Movie/social critic "poisoning nation's soul"

Caught a link to this pernicious, hand-wringing article by Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Violent media poisoning nation's soul"

Photo linked to the awful article, read at your moral peril!It's ignorant, muddled, terrible, and awful.

I understand some people feel there is a correlation between violent media and violent actions, and believe in the free choice people have to not see violent entertainment. Hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. take in these entertainments and do not behave violently.

Watching violence is cathartic, whether in theater, song, movies, video games. They are scapegoats for our fantasies, and for opportunistic politicians not wanting to look at true root causes. We're not far from the days of blaming Catcher in the Rye or Ozzy Osbourne or Marilyn Manson for the acts of people who have severe mental breakdowns or illnesses. In our Western history we had public executions, hangings, and gladiatorial combat as everyday occurrences. Shall we talk about human-written magic books promising eternal bliss to suicide bombers? No? Video games are easier political points? Uhm, yeah, okay.

The author compares marketers targeting the young male demographic to what the Taliban does. He pretends to be pro-free expression, but this section speculating on how a movie reviewer may soft-pedal a scene with a movie theater massacre smacks of Carry Nation hysterics:

And so the critic would end up writing something like this: "The movie contains a disturbing yet highly effective scene of violence transpiring at a movie theater." Forget any mention of the insidiousness of inserting such poison into the national mind, of the morality or decency of feeding audiences crack.

Barf. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds had a movie theater massacre as its climax. It was a fantasy piece about mowing down Nazis and the power of cinema. Jewish soldiers got to kill Hitler and other Nazi leaders years ahead of time. A hail of gunfire and a blazing inferno and it felt shocking and great. To my knowledge, no one tried to replicate that in real life. It was not treated as poison in the national mind. Art should not be required to have a moral or social obligation. When it does, people become tightly wound and societies get even more twisted and weird. Catharsis is necessary, imagination is necessary, otherwise we get sick inside.

I recently rewatched the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine, which tries to get at why the U.S. seems to have so many more violent gun deaths compared to other nations. The film doesn't get into per capita statistics, but other things I've read still show the U.S. as significantly higher per capita, even though gun ownership rates are comparable in Canada. The movie throws a bunch of ideas into the air for consideration, fair enough as there aren't any tidy solutions, but compellingly speculates that heightened social anxiety drummed up by the news media may be a factor. Overrepresentation in the news of crimes by minorities, especially compared to white collar/corporate crimes and environmental crimes, makes us fear incipient personal criminal attack from the mysterious Other.

My feeling (the truth may be different) is that there's something to the movie's point about the news media. I make a distinction between social violence in the news portrayed as "real life" resonating differently with people and how those same people engage with art/entertainment, something they know is fake and not an imminent threat.

Growing up I remember adult media debate over whether television should air violent cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Road Runner on Saturday mornings. I don't recall anyone I knew ever dropping anvils in real life, or playing with dynamite, or running off a cliff to see whether flapping their arms could hold them up in the air. However the news media has recently flapped its arms over the "fiscal cliff crisis" as a real thing we all need to be concerned about and panic over. And we did.