COMMENTARY | With the memory of Quentin Tarantino’s recent face-off with a journalist over his refusal to answer a question about whether movie violence affected real life violence still fresh, television executives have now been drawn into the wider debate.
During the latest portion of the 2013 Television Critics Association press tour (TCA) in Pasadena, Calif., which continues into next week, executives were asked the seemingly eternal question at time when America is struggling to understand events like the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Aurora, Colo., and so many others.
According to The Associated Press, executives were reluctant to make any connection between the output they air and real life-tragedies.
Robert Greenblatt, one time of head of Showtime cable network, which airs the exceedingly dark Dexter, and who is now in charge of the development of a forthcoming NBC series based on “Hannibal Lecter,” said:
“I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not sure you can make the leap (that) a show about serial killers has caused the sort of problems with violence in our country.” He added, “There are many, many other factors, from mental illness to guns.”
Those sentiments were more or less echoed by Kevin Reilly, Fox entertainment chairman, who AP said was “clearly annoyed” about being publicly questioned about the level of violence on television, replying with a blunt “No,” when he was asked if Fox had made any changes to the promotion/content of their forthcoming series The Following in light of the Newtown atrocity.
Given that Fox’s ominously advertised Kevin Bacon starrer premieres on January 21 and is about a charismatic serial killer who recruits followers and includes extremely graphic scenes of violence, the question is timely — if nothing else.
But Reilly was unequivocal about his belief that fictional violence has no impact on the real world, stating:
“It trivializes it to try and link it to television, or broadcast television in particular. Part of entertainment, part of what we do on television, is to provide escapism. Escapism comes in many forms. It could be laughter. It could be fantasy. It is also your worst nightmare come to life. And it makes our palms sweat and it moves us emotionally and puts us on the edge of the seat. We are engrossed in it and we forget ourselves for an hour.”
The Washington Post reports that CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler also called for a time out on similar questioning, after being asked several.
The outlet also notes that CBS is America’s most-watched television network and has a huge amount of crime procedural programming, with a fictional body count that comes with that.
During the press meet, Tassler revealed that CBS planned to promote its forthcoming Stephen King based series at the Super Bowl. Although that series will features violent scenes — albeit fantastical, Tassler insisted that nothing on CBS “is inappropriate, and our attention is always to continue to be a broadcaster that creates content for a vast, diverse audience.”
Paul Lee, ABC’s entertainment president, was one of two voices that AP says appeared most open to discuss the debate on possible violence osmosis between screen and reality.
“We welcome the conversation as to how we as a culture can make sure that we don’t let these events happen again,” Lee said, adding, that [he thought] ABC had stronger broadcasting standards than its competitors.
“We talk about it all the time,” he said. “We are storytellers. We have to tell stories that are vibrant and passionate, but we want to make sure that the stories that we tell are done with integrity, you know, there’s no gratuitous action that goes out there, that it’s driven through the stories and the characters, and that we have a moral compass in what we do.”
The second voice belonged to FX President John Landgraf who recently said he had no objection to further studies on the entertainment industry’s effect on real violence — if any. Then, qualified, adding that he didn’t know if changing on-air content was necessary, The Washington Post notes.
The latter part of TCA’s 13 day panel tour come on the heels of Vice President Joe Biden’s meeting with entertainment executives last Friday.
Biden’s fact gathering mission before making recommendations about gun control and societal violence to President Obama on Tuesday, has seen Biden meet with an array of interest groups and entertainment heads, said The Globe And Mail.
And so it goes on, the talking and the blaming. The debate which at times resembles a stick used to beat easy targets while more glaring examples of violence go unchallenged, will undoubtedly continue for a while yet.
Tarantino may have inarticulately expressed his frustrations last week, but as Movieline’s Ross.A Lincoln said in the comments section of his own brilliantly observed article and this writer concurs:
“America’s actual legacy of violence far outshines any pop culture influence on violence.”