Media Violence, Hollywood Narratives, and the Mentally Ill

What about someone who watches a lousy movie like Inception (2010), where all the cool assault weapons are getting shot, and the only people that die don’t really die because it is all a dream? Back in the 1960s, when we hospitalized the severely mentally ill before they started killing people, the consequences of movies reinforcing delusions were not so terribly serious. Today? Films, even stupid films, have consequences to the extent that they encourage the mentally ill to think: “Well, maybe I am not imagining what I am seeing. There really are zombies out there!”

Let me emphasize that I am not arguing for movie or videogame censorship, or anything like it. I am pointing out that a free society recognizes that freedom of expression for filmmakers includes occasional bad consequences -- just like the right to keep and bear arms, along with the positive results, has some negative results as well. But I do want Hollywood to acknowledge that what it produces has consequences, instead of pretending that it has no part in this.

The CEO of Sony Pictures recently called for Hollywood to be socially responsible. “What we see in the media today affects everybody, whether it’s film, TV, radio, magazines or the internet. ... What we see teaches us about how to feel about ourselves and how to feel about each other.” But no, she wasn’t talking about violence. She was asking Hollywood to remove “gay slurs and stereotypes” from its movies. When was the last Hollywood film you saw with a gay slur in it? The only gay stereotypes I ever see in films are so profoundly positive that I expect to see halos above the character’s head.

Yet clearly, Hollywood believes that it influences our society, and recognizes a responsibility to do something about it. Except, of course, if it involves stylized gunfights where the consequences of suffering, loss, and grievous injuries are almost never realistic.