Tragedy in America, especially violent tragedy, often inspires entertainment producers to question how or when or whether they should introduce new material, especially salacious material, into the marketplace. That cycle of introspection has circled around again in the wake of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that on Friday, Dec. 14, left 27 dead, 20 of whom were young children.
Vincent Newman, producer of the 2012 remake of Red Dawn: "It would seem the first and most direct step for individuals in Hollywood to be responsible is to recognize that the stories we tell, depending on how they are told and in what context they are told, can have an impact of varying positive or coarsening degrees beyond simple entertainment. Thus far, this has rarely been part of the conversation during development."
Douglas A. Gentile, Ph.D. professor of psychology at Iowa State University: "All artists, whether they work in visual, film, television, video games or other media understand that they have the potential to affect viewers—in fact, they want it. All viewers want to be affected by media. In fact, if the media doesn't affect us, we call them boring. Humans are amazing learners, we can learn just from seeing something once. So it is no surprise that we can learn from the media, especially if the media are particularly exciting or interesting."
Django Unchained star Jamie Foxx: "We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn't have a sort of influence. It does."
But the BBC reports that Django Unchained director Quentin Tarantino is tired of having to defend his movies (Pulp Fiction, Sin City, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds), saying, "I just think you know there's violence in the world, tragedies happen, blame the playmakers. It's a Western. Give me a break."
A response to Tarantino's defense comes from documentary producer Nicole Clark, who also educates young children on the effects of the media: "Quentin Tarantino seems to believe he is magically disconnected from the human race. Somehow everything he creates has no impact on us? He's not the only director or movie producer who denies any negative effect from their work. But ask any of these producers or directors if they think films can have a positive effect on society, and they will instantly say yes."
Immediately following the massacre, Cable channel Syfy replaced an episode of the show Haven because it depicted scenes of violence in a high school. Paramount Pictures postponed the Pittsburgh red-carpet premier of Tom Cruise's new movie Jack Reacher. Fox substituted older episodes of some of its Sunday night animated sitcoms (Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show) for new ones it deemed offensive or insensitive. And a Discovery Channel rep told Fox News that its reality series American Guns would not be returning for a third season. [dailymail.co.uk, 12/16/12; huffingtonpost.com, 12/14-15/12; foxnews.com, 12/17/12; bbc.co.uk, 12/17/12]
Parents Television Council president Tim Winter is concerned not only about the horrific violence on AMC's hit series The Walking Dead, but also about the fact that the show is rated TV-14. "Throughout its run, the AMC program The Walking Dead has featured some of the most graphic and brutally intense violence and gore imaginable," Winter said in a PTC press release. "In the current season alone the show has depicted hundreds of scenes of grisly murder both of living and 'undead,' but human, characters. The intensely violent content has included depictions of the cleaving of human skulls with a machete, extreme gun violence, including graphic depictions of blood and brains splattering after gunshot wounds, and the use of a sharpened human bone as a weapon to stab another character. … Clearly, this is content appropriate to an adult-only audience, but AMC has rated every single episode of The Walking Dead as suitable for a 14-year-old child."
Walking Dead executive producer Glen Mazarra responded sarcastically via Twitter: "If little kids don't watch @WalkingDead_AMC, how will they learn what to do in a zombie apocalypse? #Educational#PublicService." [theclicker.today.com, 12/13/12]
The Dec. 12 episode of FX's American Horror Story featured a plotline that included an incarcerated woman attempting, after she was raped by a serial killer, to perform an abortion on herself in an asylum. Salon.com TV writer Willa Paskin writes, "She tried to give herself an abortion with a coat hanger after the Catholic asylum staff forbade her from having a medically supervised one. Her attempt was bloody and unsuccessful. … [The convoluted] plot-line, in typical AHS fashion, cheekily and outlandishly (and gruesomely) ran roughshod over many of the more controversial aspects of the abortion debate: rape of the mother, health of the mother, legality vs. illegality, coat hangers. … I've never seen a show stack the cards so heavily in favor of abortion, no matter the outcome." [salon.com, 12/13/12]
"Spoiled, gaudy rich people are so over. Spoiled, gaudy rednecks are in. With the wild success of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, and Redneck Island and the January debut of MTV's newest reality-TV offering, Buckwild, the people have spoken: give us your unwashed, your unvarnished, your uncouth. Or, as the trailer for Buckwild proclaims, 'We're young, we're free, we're buckwild.' … There's an uncomfortable gawking-at-the-scene-of-the-accident element to watching these shows. Call it rubbernecking, or shame watching; in a way, redneck reality-television shows are a sort of travel channel for the cultural elite. … But are we making fun of them to make ourselves feel better? Or are we secretly envious? … The reality-TV rednecks might not live the way some of the TV-watching elite live, us in our postmodern, perpetually single, increasingly atheistic and agnostic, fractured lives, eating out every night and creating makeshift families from friends and adopted communities, but there's something weirdly nostalgic about these shows. They recall a time when families ate dinner together, when friends played outside in the woods instead of on their computers, when families stuck together instead of moving cross country, even when they annoyed or even hated each other. At their most basic, Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo are about family."
