Dark times

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2012, 12:00am


On July 20, 12 people walked into a crowded theatre to watch a movie and they never came out. Among them was a six-year-old girl. As the roomful of eager Batman fans settled in to watch the midnight showing of the hotly anticipated new film, The Dark Knight Rises, they heard the distinct pop, pop, pop of gunshots and saw smoke. They watched a man wearing a gas mask and wielding a gun come flying in from the exit door.

Their first thoughts? This was all part of the movie.

While it's easy to blame the Colorado shooting on deranged alleged perpetrator James Holmes and America's loose gun laws, I don't think Hollywood should get off entirely scot-free. If gunshots are fired and everyone thinks it's all just part of the movie, if blood-curdling screams are heard but dismissed as normal reaction to a show, if an armed serial killer is mistaken as a impassioned fan, what does this tell us about the entertainment we're immersed in?

It tells us that violence in the media has crossed a line and it needs to stop. As soon as the tragedy happened, renowned film critic Roger Ebert wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying there's no easy link between movies and gun violence. Ebert's wrong. The movie A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film with rape, murder and torture scenes, was famously withdrawn from circulation after it was said to have inspired numerous copycat crimes.

There's also wide speculation that The Matrix inspired the Columbine High School shootings, where two pupils - both fans of the movie - donned trench coats, went into their school and showered bullets upon their classmates, killing 13people.

Over the years, this media violence has escalated. At the same time, the marketing towards young kids of these violent teenage- and adult-rated movies has increased. When I first read the reports that the youngest victim of the shooting was a six-year-old girl, the first thing I thought was, 'Why was a six-year-old watching this movie? What was she doing there at midnight watching a film that media reports agree is incredibly violent?'

Then, I remembered that it's not just her. Violence in the media has become so deeply rooted in our culture that most parents don't even blink an eye. All day long, I watch little kids play on their Nintendo DS or iPads while they wait for class. 'Die, die, die!' they scream as their tiny thumbs attack characters on the luminous screens.

Obviously, this does not mean that all these kids will grow up to be James Holmes, nor does it mean that Batman director Christopher Nolan should bear the bulk of the blame - he shouldn't. It means that with violent movies and video games as pervasive as they are, the road to bringing up healthy, happy and productive children for parents is that much harder.

With last week's shooting, I hope Hollywood finally gets the message. It needs to do more than change a few trailers and delay profit reports. Writers, directors, actors and actresses all need to ask themselves, is this really what I want in a movie? Is this what I want to be remembered for? And most of all, is this movie making the world a better place?

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com