Wednesday, July 1, 2009

If it Bleeds, It Leads

The Horror of Media Violence

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE has an abstract view of violence, creating an unreal loss of authenticity - even the rape scene has no feeling.

ON May 29th 2009 at Norwich Crown Court, a woman and two men were convicted of murdering a teenager who was tied to a tree, doused in petrol, and then burned alive in an alleged re-enactment of a scene from the spoof horror SEVERANCE (2006). Literally fanning the flames to this horrid affair was a tangled love triangle, yet prosecutors and the media continue to blame film rather than society’s increasing inability to deal with everyday emotion. Censorship cannot destroy an ideal; as Carl Sagan once said, “Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves.”

In 1991, the press blamed CHILD’S PLAY 3, released the same year, for having inspired the killing of two-year-old Jamie Bulger in Liverpool. Some papers claimed that the two boy murderers had viewed the film only days prior to their attack; others went so far as to draw conclusions to which scenes inspired particular acts of torture. Neither of the two minors had seen the film, nor did the police investigation find any evidence that could have encouraged such a crime. In fact, Inspector Ray Simpson stated that “…If you are going to link this murder to a film, you might as well link it to The Railway Children”. Yet many people remain certain it was the cause. In reality, the two boys are now walking around as free young men, with new identities, and being carefully looked after by the taxpayer.

Claudie Blakley shortly to become toast at the hands of the Flamethrower Killer in Christopher Smith’s playful horror, SEVERANCE.

The human brain reacts to certain stimulations, i.e. the neurosis caused by THE EXORCIST (1973)’s blend of quiet passages and grating sound. Likewise, it seems that the films which leave the most powerful impressions on the unbalanced are those which depict a sudden outbreak of random violence. Most violence is frenzied and not dependant on any particular time, place or circumstance; rather it is an unpredictable, elemental urge. Robert Sartin - a twenty-three-year-old Civil Servant - shot seventeen people and killed one person in Whitley Bay in 1989 because he was following instructions given to him by the killer in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978). Sartin was found unfit even to stand trial by virtue of mental illness, and yet the crime was still described as being caused by Carpenter’s film (HALLOWEEN, in particular, is considered to have a harmful effect on the unstable for its sudden violence set in a familiar, suburban setting (“Death has come to your little town.”))

The debate if film can create real-life violence has been so tediously overworked as to be virtually redundant. Any attempt to blame art for human behaviour quickly falls down when one considers that The Bible has inspired more acts of bloodshed than any other piece of literature, but is still remains openly revered. Film - like all art - should provoke and inspire, but cinema has been singled out because it is arguably the most influential of all the arts, and is certainly the form of choice for the younger generation from which most killers are drawn.

Copycat violence and death threats lead Stanley Kubrick to pull A CLOCKWORK ORANGE from circulation in Britain, though it continued to play freely around the world.

It is amusing how the media can adapt and assimilate their cause. The press has always found a way to categorise society ills through money-making propaganda and sensationalism - from the birth of tabloid journalism creating Jack the Ripper, to the notorious Video Nasty phenomenon of the early 1980s. The media now have a much more gracious and fertile ground to breed their fear. If we fear, we can continue to consume and be made to do anything. Disturbing images of violent crime dominate news broadcasting, and as news competes with other media for audiences, many producers have come to rely on the maxim “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) contains images that transcend the actual viewing experience. It functions on an almost operatic level; the director is pushing the boundaries for a hook that hits you somewhere between the heart and the head. Beginning with the hypnotic stare of Alex (Malcolm McDowell) straight to camera, the charming but appalling thug welcomes the viewer at an almost intimate level. Indeed, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE spoke to the people of 1970s Britain in a profound way, bringing an almost demonic portrayal of the day’s civil unrests, Miner’s Strikes, three-day weeks and blackouts. Reports of street gangs carrying out violence inspired by Kubrick’s film was obviously welcomed with open arms by the press, but violence is a rite of passage for man, a pack mentalitity that rules in times of breakdown, in which sexual tensions are also sharpened. Despite the director’s comments to the contrary, the film is a forecast - and we are edging closer to the abyss.