Bob Franken


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As an aspiring journalist, I have always been leery of those who blame the media for anything and everything. Because of what I do, I’ve focused on news coverage and have always had particular scorn for the public figures who attack us as a way to deflect blame for their bad behavior.
But there are many other media. (By the way, the word “media” is plural, the singular is “medium.” Hearing someone say “the media IS” causes me to shudder. Which means I shudder a lot. It also means I’m a petulant grammar snob, but I digress.)
The serious point here is that the killing rampage by that seriously disturbed 22-year-old punk Elliot Rodger has tragically emphasized societal problems that are least partially the media’s fault. In this case, however, my focus is not on news but on entertainment media and the way that for generations they have trivialized the searingly painful consequences of violence up to and including the dehumanization of death itself. In the 1992 Western “Unforgiven,” Clint Eastwood’s character Will Munny reflects: “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
But that’s a rare moment of cinema introspection. For the most part, shoot-’em-ups have made “killing a man” (or lots of them) a routine part of the plot, with no attention paid to the consequences. It’s just gunplay, which, if you think about it, is a very telling word that dismisses the grim consequences of what the screen is transmitting to an impressionable young audience.

No wonder we have such a twisted love for our real-life weapons of mass destruction. No wonder the mere suggestion of minimal gun control sends millions of Americans into a frenzy. In fairness, it must be pointed out that Rodger stabbed three of his victims to death, so this is about a problem more fundamental than just firearms. Elliot Rodger was depraved, without a doubt. But he had been exposed over a lifetime of entertainment that treated violence as frivolous.
Without a doubt, that is also the case with misogyny. Where do we begin? Do we start with the depiction of females as mannequins — to be blunt about it, sex dolls, whose only purpose is to satisfy whatever the whims of the male characters are at the moment? The usual term is the “objectification of women,” and that works. But it’s even worse — it’s the mortification of women and the glorification of the men’s conquest of them. The feeling that Elliot Rodger had somehow failed in the game of love sent him into a murderous rage, even though in real life, it’s not a game, and what we see on the screen is not love. It’s not anything, except a deplorable influence on the mindset of someone who is out of his mind.
The respected Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday put it as well as anyone when she wrote, “Rodger’s rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.”
The glorification of violence and misogyny in entertainment — and most toxically, the combination of both — is not a new issue. We’ve been complaining about it for a long time. At the very same time, however, we flock to these movies, the more explosions and gratuitous mayhem the better. We pay big bucks, which means that the industry isn’t about to stop churning this stuff out. That’s particularly true now that there is such competition from the Internet to exploit our darkest instincts.
It isn’t about to get better, that’s for sure. There will be more cruel mass violence. After a while, those of us in the news media won’t bother covering our downward spiral into hell on Earth, even worse than what we see on the screen.

© 2014 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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