Auguste Lumiere, one of the men who helped invent the first projection machine, once ironically said “Our invention can be exploited for a certain time as a scientific curiosity, but apart from that, it has no commercial future whatsoever. ” (Burns) Auguste might have been wrong about his invention’s future, but one thing he got right was its exploitation. Since their introduction to the public, movies have widely become one of the world’s most frequent (if not favorite) past times.
In fact, they have evolved beyond simply being merely a past time, and are now a multi-million dollar industry, with almost every film featuring either big budget special effects action sequences, A-list actors and actresses, erratic plot twists, or all of the above. Thousands, if not millions of people flock to theatres on opening nights, and with such a widespread audience, questions are raised. Are movies merely fantasy, or do they encourage viewers to recreate what they see in reality?
Is this inherent in all forms of entertainment, or is it something the film industry should be held responsible for? It is a fact of life that movies and media do influence people – one look at the hundreds of people dressed in costume, waiting on line at the premiere of the first Star Wars prequel a few years ago will tell you that much. The problem, or so critics and over-anxious-parents will have us believe, is that this type of film blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. John Cones, a member of the Film Institute Reform Movement, states that; … not only are movies a contributing cause of violent behavior in some children, but movies also influence our society’s thinking and behavior about appropriate sexual conduct, graphic language, the use of violence to solve problems in general, our attitudes toward religion and other authoritative institutions and/or individuals in our lives (as a result of Hollywood’s consistent anti-religious and anti-authority themes), and how we think about and behave toward each other. ” (Cones, par. 1)
Moviegoers, it seems, no longer have a mind of their own and are mere putty in the hands of the story-writers. Or are they? Many recent tragedies have placed the film industry under close scrutiny by those who believe that excessive violence, recklessness, or just plain stupidity portrayed in movies has had, to put it mildly, a negative effect on the younger generation. Very recently in the news, Matthew Lovett, an 18 year old New Jersey resident, was arrested for allegedly planning to kill a group of teens who had teased and tormented both him and his little brother.
Obviously, this is an individual who has underlying problems besides simply teasing, and it’s both sad and shocking that he was backed so far into a corner that he planned to open fire on both his tormenters, and any random passers-by. But not one news article neglects to make mention of the fact that Lovett was an avid fan of the Matrix movies, wherein the main character, Neo, discovers that the world we all inhabit is merely a farce for a darker, more dangerous world. Obviously, say officials, there must be a connection between the teen and his favorite movie. Associated Press, pars. 7-8) Granted, it has been said that the Matrix movies seem to have more fistfights, gunfire, and explosions than actual plotline, but how fair is it to draw that conclusion? Was the Matrix simply a movie, and Lovett simply an already emotionally unhealthy young man? Or did the movie inspire Lovett to wake up one day and nonchalantly think to himself “… you know, that Keanu Reeves sure did look cool blowing all those people up. I think I’ll try it, too. ”
A quick search on the World Wide Web for “copy-cat incidents,” as most overly-concerned citizens like to call them, returns countless pages of results. Two recent movies, The Fast and The Furious, and it’s sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, have recently become the scapegoats for a number of incidents across the world. Within a two-month time span, Canadian officials placed the blame for two high speed crashes on how the movies glorify high speed street racing. Two officials interviewed in newspaper stories regarding the incidents are quoted as saying;
Criminologist Ray Corrado of Simon Fraser University said young people mimic what they think is cool. “Those drag scenes in the movies look awesome,” he said. “Definitely, some young people will mimic what they see. ” “When a movie like this comes out and it glorifies fast driving and [shows] people [getting] away with it, then I believe that yeah, some people would go out and imitate that type of lifestyle or behaviour,” Sergeant Ted Holtzheuser said. (Smith, pars 15-16)
So obviously, there’s no shortage of blame to be pointed and thrown around at various films. But is it accurate to do so? The Fast And Furious movies were a result of an already well-established subculture of racing. Kids had been racing before the movie was a twinkling in the producer’s eye, and they probably will continue racing long after the VHS copies of the film have disintegrated in the landfills. This is not to say, however, that poor judgement was not one of the main factors in these tragedies. It was, that can be said without a doubt.
But a teenager who gets in a car and flies down the road at double the legal speed limit with no professional training to do so, would probably have done it anyway, regardless of seeing the scene acted out in a theatre. On a similar vain, murderers would probably murder anyway, regardless of watching Silence Of The Lambs. Rapists and sexual deviants would probably still be the same way regardless of seeing A Clockwork Orange, and skinheads would still lead their crazy, angry existence even if they had never seen Edward Norton in American History X.
In a world where everyone cries wolf and claims to be a victim, how can we know who is really to blame for copy-cat incidents? Should the film industry hold responsibility for influencing people to do stupid things? Rating systems have already been implemented to potentially screen children that may be too young (and therefore, influential) from seeing movies with certain aspects some may find objectable. Should movie makers just cut back on the excitement, for fear it may start some “trend? We don’t see too many copy-cat incidents of the movie Legally Blonde, perhaps all movies produced should just have a nice, watered-down story-line, weak jokes and a goofy self-empowering story line. Then perhaps the world would be safe once again. I think the answer is easier found if you take a look back a few hundred years. There’s no doubt that William Shakespeare’s works remained both popular and thrilling to their audience for hundreds of years after their introduction.
But with all the popularity they received, how often is it that you hear of a 17th century boy chopping the head off his family members? How common was it for a 16th century man to commit a murder, then store the body parts underneath his floorboards, for the sole reason that he was Shakespeare’s number one fan? The difference between today and 300 years ago is simple; parenting. Mothers were expected to stay at home and raise the family, and instill in them a proper version of right and wrong.
Not to say that women today should quit their jobs and become a full-time mom, but a greater effort absolutely must be made to do a better job of parenting our children. It is only in the last few decades that people have started to imitate film, television, books, etc, to the extent that they have. And the reason is because with the invention of television and movies, parents use them as a substitute mom or dad, plopping the kids in front of the television while they do chores or errands themselves, or dropping the kids off at the movie theatre in order to get some “peace and quiet” for a few hours.
If kids spend more time with movies than mom or dad, of course they are going to be more heavily influenced by them, as well has have a skewed perception of fantasy vs. reality. If parents don’t start taking more responsibility for raising their children properly, the kids are going to find someone to do it for them, and when daddy is replaced by Arnold Schwarzenneger as the Terminator, that bridge between fantasy and reality might as well have a ton of TNT planted on it.