by Tom Emanuel
(Originally posted by Waging Nonviolence, republished under a Creative Commons license)
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, there is little doubt that the gun violence debate in the United States has radically changed, with proponents of gun control and mental health care gaining greater acceptance. Even those calling for an end to violence in the media have found a more receptive audience.
Several films scheduled for release since the Newtown shootings, such as revenge auteur Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, have been delayed. And following reports that Newtown killer Adam Lanza may have played violent video games, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller has introduced legislation to study the impact of video game violence on children.
The problem is, when it comes to media violence, questions of causality are difficult to establish. Is society violent because we glorify violence in our films and video games? Or do films and video games simply reflect the violence that’s already present in society? The real answer is probably both. Research on the subject is inconclusive, though as Django star Jamie Foxx said in a recent interview, “We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence.”
Americans have already had this conversation once this year, following the grisly theater shooting at the opening of The Dark Night Rises in Aurora, Colo. But movie studios seem to have recused themselves from the discussion. Rather than produce films with a critical view toward violence, their only effort to acknowledge the controversy has been to simply postpone the ones that glorify violence to a more socially acceptable hour.
It was at another opening night, however, that I began to think seriously about this issue: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first installment in director Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Perhaps it’s not the kind of film you’d expect to prompt a critical examination of violence in the media. But this film was released the same day as the Newtown massacre. Also, as a lifelong Tolkien fanatic — my father first read The Hobbit to me when I was too young to remember — I was struck by the heightened level of violence in the film as opposed to the book.
Granted, the violence portrayed in The Hobbit is of the swords-and-sorcery variety, with comparatively little blood and gore. Nevertheless, Jackson did add several action-packed battle sequences that were not present in the book and expanded those that were in the original into set-pieces of central cinematic importance. [Spoilers after the jump – mb]