Monday, 3 September 2012

Hollywood recommends a nice bit of murder

There's a bewildering delusion afoot – that Hollywood films are becoming more left wing. And sure, maybe there are a few more mainstream films about unity, change, and tolerance. But at the centre of them all is a message so right wing that it's flying lopsided, and the message is this:

Killing people is heroic.

It's not, by the way. Heroic, I mean. Killing people. In all it's forms it's primitive and horrifying and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what humanity is.

Maybe some of the deeds that happen to contain killing can be heroic – such as disarming a gunman, or rugby-tackling a big meanie that's seconds from asploding the planet and all the little children and cats and everything. But killing as an act in itself is not heroic.

Hollywood thinks killing is heroic. And brave. And cool. And sexy. Maybe that's why so many people think it's heroic and brave and cool and sexy, and 3-year-olds swagger around America with pistols wedged down the back of their knickers and rifles jammed up their nostrils.

Hollywood films – for adults and for kids, and for the greasy middle between the two – tend to take for granted that killing is heroic and that death is the only way a villain can be properly punished. In this sense, not only are these films pro-capital punishment, but they're anti-rehabilitation too.

Take the biggest blockbuster of the year so far: 'The Hunger Games'. (I know it's based on a book, but, as Phil Parker says, every successful film is based on something.) If you've been too isolated or busy or sensible to learn what 'The Hunger Games' is about, it's a famously unoriginal plot featuring a bunch of teenagers battling to the death for the entertainment of the viewing public.

It's an enjoyable film, pretty well-acted, if clumsily structured, but the stand-out feature is the battle-to-the-death plot. The teenage participants just submit to it without a second thought. At no point does it cross the protagonist's mind to at least attempt a rebellion with the other contestants before the games kick off, and at no point does anyone exclaim “um, but killing people is wrong”. Instead, their primary thought is the supposedly heroic “how am I going to survive?” rather than the GENUINELY heroic; “what can I do to prevent murder?”

Above: protagonist points an arrow at us because that is cool.

There's also the bizarre error of the fictional viewing public. Apparently the Hunger Games itself is a Truman Show-esque TV programme, and apparently lots of people tune in. It's like the shocking fault of the otherwise brilliant 'Black Mirror' series by Charlie Brooker: they're assuming everyone submits to cold and immoral technology in the end. And in 'The Hunger Games' there's also the assumption that the entire “controlling race” is psychopathic (why else would they tune in to watch teenagers killing one another?).

In the end, one of the bad guys has a chance to redeem himself. And he does start to. But then he dies, of course. Because it's a good clean ending, isn't it. And a nice safe message. If you're a bad person, you deserve to die. Mind you, the only difference between the killings of the protagonist and the killings of the antagonist in The Hunger Games is that the antagonist went about it with more glee. So it's okay to kill someone, as long as they're a bit snotty and as long as you don't do it with a smile on your face.

The other fattest blockbusters of 2012 have had a similar message. In 'The Avengers', 'The Dark Knight Rises', 'Men in Black 3' and 'The Amazing Spider-Man', killing people is the epitome of heroic, brave, cool, sexy. And you can bet the new Bond movie 'Skyfall' is going to be even worse. "Women want him, men want to be him". Why? Because he has a license to kill. (Oh, and a moronic sense of humour. Everyone loves a moronic sense of humour.)

Above: protagonist points a gun at... someone. An executive producer, I imagine. Because that is cool.

And 'Snow White and the Huntsman' seems to be entirely about teaching an innocent young person that she must kill someone – and, indeed, in the end she does become a murderer. It's the happy, happy, happy ending of all good fairytales.

Obviously Hollywood is not the only flag-bearer for pro-capital punishment messages. You'd think right wing Hollywood agenda would be miles from snuggly safe British family TV programmes, but I remember on David Tennant's inaugural Doctor Who episode some years ago he sword-fighted at a stinky alien, and then let the alien go, and then the alien snuck up behind him, and then the Doctor killed him dead and said:

“No second chances. That's the kind of man I am.”

Heroic, brave, cool, sexy.

(But sorry, that was Doctor Who who from five years ago, not Doctor Who in 2012. Here's an updated observation of the Doctor's attitude to death threats:)

Above: the Doctor points a gun, because you can't be heroic or brave or cool or sexy if you don't point a gun every so often.

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