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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.

Hollywood’s Violent Productions Need First Amendment Attention

By Cory Robison

In the 1950s, a political witch-hunt was in full swing. U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, R-Wisconsin, pulled many Hollywood writers, directors and actors before the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities to defend their actions.

McCarthy claimed that the Communist agenda influenced rhetoric flowing from Hollywood. Moviemakers took the stand to defend their first-amendment rights.

Although the filmmakers prevailed, some tarnished careers never recovered. McCarthy caused a major shift in what the industry deemed suitable for the United States public.

In 2001, two airliners crashed into buildings in New York, approximately one week before one was scheduled to crash into a skyscraper in Los Angeles.

The difference is that the Los Angeles crash was dreamed up by studio executives at Warner Brothers. And the New York City attacks were dreamed up half a world away by terrorists.

Executives pulled the Schwarzenegger film, ?Collateral Damage,? which was supposed to open nation-wide Sept. 14, because the film’s climax showed a scene of a hijacked airliner crashing into a Los Angeles skyscraper.

As we sat glued to our radios and televisions the week of the attack, wondering what dark mind could concoct such a nefarious act, we are reminded that people in the United States pay good money for studio executives, writers and directors to bring terror-filled visions to life on the big screen. These people are not seen as sick, terrorist minds?they are artists.

We see that the danger is perhaps not in the thought, but perhaps in the execution.

In the 1996 movie ?Independence Day,? the World Trade Center, the U.S. Capital, (and most of New York and Los Angeles) are all turned into scenes of rubble and charred death.

You may say, and rightly so, that ?Independence Day? is a fictitious yarn in which the bad guys have 18 arms and get beat up by the fresh prince of Bel-Air. But what about movies like ?Collateral Damage?? The film?s title is ironically taken from Timothy McVeigh’s description of his views of the children killed in the Oklahoma City day care.

The fact that we enjoy the inundation of violence in society if it tells a good story cannot be denied.

One of the top-grossing films so far this year is about a cannibalistic serial killer who is being hunted by one of his former victims whom he mutilated, for the purpose of feeding him to carnivorous pigs. Is this really what our values project? If not, then why do they make tens of millions of dollars?

Movies (and novels) are generally for entertainment, but what we view as entertainment says something much deeper about us as people.

Many Muslim scholars (not those necessarily responsible for Sept. 11th’s attacks) have pointed a finger at American pop culture and have asked a very poignant question: Why are Americans so outraged at the attacks when they would pay good money to see them on a movie screen?

Some of these scholars dare to suggest that citizens of the United States are hypocritical in their value systems. Strangely, most Middle Eastern countries that fathered these terrorists have blacklisted violence and sex in all forms of media.

Could it be possible that many of these terrorists learn how to be more effective by watching television and movies produced by citizens of the United States?

Could the Die-Hard trilogy be research for terrorists? Could freedom of speech and anti-censorship really be doing us harm that we hadn’t thought of?

We have often mulled over the idea that good adults and children have used the ideas presented by violent movies and songs to commit heinous acts.

But has anyone ever mulled over the notion that people watch and read popular media with the intent of finding a way to terrorize people? Who really knows who invented the concept of driving up to a building with a bomb in the cab of a truck or hijacking a plane?

Well, one thing is for sure, American story tellers have perfected the art of putting these acts into print and onto film.

In fact, in the early hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, reporters and talk-show hosts spoke of the striking similarities between the real life events and the fictional events in Tom Clancy’s novel The Sum of All Fears.

In this sense, perhaps the first amendments’ proclamation of freedom of speech and of the press is a double-edged sword. We as Americans have often cited the fact that this basic freedom is what so many of our forefathers bled and died for.

In the past, with regards to questionable media, it has usually been up to the distributor of the product to decide the appropriate time and place for a product to become available to the public.

Movies like ?Collateral Damage? and ?Arlington Road,? both terrorist movies involving intricate plots to blow up buildings, were shelved for a time and released later due to the sensitivity of the public. In neither case did the legislature lean on the film companies to pull products.

The purpose of constitutional amendments is to see to it that the Constitution is a living document and never subject to antiquation. It was designed to change as times change. Perhaps the term “freedom of speech” should be subject to some form of filtering when that freedom could harm others.

Today, there is no McCarthy screening movies for terrorist innuendos, but the security of sleeping under the blanket of first-amendment rights might one day be stripped off and replaced with the Kevlar flack jacket of life preservation.

Cory welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].

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