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Violence and story

Following the Aurora shooting, Gangster Squad’s release was delayed and a scene in which a shooting occurred in a movie theater was altered.

After the Newtown tragedy, Paramount delayed the premiere of Jack Reacher; and Showtime put warnings in front of Dexter and Homeland that warned: “In light of the tragedy that has occurred in Connecticut, the following program contains images that may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.”

And now, in the wake of the horrible Boston bombing, NBC cancelled a particularly violent episode of the new show Hannibal.

I find it encouraging, actually, that TV and movie studios are sensitive to the public’s psyche after these kinds of terrible events. But I keep wondering, where is that sensitivity the rest of the time? Why is showing a violent show or movie two weeks after a shooting any better than showing it two days after?

I’m the last person who thinks there should be censorship in media. But sensitivity and restraint is another matter. Clearly, when studios hold back episodes and put up warnings on the most violent of their shows, it proves they are conscious that the material may be upsetting to viewers during the days following a tragedy. But what’s the cutoff? Can they really say that after a week or two, the public is back to normal and ready for a heaping dose of violence?

Because while these three events are among the most extreme and publicized in recent memory, shootings and violence and tragedy occur in our society every day. So shouldn’t the studios be sensitive to our collective psyche year-round?

I’m not advocating for banning violence from TV and the movies. I watch Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, both of which feature plenty of violent imagery which can often be disturbing. And I enjoy a good action movie as much as the next guy.

And I’m not just a consumer, I’m on the other side as well, making shows for TV. And both A:TLA and Korra depict or allude to very violent acts, such as genocide, child abuse, and a murder/suicide. These are heavy themes in an animated kid’s show, but they serve to tell a more uplifting story of love, sacrifice, and overcoming adversity. And in writing and drawing the show we are always sensitive to the fact that kids are watching.

In an interview following Newtown, Time Magazine TV critic James Poniewozik told NPR: “If something is actually inappropriate, then we should treat it as if it’s inappropriate at all times, not just inappropriate for two weeks and then suddenly becomes okay again.”

Absolutely. Of course, that’s where things get a little tricky. Inappropriate for whom? And who deems what is inappropriate and what’s not? My girlfriend is much more sensitive to on screen violence than I am, so I usually watch the more intense shows and movies on my own or with friends. It’s different for everybody. But as I’ve explored in some of my other posts, I do believe that what we read and watch affects our brains, so it can’t hurt to tone down the violence in TV and movies if we want to find a little more peace. At the very least, we can begin to explore how these violent stories affect us as people and as a culture. Just saying that on screen violence doesn’t affect us is no longer a valid argument. And based on the actions of the studios following these tragedies, they know it’s true too.

On a side note, welcome to the readers who have found this blog through the Freshly Pressed link. I’m still new to this whole blogging thing, so having WordPress spotlight the Zuko’s Mom post was a nice surprise. I appreciate everyone’s comments and feedback. Thanks for reading!

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