Volume 93, Issue 6

Friday, June 18, 1999


Editorial Board 1999-2000

Time to shoot the messenger

Editorial Cartoon

Time to shoot the messenger

Producers, directors and distributors alike should be donning their woollies, for the frost of a libel chill is about to blow through the entertainment business.

In the wake of the Littleton shootings and similar tragedies, a handful of civil litigation cases have sprouted up across America, most from the victims' parents against everyone from Natural Born Killers director Oliver Stone to internet pornography providers.

No one can expect the public to sit on their hands while our children gun each other down in classrooms, place pipe-bombs in schools or re-enact violent scenes from movies. Something needs to be done and it is only natural to look to silencing the suspected source of youth aggression and rage – exploitative and gratuitous violence from film and fictional television.

The need to do something, however, does not justify doing anything – no matter the consequences – in order to soothe the nervous masses. What will inevitably come from action propelled only by anger and fear is a modern day witch hunt, complete with inane finger pointing and scapegoating. Simply cancelling violent episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer only makes it easier for parents, politicians and the general public to pass blame without making real changes.

A responsible media is not a bad place to start but this kind of litigation, which could cost film and television show makers millions of dollars in legal fees and retribution payments, is enough to scare producers into complete self-censorship.

Perhaps the most unbelievable part of this situation is how the news media, among others, have slipped through the cracks of blame. News may market itself as the innocent messenger performing the noble duty of informing the public but it was CNN, not a movie, which flooded viewers with images of a young student dangling limp and bloody out a classroom window. Such coverage leaps across the fine line between reporting and glorification.

Is it believable that after the Columbine shootings the rate of kids watching violent movies coincidentally went up, causing the rash of copy cat shootings that followed? Or does it seem more likely the constant spotlight given to the perpetrators every news hour was inspiration enough?

A reactionary solution is never a good solution to a problem caused by more societal ills then fictional media could ever control. Perhaps televised news media should put down their handfuls of stones until they are ready to leave their glass houses and take responsibility for where our society has gone.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999