Hollywood and Big Media Discover that "Violence is the New Sex"
As we begin the year 2015, it is appropriate to reflect upon what has changed in our lives. In addition to our self-centered musings, we might stop and remember our roots. Although there may be loners in our midst, from ancient times most humans lived in tribes. Because of real or perceived threats from the “Other”, defenses were created, battles fought and foes vanquished. In the past year, many tribes in this world have reverted to the ancient vortextual cycle of affront and subsequent revenge.
Is there a unifying theory that explains our current sad state of international affairs? As a contrarian, the “theory of negative creation” comes to my mind. As your mother once said, “If you do not have anything nice to say about someone, do not say it”. In 2015, many tribes again believe that confrontation and “fighting against” is the best way forward.
As of 2013, worldwide population was about seven billion. Of that, 31.5% are Christian and 23.2% are Muslim. Hindu (13.8%) and Buddhist (6.77%) are the only other religions scoring more than one percent of the total population. Surprising to me was the Jewish religion at only 0.22%. Fighting against the “Other” is a prominent theme in the Old Testament canon of the Christian Bible. The roots of the Old Testament are in the Tanakh, which is the ancient Hebrew canon. Early in the seventh century CE, yet another Abrahamic religion, Islam, codified its various stances against the “Other” in the Quran.
Together, the two largest religions, both of which had their roots in nomadic or herding cultures, encompass almost 55% of the current population. During their pre-industrial rise as mega-religions, Christianity and Islam often prescribed severe, even barbaric punishments on criminals and non-believers. Today, most self-identified Christians, Muslims and Jews disavow honor killings, revenge killings, stoning and mutilation. However, some radical Christians and Jews abide by ancient concepts of “religious war”, just as some radical Muslims countenance Jihad. Energy bridges connecting to the ancient days of each religion seem stronger now than ever before.
Like a stick of dynamite near a flame, it takes little or nothing to set off violence toward the “Other”. In recent weeks, a series of irreverent humor magazine covers were enough to incite terrorist acts in France. Soon after the smoke in Paris had cleared, a series of cyber-attacks followed. The cyber-attacks mimicked the recent North Korean hack of Sony Pictures, which was in revenge for release of the lowbrow satirical movie, “The Interview”.
What is “negative creation” and why does it matter? Because of our cognitive abilities, most humans believe that we are superior to any other species. Many people extend such negative thinking to other human “tribes”, religions, political and ethnic groups. Our lizard brain, which is at the core of our cognition, has great power to both project and react to fear. If we allow the rich or powerful to do the “creating” for us, their stake in power over others will skew toward negative creation.
Other than nation states and Islamist insurgencies, whom do I identify as the rich and powerful? Often, they are the top managers of our largest media conglomerates. After several decades of mergers and acquisitions, there are fewer Media Giants than ever. However, the remaining few now dominate theatrical movies, TV, internet products and old-fashioned print media.
Charlie Hebdo, the profane humor magazine that recently lit the spark of radical Islam was a small publication. Since the attacks in Paris, CNN (owned by Media Giant Time Warner) has focused the bulk of its news reporting on terror, terrorists and the risk of terror attacks in the U.S. What used to pass for regular news on CNN now appears only on the “news crawler”, at the bottom of the TV screen.
As public corporations, the main focus of Media Giants is profits, as derived from box office receipts, internet streaming revenue or TV ad sales. In the worldview of Media Giants, we, the audience should observe, absorb and consume a steady diet of visual and auditory fear mongering. Although they may still show some public service messages from time to time, fear and terror are still the best sellers at CNN and Fox News and many other Big Media outlets. Look no further than Fox News publicizing Muslim neighborhoods as supposed “No-Go-Zones" in Paris, France. In their zeal to promote Rupert Murdoch’s version of an anti-Muslim “religious war”, Fox News has discredited itself as a legitimate news organization. Even after Fox News apologized for their error, Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal doubled down on promoting the concept of "No-Go-Zones" in both France and Great Britain. When a supposedly rational elected official goes off the deep end of an argument, as Jindal has done, he discredits himself and by association, the people he was elected to serve.
Before any readers get bored, I will skip to my punch line. It is this: “The Media Giant’s covert and overt promotion of gratuitous violence, internecine war and cyber war risks destroying civil society as we know it.” Warner Bros. Entertainment’s released “American Sniper” on the Friday before Martin Luther King weekend 2015. In director Clint Eastwood’s sly way, the movie avoids gratuitous violence in favor of patriotic, “justifiable violence”. In a direct affront to the non-violent ways of Dr. Martin Luther King, the movie posted a record January weekend opening of $105.3 million in box office receipts.
How, you might ask, did we get to the sad point where profit-making corporations drive and often determine what the public sees and comes to believe is true? in 1887, the original Media Giant, Randolph Hearst and his ubiquitous Hearst Corporation started its rise with his taking control of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper. Not ironically, the first motion picture cameras were under development at that time. By 1910s, Hearst was producing newsreels for theatrical release. In the 1930s, with the advent of “talking pictures”, the rise of the Media Giants accelerated. By the 1960s, the mad dash for Media Giant supremacy was well underway.
