Freedom versus safety — the thematic core of every political debate and dystopian novel in civilized history, two human values of inarguable importance that are often placed in direct contrast to one another. Such is the root of the standing issue regarding gun violence in movies, or at least of one of the issue’s key components. Does Hollywood’s attitude toward and depiction of violence provoke acts of violence off screen? And if so, should filmmakers be discouraged from including scenes of intense violence in their work?
It’s a tricky subject, no doubt. Earlier this week, Deadline reported that President Barack Obama would be undertaking a study to determine the influence of the media (film, television programs, video games, etc.) on real world violent expression. On Thursday, the Sundance Film Festival provided a platform for longtime filmmaker, actor, and festival founder Robert Redford to voice his standpoint on the issue. Entertainment Weekly reports Redford’s concerns about Hollywood’s glorification of firearms: “Does my industry think that guns will help sell tickets? I don’t know. It’s not a question that I could answer. But it seems like a question worth asking my own industry … I’ve noticed how often guns are used in ads, as though there’s something that translates in a positive way.”
Within the ever-growing discourse, other factors are often cited as more present dangers: the public’s access to guns and a lack of awareness and understanding of psychological health problems being the most common. Should we be paying more attention to these catalysts than whatever “inspiration” is sparked by violent movies and TV shows? Almost certainly. But does this mean that such media output should be automatically absolved from blame?
Obama’s aforementioned program would, ideally, present tangible data that would prove one way or the other how onscreen shootings affect viewers. But even if a clear answer is found, we may find ourselves at a stalemate regarding a solution. It is almost second nature for many of us to side with free expression, “censorship” being one of the ugliest words in the English language. With this mentality, we might oppose even the possibility of art being “at fault” for the deeds of its observers. And while we can shift blame away from the artists and towards those who interpret the art to fuel the practice of violence, this doesn’t change what may be an existing correlation.
Therein lies the core question: freedom versus safety. Which are we more willing to sacrifice? To some, as stated, a widespread adoption of censorship policies is the stuff of nightmares. To others, the horror stories our country has faced over the past few months are more than enough motivation to enact any policy that might ensure more security for our loved ones.
For the latter community, the solution is simpler. It seems like a no-brainer to dispose of whatever forces might stimulate the sort of tragedies we’ve seen. But speaking to the other camp, those steadfast purveyors of free speech and artistic expression, the complications thicken. We want a safe, civil world as much as anyone else does. But we also value a world where our ideas have limitless venue, where we can breed progress through conversation and art. We have the luxury, at this juncture, to defend our media as innocent in the absence of any hard data pointing to the alternative. But if such a link is presented beyond reasonable doubt, that’s when we’ll be faced with determining where our own values point. And choosing between two wholly, inarguably important human values is no easy feat.
[Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP]