Ex-cop sees violence through a different lens

“I’m leery of assuming there’s a direct causal effect between violent media and violent behavior.”

Ken Sanzel is a 10-year veteran of the New York City Transit Police Dept. and a recipient of the department’s Combat Cross. He’s also a former military policeman. Among his many showbiz credits: showrunner-exec producer on “NYC 22” and “Numbers.” He is scheduled to direct the feature “Blunt Force Trauma” this year.

Fair disclosure: I like guns, and I believe in serious gun laws. We haven’t abdicated our responsibility to regulate who drives, how they drive and what they drive; that we’ve abdicated the same responsibility for firearms baffles and infuriates me. Of course gun laws won’t eradicate gun violence — DUI laws haven’t eradicated drunk driving. But any cop will tell you that he’s only as effective as the laws he has to work with; we’ve stripped law enforcement of its only real tool to combat tragedy, to our national disgrace.

I’m leery of assuming there’s a direct causal effect between violent media and violent behavior. Other countries ingest our movies and TV and videogames — and generate some that make ours look tame — without experiencing the scale and frequency of violent crime that we do. More likely, I think, violent people seek out violent entertainment … along with the rest of us.

And the rest of us is why I don’t see violence ever leaving popular media. It’s been there since the pulps, since the Iliad. We’re drawn toward the exciting and the explosive and the terrifying, and if Hollywood stops providing it, someone else will. Then Hollywood will start delivering it again, because it’s good business.

And in the absence of hard science, who gets the job of defining “harmful” content? Any network showrunner will tell you that Standards and Practices are enforced with the consistency and objectivity of a kindergarten talent show. So do we expect more rules to be applied less poorly? Or are we planning to rely on the same lawmakers who are desperate to change the subject from guns … who time and again demonize the entertainment industry for not embracing their bigotries? Are these the people to legislate a communal artistic standard? Does anyone see that ending well?

All this being said, any artist who doesn’t examine what he’s saying — and how he’s saying it — risks becoming irrelevant. We all have our internal meters for what is funny or daring or true, and so does our audience. In the context of recent events, I doubt that I will stop writing about violence, but I also doubt that I will write about it in the same way.