Friday, December 21, 2012

Newtown Massacre

The massacre of twenty innocent children and six school staff in nearby Newtown, Connecticut was too shocking too write about last week. I know that violent acts are going on all over the world but when it hits so close to home, it breaks through our psychological firewall.

Since the tragedy innumerable words have been written and by now the newspapers are full of articles and letters offering solutions to the problem. Inevitably, most take a one sided view. Some writers call for stricter gun control laws. Others decry the violence in our entertainment media and overall culture. Finally, others call for reforms in treatment of the so-called violent mentally ill.

I would like to suggest all of the above. It seems striking to me that most advocates of stricter gun control are also ardent defenders of Hollywood’s right to do whatever it pleases in depicting violence. At the same time, opponents of violence in the media are often strong supporters of the gun ownership. It seems that it is time for those on both the left and the right to come together and adopt each other’s solutions.

I have never owned a gun and never plan to own one, but I know very good people who do. Two beloved uncles were avid hunters, and so is my younger brother, a retired NYPD officer who also happens to be a fanatic about gun safety. 
Even before the massacre of the children and their teachers in Newtown, it was hard for me to understand the intransigence of some people on both sides of the issue of gun control. On the one hand, I have never been able to understand why a hunter might require an assault rifle or a handgun that is just about the modern equivalent of the machine guns that were banned in the 1930s.

On the other hand, I am aware that even states like Connecticut that have the most stringent gun-control laws are among those with the most violent crime rates. Bridgeport, Connecticut is usually among the Nation’s leaders in firearm related murders. Frankly, I believe that the possibility that a one of my neighbors might actually own a revolver is a real deterrent to crime in my neighborhood.

Still, I don’t believe that the right to bear arms allows me or my neighbor to assemble an arsenal fit for a SWAT team. We have banned especially lethal firearms in the past and we can do it again. I know that criminals will probably find ways to get their hands on assault rifles, but the supply could be limited at the source.

While we are at it, I think that there is another so-called right that needs to be somewhat restricted. Why is it that proponents of stricter gun control laws never seem to oppose the acts of violence that appear daily in films, video games, and on TV?  The release of a new film this Christmas season was delayed because of the massacre in Newtown. Was it perhaps because the film begins with a rooftop sniper looking through his scope at a young girl? You could be watching “Miracle on 34th St.” this season only to see it interrupted by commercials for films full of bloodshed. I can’t imagine the violence that my grandchildren see on their video games where they themselves become the shooter.

Maybe, most of us wouldn’t be led to commit acts of violence by witnessing violence, but what about the mentally ill? Some will say that exposure to this violence does no harm. Some also argue that it limits free speech and stifles artistic creativity.   If what people see on TV does not influence behavior, why do advertisers spend so much money promoting their wares, or politicians buy so much ad-time to get elected?

As far as artistic creativity is concerned, I believe that I can make a very strong case for censorship. During the 1930s the film industry adopted the now infamous “Production Code.” Faced with the threat of government censorship resulting from a public outcry, Hollywood agreed to police itself. Any new film would have to be reviewed and modified it if failed to meet certain set standards. The Production code was abandoned decades ago but modern filmmakers and critics still bemoan the censorship that gripped Hollywood.

Recently, Turner Classic Movies released DVD sets of some of the pre-code films and a reviewer in the Wall St. Journal thought that the Code had been a great tragedy. However, in his own review he could only point to one or two films of even limited value from the pre-Code era. He failed to mention that the adoption of the infamous Code ushered in what most critics regard as the Golden Age of film.

For example, 1939 is regarded as one of the greatest years in Hollywood history. “Gone with the Wind” swept most of the Oscars, but moviegoers that year also saw: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Wuthering Heights; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Stagecoach; the Wizard of Oz; Ninotchka; Of Mice and Men; and Dark Victory. The next two years saw the likes of Citizen Kane; the Maltese Falcon; and Casablanca—three of the greatest films of all time. Restrictions on the so-called creativity of producers, directors, and artists only forced them to greater heights of excellence.

The  Newtown massacre occurred right in the midst of the Christmas season. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people on both sides of the political spectrum could come together next year to make America a more peaceful society? ###

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