Hollywood declared war on American gun culture in 2013 with a public service announcement calling for stricter gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Now the industry is back on the attack in the wake of the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Stars including Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney and the cast of ABC’s “Modern Family” support this month’s March for Our Lives rally for stricter gun legislation.
Yet a study by the Parents Television Council shows that portrayals of gun violence on television have increased dramatically in recent years, even in shows deemed appropriate for children.
The entertainment industry’s love of gunplay and hatred for firearms muddles, if not negates, Hollywood’s role in a constructive conversation on the Second Amendment.
That 2013 public service announcements looks tame by current standards. Celebrities routinely dub the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization. Prominent actors such as Sally Field and Michael Keaton have blamed the NRA, Second Amendment advocates and Republicans for the 17 deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.
Nonetheless, stars defend their gun-soaked content. Jennifer Lawrence deflected blame from her industry’s handiwork during the New York City premiere of her R-rated spy thriller “Red Sparrow.”
“I think the problem is guns, not the entertainment industry,” the Academy Award winner told the press.
A few Hollywood voices beg to differ. Comedic actress/writer Amy Schumer revealed how she modified a sequence in her 2017 flop “Snatched” to remove gun violence from the story.
Megan Boone of NBC’s “The Blacklist” tweeted how she would change her character’s behavior on the hit show after the Parkland shooting.
“Liz Keen will never carry an assault rifle again and I am deeply sorry for participating in glorifying them in the past,” the actress tweeted.
Rare is the Hollywood star who expresses a pro-gun attitude. Keanu Reeves, star of “The Matrix” trilogy and more recently the “John Wick” franchise, told Britain’s Independent newspaper while he was working on “Street Kings” in 2008: “You mean should citizens be able to have a weapon? Yeah, why not? I am not fundamentally against citizens having access to a weapon, but I think that it has complications, the use of it. It’s probably not the wisest thing. Personally I don’t own a weapon.”
This isn’t the first time industry players have questioned the impact of fictional violence on the real world. Producer Harvey Weinstein inspired headlines in 2012, for reasons unrelated to his sexual appetites, by calling for a summit on movie violence after the 2012 cinema shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
“I think as filmmakers we should sit down — the Marty Scorseses, the Quentin Tarantinos and hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies — and discuss our role in that,” Mr. Weinstein told The Huffington Post at the time.
His summit never materialized, though.
Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, who starred in the Weinstein-distributed “Django Unchained,” connected movie violence with the real thing while promoting the 2012 film.
“We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence,” Mr. Foxx told The Associated Press at the time.
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said he was cc’d on emails from scholars who reached out to Mr. Weinstein after he pitched the ill-fated summit.
“Media violence experts from around the country reached out to him and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Mr. Winter said. “They never heard back from him.”
Hollywood’s disconnect between content and message has only ballooned since then, he said.
“More than ever before, they are making a fortune off of dress rehearsals of bloody slaughter,” Mr. Winter said. “The hypocrisy could not be stronger. It’s off the charts.”
‘Grossest forms of violence’
A Parents Television Council study shows that the portrayal of violence on TV shows judged as suitable for family viewing has surged in the five years since the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Nearly 61 percent of 287 broadcast TV episodes featured some form of violence during the November “sweeps” period, when broadcasters often air the best of their fare to attract advertisers. Of those 287 shows, 39 percent showcased gun-related violence.
A 2013 study by The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania showed that gun violence featured in the year’s most profitable PG-13 movies lapped the gun violence showcased in that year’s most popular R-rated features.
The data tell only part of the story, Mr. Winter said.
“It’s now content that is deeper, darker and more sinister. We root for the antihero the bad buy to kill somebody with much more explicit violence much more real than ever before,” he said. “There’s a pornographic element to the kind of violence [today].”
That isn’t stopping Hollywood denizens from changing the subject to stricter gun control legislation, part of the March 24 rally’s goal.
Steve Levitan, co-creator of the ABC sitcom “Modern Family,” told People magazine why the show’s members created a public service announcement promoting an anti-gun rally on the National Mall in Washington on March 24.
“Our show celebrates families, while gun violence devastates them,” Mr. Levitan said. “How could we sit back and do nothing while these brave kids stand up to the gun lobby since our lawmakers won’t?”
The Washington Times reached out to the Screen Actors Guild for comment on this article without a response. Nor did NBC respond to a request to interview Miss Boone related to her announcement about her character in “The Blacklist.”
Thomas Krannawitter, a former professor and author of the right-leaning 2017 satire “Save the Swamp,” said Hollywood violence today is markedly different from what our parents and grandparents grew up watching.
“The violence [back then] was in the service of justice, very often the good guy who came to save the day using a gun,” said Mr. Krannawitter, president of Speakeasy Ideas, a Colorado-based group promoting right-of-center values. “Now, Hollywood very often just wants to sensationalize using the grossest forms of violence.”
None of this means Hollywood can’t play a role in reducing the kinds of mass shootings we see too often in our culture, Mr. Krannawitter said.
“Criminologists across the political spectrum have known there’s a direct and strong correlation between young male violence and the lack of a presence of fathers,” he said. Why not make more stories revealing that hard truth?
“Movies that glorify violence and guns would be far less influential if we had far more boys growing up knowing their dads,” he said.