The Question of Playing Violent Roles

December 20, 2012

The recent nightmarish school shooting in Newtown, CT is being described on numerous media outlets as “different.” Many sources are suggesting this particular tragedy will be the one that creates change in our nation’s gun laws, and perhaps pave a road to better support those impacted by mental illness. Kesha’s new song titled “Die Young” has been pulled from radio stations across the country after the horrific Sandy Hook school shooting. The lyrics were perceived as at least insensitive, and at worst, damaging. But she’s not alone. Other sources of media (film, TV, video games) are being questioned in the wake of this tragedy due to the violence depicted for entertainment’s sake. Many are asking, “Can violence in the media inspire violence in the real world?”

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino says this argument has been occurring since Shakespeare, and argues, “I just think, you know, there’s violence in the world, tragedies happen–blame the playmakers.” Christoph Waltz, who played a brutal SS Colonel in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, and now stars in Django Unchained, argues, “…(violence in media) is unmistakably fiction. And to claim that you confuse it with reality is somewhat far-fetched.” Waltz believes more gun control as well as less sensationalized news media will reduce real-world violence. Costar Jamie Fox disagrees, arguing that the media does need to take a  certain amount of responsibility. “We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence. It does.”

Indeed, numerous studies have concluded that exposure to media violence can be a factor in predicting future aggressive behavior. For instance, in a 1984 study of prisoners in Butner, NC, researchers found that approximately 20 percent of research prisoners claimed they’d been influenced by either newspaper reports, TV news, TV shows, or movies before committing a crime. But such research is not without its flaws for a number of reasons; for example, Japan has plenty of violent, controversial programming, and their crime rates are very low.

When major tragedies occur, people seek to know why, and ask, “What could have prevented this?” Some argue blaming the media is too convenient and ultimately misguided, when it’s actually society that needs to take responsibility for these aberrations.

Quentin Tarantino

Two weeks ago, Brad Bushman published an experiment in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, demonstrating that people who played a violent video game for three consecutive days showed increases in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations each day.

What do you think? As an actor who may some day be asked to play a character who participates in extreme violence whether you be the perpetrator or the victim: Have the recent events given you pause to avoid such roles? Perhaps you reject the premise entirely that violent images affect reality. Please share your thoughts.