Wednesday, March 12, 2014
David Bauder / The Associated Press
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Michael C. Hall portrays Dexter Morgan in a scene from "Dexter." The show about a serial killer is the top-rated episode of any series in Showtime history.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candle in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained": "Barrels of squishing, squirting blood."
To date, there's been no evidence of a network pulling the plug entirely on a series because of violent content in the wake of Newtown.
Fox is moving forward with "The Following," a series starring Kevin Bacon that is the network's most highly-regarded midseason premiere. Based on the first few episodes, the series depicts several murders by stabbing and mutilation. Several young women who share a house are slaughtered. A man is doused with gasoline and set ablaze. A woman kills herself by driving an ice pick through her eye and into her skull.
The question for many who follow popular culture is what the cumulative impact of so much violence is on a user's brain, particularly someone mentally vulnerable.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, questioned on Fox News Channel last weekend, said he believes the violent content causes people who use it to be more violent. President Obama's adviser, David Axelrod, tweeted that he's in favor of gun control, "but shouldn't we also question marketing murder as a game?"
In a junket promoting his new movie "Django Unchained," actor Jamie Foxx said he believes violence in films does have an impact on society.
His director, Quentin Tarantino, batted down such concerns. "It's a western," he said. "Give me a break." Associated Press movie critic David Germain described "Django Unchained" as containing "barrels of squishing, squirting blood."
Violence in video games seems more and more realistic all the time, notes Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. Video game makers have even consulted doctors to ask what it would look like if a person was shot in the arm — how the blood would spurt out — in order to make the action seem real, he said.
Bushman conducted a study that he said showed that a person who played violent video games three days in a row showed more aggressive and hostile behavior than people who weren't playing. It's not certain what the impact would be on people who played these games for years because testing that "isn't practical or ethical," he said.
An organization called GamerFitNation has called for a one-day "cease fire" on Friday, asking video game players to refrain from playing violent video games on the one-week anniversary of the Newtown shootings.
Bushman understands the thirst for answers.
"Violent behavior is a very complex thing," he said, "and when it happens, you want to say what the cause is. And it's not so simple."
Lindsay Cross, a Fort Wayne, Ind., woman who writes for the "Mommyish" blog, said it's important for parents to talk to children about games they are playing and movies they are watching.
"We always want there to be something to do to protect our kids," she said, and violent media is right there as a convenient scapegoat. "It makes us feel like we're doing something to help. It's a natural reaction."
At the same time, it's hard to overlook the millions of people who enjoy these games, shows and movies and don't turn into violent killers, she said.
For whatever concern that politicians and moral leaders show about violent media content, it's those millions of users and viewers who will ultimately decide whether gore stays on the menu, said Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication.
If fans lose interest, so will Hollywood, he said.
"Hollywood is exquisitely reactive to the marketplace," he said.
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A scene from Showtime's "Homeland." The political thriller's season finale on Sunday featured the burial of a bullet-ridden body at sea and a car bomb that killed scores of people.