Since time began, both big and small screens have played host to all manner of crime, violence and murder. And if like me, you were nurtured on a daily diet of Wile E. Coyote taking one bombastic beating after another from Road Runner, then I’m sure you’ll agree that none of their slapstick shenanigans brought out the slightest urge to go out and raise a ruckus. But very rarely indications of a possible correlation between screen violence and real violence rear their ugly head, and Hollywood once again finds itself in the crosshairs, particularly as it made for a much easier target than more obvious culprits such as gun control and mental health issues.
One of the leading naysayers when it comes to the argument that the consumption of fictional violence leads to actual violence is Quentin Tarantino. Disputing Michael Medved’s novel “Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values,” which argues that popular culture’s excessive violence has a detrimental effect on society, Tarantino propounded that, “Every 10 years, there’s a book which comes along and says there’s violence in the streets, people are starving, anarchy brewing – blame the playmakers. It’s their fault… Real life violence is real life violence. Movies are movies. I can watch a movie about the Hindenberg disaster and get into it as a movie but still feel it’s a horrible real life tragedy. It’s not the same thing at all.
Our very own Rebekah McKendry also wrote a recent piece about how her brain was, “in a weird way, a carnage litmus test,” and if she has “gained nothing else from her bloody weird fainting condition, it is that the answer to questions like, “Does an attraction to violent movies indicate an attraction to violence or gore in real life?” is an astoundingly loud “NO.”
Whilst I’m just as firm a believer that violence on the big and small screen is far from the root of all evil acts in the real world, it would be a serious mistake to overly generalize. Everyone is an island so it goes without saying that different people will respond to violent stimuli in their own particular ways and there’s a disturbing amount of evidence that suggests that the influence of violent imagery depends significantly on viewers’ psychological stability.
Thankfully, real-life cases of violence purporting on-screen stimuli as a causal factor are few and far between but the following list still provides a worrying indication of just how influential on-screen violence can be when viewed by people predisposed to aggressive behavior or psychological disorders and/or afflicted by a long list of etceteras that also contribute to violent behavior.
AN UNNAMED ANIME FILM
Earlier this year, a horrifying news story shocked the world when a six-year-old girl in Osaka fell to her death from her family’s 43 story-high apartment after watching an anime DVD about children who could fly. News reports suggested the girl managed to climb out through her bedroom window and onto the balcony railings before slipping to her tragic death.
Concerned of the event’s ramifications, police officials refused to disclose the name the film in question in case it provoked copycat events and “because it could lead to people saying, ‘This is what happens when you watch this movie,’ and cause further problems.”
Given the recent wave of violence on the smaller screen, it’s no surprise that TV shows have also come under fire in the light of real-life crimes sharing frightening similarities with certain plot points.
One TV character linked to various brutal crimes is forensic bloodstain pattern analyst, Dexter Morgan, played by Michael C. Hall. The most horrifying case that attracted substantial media attention was that of aspiring filmmaker Mark Twitchell in Edmonton, Canada in 2008. Reports state that Twitchell, later dubbed “The Dexter Killer,” used fake profiles on an online dating site called Plenty of Fish to lure two men to his garage/kill room/film studio. Whilst one of the two men escape his clutches, Twitchell murdered and dismembered the other in an attempt to film a sword-wielding serial killer movie.
Prior to the sordid events, Twitchell assumed Dexter Morgan’s identity online, openly writing about his designs to become a serial killer, and he even drew up a list of intended victims.
In an interview in 2012, Michael C. Hall stated he “would hope that people’s appreciation was more than some sort of fetishization with the kill scenes… I wouldn’t stop making DEXTER because someone was fascinated by it only in that way. I try to tell myself that their fixated nature would have done it one way or the other, but it seems that DEXTER had something to do with it. It’s horrifying.”
Twitchell was convicted of his crimes and is now in prison, although it’s troubling to hear that he managed to get his hands on a 40 inch flat-screen TV for his cell and binge-watch the four seasons of DEXTER he missed during his trial. Even more alarming is the fact that he has since tried to resurrect his film project from behind bars. Having enlisted a friend to try and recover the police-seized film footage, Twitchell avows he will see his film completed if it is literally the last thing he does.
Another hit TV show purported to have played a significant role in a gruesome crime was BREAKING BAD. At Nine Mile Falls, Washington, in 2014, 27-year-old Jason Hart strangled his girlfriend Regan Jolley before then attempting to get rid of the body in an acid-filled tub – a cleaning up method followers of the hit show will be well aware of. Jolley’s naked body was discovered by Hart’s roommate, Dean Settle, who said that BREAKING BAD had been the killer’s favorite series. The Crime Scene Investigators also found Season 1 episode “Cat’s in the Bag” in Hart’s DVD player.
Again, backing up the notion that on-screen violence is never the sole culprit, Court documents state how Hart had been discharged from the Army with a permanent disability because of PTSD and used methamphetamine to deal with his symptoms. Hart’s estranged wife also revealed to the press that she had left him 6 months prior to the murder as she couldn’t handle his ongoing problems with substance abuse and PTSD.
On pleading guilty to second-degree murder, he was subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison.
CHILD’S PLAY 3
In 1993, two 10-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, kidnapped, tortured, sexually assaulted and brutally murdered two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool. Supposedly inspired by CHILD’S PLAY 3, the two kids, who became the youngest convicted murderers in modern English history, snatched the toddler from the New Strand Shopping Centre and took him to a nearby railway line where they repeatedly struck him with a metal bar, flicked blue paint into his eyes and shoved batteries into his mouth before stripping him naked and sexually assaulting him and leaving him there to die.
The notion that CHILD’S PLAY 3 had influenced the crime in some way arose when it emerged that it had been one of a number of films that Jon Venables’ father had rented shortly prior to the horrifying events. This was backed up, albeit relatively poorly, by the fact that Chucky is splashed with blue paint during a paintball game in one scene in the film and some traces of blue paint found at the crime scene matched marks found on the boys’ clothing. This was of course deemed unsubstantial proof, with a detective stating there was “nothing – no scene, or plot, or dialogue – where you could put your finger on the freeze button and say that influenced a boy to go out and commit murder.” Even so, in light of the possible connection, the CHILD’S PLAY franchise came under fire in the UK with a subsequent outcry for stricter rules and regulations when it came to the release of video nasties.
The two boys were found guilty of Bulger’s murder with the court recommending a minimum sentence of eight years but, after a petition handled by the editors of The Sun newspaper in July 1994, it was announced that the sentence would be extended to a minimum of fifteen years.
Another movie copycat killing took place at a hostel for the homeless in Shirland Road, Maida Vale, west London. Desperate for money, Matthew Tinling copied the famous SAW IV “cutter trap” scene, slicing through his victim’s (Richard Hamilton) spinal cord to get him to reveal his credit card PIN number as it was common knowledge at the hostel that Hamilton was receiving more allowances and benefits than any other resident. When the victim was finally discovered, his body showed evidence of having been stabbed 21 times to the head, neck and legs, including a fatal injury to the jugular vein. Tinling was eventually sentenced to life with a minimum term of 30 years for this ‘savage and obviously prolonged’ killing.
As I mentioned in the preamble, violent entertainment only bears some kind of relevance when combined with other influential factors, and in the Tinling case, as was brought up by the defending lawyer, Patrick Upward: “What you must remember is the circumstances in which these unfortunate men lived together. They were driven by the need for drugs and sometimes the use and abuse of alcohol. That can lead to fiery temperaments reacting a way which can lead to awful tragedy.”
So, in closing, whilst the above cases certainly suggest that violent entertainment may be partly to blame for some acts of violence in the real world, one mustn’t forget that all of the above perpetrators are individuals who fall into groups of society particularly prone to being influenced by on-screen violence.
But to leave you on a more optimistic note, here’s Quentin Tarantino shutting British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s butt down for adamantly asking his opinion on the correlation between on-screen and off-screen violence: