don’t tamper with my SVU or Die Hard franchise, now thats entertainment!

  8. Travis says:

    Good observation Larry…Violence is often the solution for lack of ideas, not just in the arts.

  9. Irene says:

    Stories inform and shape cultures, as well as individuals. Joseph Campbell posited there are myths of violence and myths of peace. Each will create a different culture. (He has a great essay in Myths to Live By.)

    I find the attitude behind the violence more informative than the violence itself. Does the story want us to shrink from the violence? Be afraid? Or delight in it? And – to whom is it directed? An enemy? A slave? An unjust person? The other or a minority? Someone who doesn’t follow god’s rules? A woman? Is the story telling us they deserve it? Or that it’s cruel?

  10. Alan Hartman says:

    Jac Colon you are correct about the “good old book”, while we don’t like to bring “religion” into any conversation in our politically correct world, the fact is that evil does exist and violence and violent acts are the result of that evil. Those who believe that man is “basically good” are dead wrong. We all have the ability to do good things but don’t want to admit the opposite. After Sandy Hook, I began a series in my church newsletter titled “why does evil exist?” I am writing this the day after the Boston Marathon terror attack and my belief has been further strengthened that the basis of evil is man’s flight from the revealed will of God and the fall of man in the beginning.
    Sin, the rejection of God’s requirements, and the broken fellowship that resulted are the cause of all evil. Like it or not this is truth based on the standard of the Bible. Man has rejected God, His will and His truth and has sought to justify and redeem himself based on his (man’s) standards. We live in a world where, as in the words of the Book of Judges, “every man does what is right in his own eyes.” Is it any wonder that we see such violence?
    Just as God called out to Adam in the Garden of Eden– “Adam where are you?”– after Adam sinned, God has called out to man all through human history to recognize HIS authority and HIS solution to man’s sin and evil. We have tried it OUR way for way too long, isn’t it about time we get back to God and HIS method? It is obvious that we (man) has fail miserably!

← Older Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX 10.5 Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.