—pop culture writer Tricia Romano, from her Daily Beast article, "Duck Dynasty, Buckwild, Honey Boo Boo and the 99 Percent" [thedailybeast.com, 12/13/12]
"As a U.S. Senator, I am repulsed at this business venture, where some Americans are making money off of the poor decisions of our youth. I cannot imagine that anyone who loves this country would feel proud profiting off of [MTV's new reality TV show] Buckwild," writes West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III in a letter to MTV. "Instead of showcasing the beauty of our people and our state, you preyed on young people, coaxed them into displaying shameful behavior—and now you are profiting from it. That is just wrong." He calls on the channel to "put a stop to the travesty called Buckwild" because it "plays to ugly, inaccurate stereotypes about the people of West Virginia."
Buckwild executive producer John Stevens told Entertainment Weekly, "It's quite the opposite of everything else on TV. These kids aren't hooked into the internet. They don't do Facebook. [One character] doesn't even have a cellphone. The parents have to go find [him] in the woods when I call to find him. He's usually out there on his ATV and motorcycle. That's their idea of fun. That's what so refreshing." [washingtonpost.com, 12/7/12; ew.com, 12/7/12]
One of the stars of A&E's popular reality show Storage Wars has filed suit alleging some of the rare items found by storage locker bidders are planted by producers. David Hester says he was fired from the show after confronting producers about planted items: "A&E has committed a fraud on the public and its television audience in violation of the Communications Act of 1934, which makes it illegal for broadcasters to rig a contest of intellectual skill with the intent to deceive the viewing public." Hester's suit also says the production company, Original Productions, "regularly 'salts' the storage lockers that are the subjects of auctions portrayed on the series with valuable or unusual items to add dramatic effect, even going so far as to stage entire storage units" and "manipulates the outcome of certain auctions by paying for storage units on behalf of weaker cast members who lack both the skill and financial wherewithal to place winning bids." [usatoday.com, 12/11/12; hollywoodreporter.com, 12/12/12]
Actress Anne Hathaway wants to discuss her critically acclaimed film Les Misérables. But other folks are talking about her mishap before the film's premiere, at which paparazzi snapped pictures of her climbing out of a car—pics that revealed she wasn't wearing underwear. On NBC's Today show, Matt Lauer quipped, "We've seen quite a lot of you lately." Hathaway responded, "Well, it was obviously an unfortunate incident. It kind of made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment and rather than delete it, and do the decent thing, sells it. And I'm sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants, which takes us back to Les Mis, because that's what my character is, she is someone who is forced to sell sex to benefit her child because she has nothing and there's no social safety net." [ew.com, 12/12/12, foxnews.com, 12/13/12]
In an interview with The Huffington Post, actor Ian McKellen talked about how his high-profile roles (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit; Magneto in the X-Men films) relate to his identity as a gay actor: "The demographic for the comics, the X-Men comics, is young blacks, young Jews and young gays. They all relate to the notion of being mutants because society treats them differently, you know? … [These films] become movies about civil rights, and that's reflected in other areas of human life." He also talked about how playing these roles has provided a platform to talk about gay rights: "It's been a wonderful, wonderful adventure making contact with people worldwide who I wouldn't otherwise have connected with. Particularly young people. Sometimes very young people—8 and 9 year olds. I go around to screenings quite a lot, talking about gay issues. And the welcome that I get—that Gandalf and Magneto gets—well, it makes the job of talking easier."
He concluded, "I think the opponents of the acceptance of gay people within society must be feeling pretty confused and miserable as they realize that they've lost the argument and it's over, really. It's just a matter of time. It will all row forward and in a few years' time, we will all be wondering what the fuss was about." [huffingtonpost.com, 12/11/12]
Mall clothier Urban Outfitters has items featuring obscenities (including f- and s-words) in its 2012 holiday catalog. A throw pillow, for instance, reads "Carpe that F‑‑‑ing Diem," while a glass bears the phrase, "Merry Christmas, B‑‑ch." Marijuana-themed merchandise is also advertised in the catalog. Angry parents have taken to voicing their frustration via the retailer's Facebook page. "My whole family will be boycotting Urban Outfitters because of your profanity-laced products," wrote Mary Streetman Lewis. "SHAME ON YOU!!!!" [shine.yahoo.com, 12/11/12]
All kids want for Christmas this year is the latest device from Apple, according to a study by The Nielsen Group. About 50% of children ages 6 through 12 would love to have an iPad, and 36% would like an iPad Mini. Kids also expressed a fondness for the iPod Touch (36%) and iPhone (33%). Not that other electronic gadgetry would necessarily be a bag of coal: Nearly 4 in 10 say they'd like to receive a Nintendo Wii U. [nielsen.com, 11/20/12 stats]