Hollywood, in a Nutshell

QUOTE: “I feel like in the '90s, horror just lost its way and everything became so safe and watered down. When I go to see an R-rated horror movie, I want lots of violence. I want nudity. I want sex and violence mixed together. What's so wrong with that? Am I the only one? I don't think so. ... We're in a really violent wave [of horror movies], and I hope it never ends. Hopefully we'll get to the point where there are absolutely no restrictions on any kind of violence in movies. I'd love to see us get to a point where you can go to theaters and see movies unrated and that people know it's not real violence. It's all pretend. It's all fake. It's just acting. It's just magic tricks. Hopefully we'll get to a point where people realize movies don't cause violence. It just reflects the violence going on in the culture. I'd love to see us get to a point where you can make a movie and not worry about the limits of violence. Then I think they'd get so violent that people would get bored of it.”

The preceding statement was made by Eli Roth, the director of the very violent movie, Hostel.  It was broadcast on MTV.com March 28 in a video feature on Roth, who was attending a comic convention in New York City and promoting the sequel Hostel 2.

Roth, a member of the emerging new generation of horror movie directors, reflects an attitude that has been expressed before.  Ryan Murphy, the creator of the cable TV show Nip/Tuck, was quoted as saying that the edgy sexualized situations in his show were a deliberate attempt to break down artistic barriers and make it possible for a rear entry sex scene to be shown on broadcast television someday soon.

The complete disregard for morality and for common decency all in the name of “entertainment” is surely one of the reasons why 68 percent of Americans believe the media are contributing to moral decline in our culture.  That finding, part of the broader National Cultural Values Survey commissioned by the MRC's Culture and Media Institute, speaks powerfully to what the American people really think of the material Hollywood directors like Roth find so appealing.

Roth goes even further in his comments on MTV.com.  He says seeing people shaking, crying or throwing up when watching his movies makes him “happy.”  He adds that if fans come up to him and say, “'You f***ed me up,' that gives me such deep inner satisfaction.”

Roth's dismissal of the effects of violence on behavior is completely out of touch with the disturbing findings of social science.  Hundreds of studies show very strong and direct correlations between watching violence and aggressive behavior.

Anecdotal evidence of this link abounds.  In the days following Saddam Hussein's hanging, there were reports of children in the United States and India hanging themselves in copycat suicides after seeing the execution on television.  On March 8 The Associated Press and MSNBC.com reported about Randell Peterson's attempt to mimic a stunt from one of the Jackass movies.  The stunt involved Peterson spraying lighter fluid on the genitals of a 20-year-old and then lighting him on fire.  The 20-year-old, who reportedly was under the influence of alcohol, was treated for first-degree burns.  Peterson is free on bail and awaiting trial.

To suggest that movie violence only reflects culture, rather than influencing it, is to be in a state of irresponsible denial.  Combine that denial with the ever-present desire of filmmakers and producers to keep pushing the boundaries of taste and morality and you have a recipe for disaster – portrayed larger than life in movie theaters across the country.

Author's note:  Hat tip to Focus on the Family's Plugged in Online for highlighting the Roth quote and Peterson anecdote.


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute (www.cultureandmediainstitute.org), a division of the MediaResearchCenter.