Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Screenwriter Ponders the Aurora Theater Shootings

I debated whether to write this post. I have intentionally avoided politics and social commentary in this blog and I don’t want to exploit what happened in Aurora in any way. Plus, I don’t know that I have much of value to add to the cacophony of opinion. But this blog does cover the film industry and the screenwriting life, and when a guy walks into a movie theater and shoots seventy people, well, it’s hard not to address it.

There are, of course, no words to describe how heartbreaking the deaths and injuries are. Like everyone else in this business, this one hit me extra hard. I love movies. I love the joy of going to the theater with a group of people and watching a story unfold on screen. I love it so much I chose to do it for a living. For someone to violate that makes an impact even though I don’t personally know any of the victims.

There has been some call lately for Hollywood to engage in a little soul searching for the violence we show in film. And I doubt anyone in Hollywood has failed to consider the possibility of a connection. But it’s misguided and even dangerous to blame film violence for this kind of real world violence.

Despite the opinions of a few talk radio blowhards, we now know from psychologists and neurobiologists that violent movies, video games and other media do not turn people into killers. The brain just doesn’t work that way. In fact, studies of the subject indicate viewing violent media might make people less likely to engage in violence in real life, not more likely.

It’s probable that everyone who commits this type of horrible mass killing suffers from a biological brain defect of some kind. They may gravitate to violent media and they may reference that media in their actions, but they would be killers even if they were fed a steady diet of My Little Pony.

Last weekend every theater in the country reviewed their security plans. That’s good. That’s a logical response. Though we could easily go too far there, as well. You’re still more likely to die falling out of bed or from a champagne cork mishap than from being shot in a theater. (And you’re far more likely to be killed by someone texting while driving than by an assault rifle wielding maniac.) So let’s keep a little perspective while we make sure we take some basic precautions.

I do think the MPAA could do a better job informing parents about the violent content of movies with the rating system, though that’s difficult too. The problem is violence is qualitative, not quantitative. Based on number of deaths, Star Wars is one of the most violent movies ever, yet I know few parents who would hesitate to let their ten-year-old watch it. On the other hand, The Accused has no deaths but is very graphic and, in my opinion, not appropriate for kids. It’s also an important movie on an important subject.

In the end we as writers can’t censor ourselves based on one crazy nut job and some vague feeling that media might have influenced his actions despite all evidence to the contrary.

But we can say a prayer for the victims of the tragedy in Aurora, and remember the slain for how they lived, not how they died.