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Deepa Gahlot

It's happening in Hollywood. It's what a writer called a 'take stock moment.'

Films with themes of violence are being dropped or rewritten, and an actor like Bruce Willis has declared that he will no longer do action films like Die Hard. Someone else called for a return to 'Doris Day films'.

These may be knee jerk reactions to Terror Tuesday, but they do make one think about the social purpose of entertainment.

"The wave of terrorist attacks effectively shut down the entertainment industry for a rare pregnant pause, forcing the creators and gatekeepers of the popular arts to stop and consider: Do we have anything in the docket that could be considered insensitive or offensive in the wake of this tragedy? Is there anything forthcoming from our movie studio/television network/record label/videogame company that might be seen as exploiting wanton mass violence? Come to think of it, should we be promoting any kind of violence as good fun?" writes Chris Williamson

It is something worth pondering over.

The Entertainment Industry, the world over, is commercially oriented. It has never learnt to be socially responsible. Every time the issue of violence in the films is brought up, it is hooted down by sneering liberals (usually from the industry) who bring up the right to freedom of expression.

In India, the votaries of this freedom will pass sarcastic comments: "Was the Mahabharat fought after watching films? Did Ravan kidnap Sita after watching a film?" Violence is a part of our system.

True, but look at what's happening now. Social commentators have begun to hear alarm bells with violence and socially deviant behavior that is being glamorised by the films and by extension, in other media.

Commented a writer on a discussion group, "Recently, I have noticed that some of the films that are coming out represent a negative and also dangerous wave of weird detachment from sensibility. Most alarmingly, they introduce the concept of "easy violence". Lots of crimes have been committed in attempts to copycat some of those films. That is horrifying if you ask me.

"Films have an enormous effect on the audience and can actually alter lots of things people hold dear in a couple of hours of mere "entertainment". The infamous Natural Born Killers flick had that effect on some people who caused pain and agony to lots of families on which they applied the films plot.

Personally, I hate slasher films, that glorify excessive violence. To me they're tasteless, predictable and unentertaining. And they desensitise us to killing. When people are gunned down in a film with no regard, other than the occasional "Oh, crap! Got blood on my new suit," it puts people in the it's-only-a-character mindset. They don't think of them as people, only as expendable extras to further a story."

Pete Harvey, writes, "Violence in films is here to stay. Whether we like it or not, violence is still a part of human culture in the twenty-first century. It is only right that film reflects this; to deny that the threat of violence exists is to deny something fundamental about the world we live in.

He goes on: "Films, like any other art, should explore the boundaries of our experiences and fears, and to achieve this it is inevitable that films will be a lot more violent than real life is. However, there is a considerable difference between depicting violence as an unavoidable evil, and glorifying sadistic acts as Hannibal does. Violence as a plot device, violence as backdrop for the exploration of human nature, or violence as a metaphor for the battle between good and evil, are all intrinsic parts of the art of storytelling. But what about violence itself as an art form?

"Should we show violent acts because our characters, (and, by implication, because we ourselves), find them in some way beautiful? Let us face facts. People very rarely pay to see films they think they will not enjoy. An awful lot of people get an awful lot of pleasure for watching acts purely because they are violent or sadistic. Is this not something we as a society should be very concerned about indeed?"

A media study says, "Mounting evidence suggests that negative perceptions of women in entertainment can affect women in real life. Research examining onscreen violence toward women finds that emotional desensitisation can occur after viewing as few as two films with sexually degrading and violent themes. Studies also show that men who view a number of films in which women are portrayed in sexually degrading situations become increasingly less disturbed by violence against women and less sympathetic toward female victims of violence. In addition, films initially found demeaning to women are judged to be less so after prolonged exposure."

More than the actual violence, it is the changing attitude to it that is disturbing.

There used to be clear boundaries about what was good and what was evil. Now evil is portrayed as heroic in a whole range of films like from Baazigar, Agnisakshi, Satya, Vaastav, Kartoos, Chandni Bar and many others.

When the hero does what the villain was supposed to do, it makes a role model of a 'bad' person and makes crime acceptable. Unlike the rebels of yesteryears, today's killers do not even have a grievance against the Establishment, they are bad because they enjoy it and crime gives them more wealth and power than an honest life.

Kids and young people are more susceptible to being influenced by such subversive portrayal of evil. It not only desensitises young people to violence, it also teaches them the ideology and methodology of hate -- like two school kids who burnt another kid because he was a 'traitor' and they had seen in films that the punishment for it is death.

Exploitative violence in films and the entertainment media may not generate more violence, but it does intensify an atmosphere of negativity in a society already morally eroded due to other, bigger factors beyond our control.

When today's kids look upon Osama bin Laden as a Hero, the damage is done.

When films and television can have such an impact on the young, ought not such powerful mass media channelise that influence to initiate - if not create - an atmosphere of positivity, optimism and tolerance?

Which is not to ask for a return of 'Doris Day films' - or for that matter the spurious cheer of the Barjatya-Chopra school -- but surely there are enough interesting and entertaining stories to be told, in which the heroes and heroines are good, noble, gracious? The films of Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee immediately come to mind.

Do we need any more hate, violence, ugliness and senseless killing than there already is in the world? Or do we stop and 'take stock'?

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