Betsy Sharkey's premise, "A Critic Says the Problem Isn't the Movies but Real Life, Where Killing Is All Too Common," is misguided and unrealistic [Feb. 17]. If killing and violence are all too common in real life, does producing more films, which seem to glorify gratuitous killing and violence, alleviate the problem? I don't think so.
After all, fashion, sexual behavior and language in films seem to have an influential and imitative effect in people's lives. Why would violence be exempt?
Sharkey claims that nothing she's seen in movies comes close to what she's witnessed firsthand. How can this be? In real life, one kick to the head could end a life, or most likely end the fight, but in films, a dozen kicks to the head seem to prolong a fight rather than end it.
We live in a culture of violence, and that culture is nurtured and glamorized by the movies. We can become only more inured to that violence and more violent as a society, because ultimately, life imitates art.
THE CULTURE OF VIOLENCE: Art | Film | Television | Hollywood
As a Vietnam-era Navy and county hospital-trained doctor and movie buff, I think Sharkey's is the best-written piece I have seen in years in Calendar. I agree with her 100% that real-life violence (as we just witnessed with Christopher Dorner) is much worse than the buckets of stage blood on the big screen. Real-life violence is unscripted, not played out in front of a camera with predetermined endings. Anyone who has personally experienced extreme violence realizes that it has existed long before the first moving picture at the turn of the last century. Hollywood always tells us a story, and the bad guys always lose in the end.
Michael L. Friedman
Sharkey's piece forced me to rethink my position. She makes good arguments about how violence in film serves a useful purpose and why we should accept it. I think it is also important to understand where the responsibility lies for violence in our schools, malls and streets. It is most likely not in the media, as the National Rifle Assn. would have us believe. A large share of the responsibility clearly lies with the gun manufacturers. And it should be noted that it is primarily these gun merchants that the NRA now serves.
The real reason that the movie and entertainment business is increasing the graphic depictions of violence is the bottom line. As the viewing public becomes more and more desensitized to gore, murder and mayhem, the industry must increase the level of its output. Sharkey maintains that the problem is that it is the "art" that is in jeopardy. If she wants to be exhilarated, enriched and able to vicariously experience violence, I feel alarmed and saddened for her.
Sharkey's contention that her exposure to real-world violence as a police reporter informs her lack of offense to film violence asserts that witnessing the appalling effects of violence upon the human body is the same as viewing the commission of the acts that caused them. It isn't. The experience of viewing a photograph of a homicide victim is by no means the same experience as viewing documentary footage of the killing taking place. The photograph produces any number of emotional reactions but fails to produce the adrenalized thrill of watching the act itself.
The films Sharkey cites are, indeed, serious and artistic films whose makers are aware of their content and its thematic applications. Those films are the minority of Hollywood's product, however; most films contain mindless violence aspiring to catharsis but achieving little more than titillation. More troubling than mankind's endless commission of violent acts may well be its ability to derive entertainment from watching them.
For a woman who "abhor[s] violence," Sharkey seems giddy about the amount of violence she gets to see in the movies. From her insider position as a film critic, living in symbiosis with the movie industry, she seems to forget that the vast majority of moviegoers are not critics worried about the filmmaker's "responsibility ... to the art." They are young people who are as easily influenced by the actions of a movie as they are by the commercials shown during a television show. Advertisers willingly pay for those commercials because they work — they change how people act. To casually assume that a person watching violence and gore in a movie won't be negatively affected by it is to become a citizen of the alternative reality created by movies.