Has the media’s obsession with blood and gore really bred a generation of savage delinquents? Jenny O’Mahony asks whether violence is the new pornography.
Last month, the new souped-up hyper-violent film from Tarantino and Rodriguez Grindhouse was released in America. According to The New York Post’s review: “In one scene, a cute, topless girl is roughly tied down on a table by evil female Nazi experimenters who begin draining her blood and, as she screams in agony, they brand her like livestock with a coal-hot steel swastika.” This was just one of the many spoof trailers.
We are increasingly confronted with the argument that the saturation of violence on our television screens, cinemas and computer games has bred a generation of violent delinquents who see nothing but economic gain, or social notoriety, in harming or even killing. Take, for example, the most recent gun massacre in the USA. The manner in which the 32 killings were carried out was thought to be inspired in part by the violent South Korean film Oldboy. Similarly, the Columbine High School killers re-enacted scenes from two other films: The Matrix and The Basketball Diaries. The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech has led many to ask if the media was responsible, just as Cho Seung-Hui’s taunts of “You did this to me” begin to fade from our ears.
Grindhouse is two films tacked together to imitate double bill B-movie features, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof, neither for the faint-hearted. The garish poster plastered on billboards around the nation depicts Rodriguez’s heroine Cherry, played by Rose McGowan, with a semi-automatic machine gun where the bottom half of her left leg should be. While critics have lauded this new cinematic adventure, the public have sent out a clear message by staying at home. The film bombed in its first week, and takings have dropped by 65% since then. However, whether it was the violence that put people off remains to be seen; especially considering the massive success of ‘torture-porn’ films such as Saw and Hostel.
Should film directors be held accountable for injecting our society with such unashamedly unadulterated violence? Grindhouse’s website contains lengthy interviews with its two directors, and it is immediately clear that they do not concern themselves with notions of social responsibility. They look ridiculously pleased with themselves at all times, smiling and nodding as Rodriguez gleefully asserts that he had to “melt anything good” out of his version of a grindhouse film; a sleazy ‘70s genre that the two have shrewdly capitalised on for a wider audience. But one must ask: why should they care about society? They are artists, not politicians or teachers. Some would argue that it is their duty to push the boundaries of what is acceptable, and our duty as the consumer or audience to discern what we should and shouldn’t watch. Particularly as in America the film has been rated ‘R’, meaning that any child can see the film, so long as they are accompanied by someone over 21. The film’s release in the UK has been postponed indefinitely.
Films, as a whole, are seen for what they are: fantasy. But what of the minority in society who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality? The majority of people garner a particular cathartic pleasure from watching a film, treating it as an escape of sorts. Whether you abhor directors such as Tarantino and Rodriguez as tasteless, or congratulate them for facing society’s perverse obsession with blood and gore head-on is, in a sense, beside the point. The question is, are the people who take such images to heart already beyond our help? It is easy to make the media a scapegoat for the deeds of the psychopaths of our society; it is altogether much harder to examine our own actions, and our role in what is shown to us day to day. Maybe such people will always seek to cause harm, leaving us with little option but to try and understand them in order to limit the damage they could inflict.
Other films that have stoked the fires of controversy
This 2003 South Korean gore-fest, directed by Park Chang-Wook, was praised by Tarantino. It tells the story of a man who is unexplainedly imprisoned for 15 years and his attempts to discover the reasons behind his ordeal.
A Clockwork Orange
The 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel was withdrawn from UK distribution by director Stanley Kubrick after being linked to a series of crimes, including a rape during which the attackers sang ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.
The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion drew accusations of anti-semitism, deviation from the New Testament and excessive violence. None of these prevented it from being nominated for three Oscars.