Before the U.S. Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) took full effect in 1934, nudity and sex were acceptable subjects within Hollywood movies. Not ironically, federal laws stopped the legal sale of marijuana by the mid-1930s, as well. By 1934, with the Great Depression in full swing, moralists of every stripe tried to stop drugs, alcohol and “dirty movies” from reaching consumers. Since 1970, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, equal in detriment to heroin.
When I reached adulthood, in the 1960s, “Hollywood” dumped the old MPPC, reintroducing nudity, sex, and light drug use into their movies. In 1967, Hollywood distributed the Swedish movie “Elvira Madigan” to U.S. audiences. Although considered quaint by today’s standards, the nudity and sexuality portrayed in the film were previously unheard of in mass-market movies. The same year, “I am curious (Yellow)” hit U.S. audiences with even more overt sexuality. My curious mother-in-law attended a screening, wearing a disguise that featured a scarf and dark glasses. Later, she reported, “They had sex in a lot of places; even in a tree.” Reviewer Roger Ebert wrote, "Forget it. It's a dog. A real dog".
In 1970, the movie "M*A*S*H” featured on-camera marijuana smoking. Mash did set a gentler tone with drug use than the "stoner movie" genre, which soon followed. Unlike cocaine, which Hollywood continued to treat as the road to ruin, marijuana soon made its way into mainstream consciousness as naughty, but acceptable entertainment. With the Baby Boomers coming of age in the 60s and 70s, Hollywood soon discovered that depiction of soft drug usage helped to sell movie tickets.
In 1969, Sam Peckinpah's movie, "The Wild Bunch" advanced screen violence to blood-spurting new levels. Slow-motion gunshots jerking bodies, fraying clothing and splaying the flesh of both villains and heroes guaranteed the movie’s artistic acceptance. Soon, Hollywood would realize that violence sold more movie tickets than sex and drugs combined.
In 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) débuted its new movie rating scheme. An "X" rating was reserved for films deemed unsuitable for minors. Overt sex, drug use or gratuitous violence were enough to earn an "X" rating. As the years went by, "X", in the form of sex sold less well at the box office. If the public wanted to see graphic sex, they could view “XXX” movies. With the advent of home video and later internet pornography, “X” for sex and “XXX” moved to third tier producers and distributors.
By 1990, with the old “X=sex” formula fading, the MPAA eliminated that moniker and created a new "NC-17" designation. That new rating meant “No children, seventeen or under admitted.” Since MPAA ratings were voluntary, a distributor of a questionable film could either accept the dreaded "NC-17" rating or distribute the film as “unrated”. Either way the vast majority of theater operators would screen such a film. Art houses and secondary outlets make far less money for the Media Giants. If you need proof, just look at the abysmal $5.7 million in box office receipts for the first three weeks of the “biggest buzz film of 2014”, “The Interview”.
If you group the MPAA’s three children’s movie ratings, “G”, PG” and “PG-13”, there is sizable potential profit for the Media Giants. A “PG-13” rating admonished parents that “some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers”. Even so, millions of tweens flock to the edgier films. To them, “PG-13” is almost as good as an “R” rated movie. In theatrical release, an "R" for “restricted” means “Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian”. Few parents will accompany a pre-teen to an “R” rated movie, but the same parents might ignore the rating if viewing an “R” rated video in their own home. After all, children do not pay attention to TV, do they?
Over time, an “R” rating became the kiss of death for all but the most adult-oriented movies. In order to reach a broader audience, Hollywood modified many “R” rated films to earn a “PG-13” rating. “The Dark Knight,” “Terminator Salvation”, “Inception”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, “The Avengers”, “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Taken 2” were all released as PG-13 movies. The meta-theme of all these movies is violence, not sex. For the Media Giants, orange is the new black and violence is the new sex.
When I reached adulthood, the average eighteen-year-old had seen 16,000 humans shot to death on either a movie or a television screen. Soon, Hollywood downplayed simple gunplay, exploiting instead the visceral feel of large-scale explosions. The concept is that as long as you are killing “bad guys”; it is acceptable to graphically eviscerate any such lowlife, “sub humans” as might appear. Now, we the people can stream “The Interview” at home for the whole family to see. Note that it is an "R" rated film (for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence). When its producers explode a puppet-head representing Kim Jong Un onscreen, the whole family is supposed to laugh and cheer. In late December 2014, at least two congressional representatives suggested that that the U.S. government should invite Sony to screen that violent stoner movie at the U.S. Capital. Was it a freedom of speech issue or because poor Sony Pictures was losing tens of millions of dollars on its ill-timed release of "The Interview"?
Young Adam Lanza, the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murderer, stayed home for years playing "first-person shooter" video games. His gun-toting mother taught him how to shoot at the local gun range. Steeped for years in violent video games, admitted Aurora, Colorado mass murderer James Holmes went to the local multiplex to carry out his heinous acts. Violent video games often became the subject of popular Hollywood movie franchises and vice versa. Psychological studies have long shown that young males are susceptible to internalizing (and later externalizing) what they see repeated on movie or television screens. Whether it is violence toward women or the explosive violence of action movies, weak or disaffected habitues are ever more likely to act out their dystopian fantasies in the real world.
Only when parents wake up and stop allowing a violent aural assault on their children by Hollywood and the Media Giants will our culture return to the spirit of the recent holiday season, which once was, "Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men". Only when parents and children vote with their dollars for non-violent entertainment will the Media Giants forsake their addiction to violent box office hits and the obscene profits that they produce.