Michael Showalter: How Hollywood Contributes to a Culture of Violence (Guest Column)

Orlando Shooting
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

After the worst shooting in U.S. history that left 49 people dead in an Orlando nightclub, writer-director Michael Showalter has been questioning what role Hollywood plays in the culture of violence and if the industry should be more careful about the images that appear in movies, TV shows and video games. Variety asked Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer”) to expand on those thoughts in a guest column.

I wrote a tweet on Sunday. It said, “Feeling angry at everyone including Hollywood movies that glorify violence. Liberal actors shooting guns left and right.
 Hypocritical.” Many responders accused me of laying blame on the wrong culprit. Of course the real culprit is the person who pulls the trigger, but I am angry. I am angry and looking everywhere for answers. Above all, I believe that gun control is an absolute imperative if we are to have any chance of survival as a civil society. But I do also believe that Hollywood films, television and video games contribute to an overall culture of violence that affects our society in negative ways.

As filmmakers, where do we draw our own lines? What kind of messages do we want to send? Shooting guns at people means something different today than it did 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, last week.

I do not in any way subscribe to the notion that being continually subjected to images of graphic violence has no affect on our collective psyche. Just as our society is inundated with images that objectify women, we are inundated with images that glorify and fetishize gun violence. Can there be any doubt that these images have a cumulative effect on us?

People also responded that my tweet was an attack on the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not require us to say whatever we want without regard for the effects that it will have. To me, having freedom carries with it the obligation to use the freedom responsibly. Just because we CAN do something does not mean that we SHOULD. We can censor ourselves if we believe that doing so has value. We can hold ourselves accountable.

If we say we are against the exploitation of women are we not being hypocritical if we exploit women in our films? If we say we are against the marginalization of minorities are we not being hypocritical if we marginalize them in our films? If we say we are opposed to gun violence are we not being hypocritical when we glorify gun violence in our movies? Are we sending the message that guns are cool? Just like the old days of Bogey, James Dean and Cary Grant smoking cigarettes.

I am not in any way suggesting that we stop making action films, or stop depicting violence, or pretend that guns do not exist, or that Quentin Tarantino should start making rom-coms. I am only saying that we acknowledge that things have changed. The country needs to do something. Can we be part of the solution?