POSTED November 11 2013

At the movies: Fewer women, More gun violence

The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery

While the Annenberg School at USC finds the number of women in American films is dwindling, its UPenn counterpart in a report released today says that violence in films is mushrooming. It has more than doubled since 1950s  and that ” gun violence in PG-13 films has increased to the point where it recently exceeded the rate in R-rated films.” According to the authors of a report released today and published in the December issue of Pediatrics, “gun violence in PG-13–rated films has more than tripled since 1985.”

Here is the complete report, published in the December issue of Pediatrics.

I’ve long been the kind of moviegoer who advocates for gun control — except on screen. Like Cher says in Clueless, “Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value.”

Yet much of the  gun violence in movies varied as Pacific Rim, The Avengers and Star Trek: Into Darkness is gratuitous as the nudity in an HBO TV series. By which I mean, it’s deployed every 15 minutes or so as a means of exciting the audience. The argument made by the Annenberg scholars is that PG-13 films, seen by many tweens and teens when they are modeling narratives of socialization and anger management and conflict resolution, is that the default reaction in many of them is gunplay. 

Narrative films effectively began with the image above, from The Great Train Robbery. The Annenberg report begins with this one: “In many shooting sprees, the perpetrator puts on a uniform (eg, hockey mask, trench coat, movie costume, military uniform), as if following a script from a movie,” and proceeds to describe the gunman in the Aurora, Co. shootings who identified himself to police as “The Joker.”

Your thoughts?


  1. The connection between these two phenomena may not necessarily be causal, but it’s hard to deny that it’s both irrefutable and profound. Much of it ultimately comes from a conflation of targeting to teenage boys, contempt for the audience as a whole, and a lack of interest in or passion for good movies (as opposed to exploitable ones, by whatever means). It certainly helps to explain why I’m much happier these days sticking mainly to older films. One of my first positive thoughts after retiring from the Reader five years ago: Thank God I don’t have to see any more Oliver Stone movies. Multiply that relief to cover most of the current releases and you have a much happier moviegoer than I was as a duty-bound reviewer.

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  2. I think Jonathan’s remarks are very sound. We live in benighted times. When my daughter Jane and I went to see White House Down last summer (having seen Olympus Is Fallen, how could we not?), the endless coming attractions featured only films that seemed to be wall-to-wall violence. It made me think that Hollywood was now only going to make the same movie over and over with slight variations. For what it’s worth, I don’t necessarily see this as a surfeit of men/paucity of women problem, but more as an excess of junk situation or, as Jonathan said, “a lack of interest in or passion for good movies (as opposed to exploitable ones).” No matter. The end seems to be near.

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