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Screen Violence's Effects: A Dark Knight Indeed

By Carl M. Cannon - July 24, 2012

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In 1995, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole went into the lion’s den -- Los Angeles itself -- to challenge the entertainment industry to do better. Dole promised to name names, and he did so, accusing record and movie conglomerate Time Warner Inc., in particular, “of mainstreaming deviancy.”

A decade earlier, Tipper Gore had challenged record labels over violent and misogynist lyrics in music marketed to children. For her troubles she was called a would-be censor and “a dumb bitch” (Ice-T) and a “cultural terrorist . . . and a bored, sex-starved housewife” (Frank Zappa).

Now Dole was expanding the issue to films, and doing so in the context of a presidential election. “A line has been crossed -- not just of taste, but of human dignity and decency,” he said. “It is crossed every time sexual violence is given a catchy tune. When teen suicide is set to an appealing beat. When Hollywood’s dream factories turn out nightmares of depravity.”

Hollywood’s response was to accuse Dole of politicizing an issue, criticize him for opposing gun control legislation, accuse him of censorship -- and to funnel money into the coffers of the Democratic ticket, which included Al Gore.

On Sunday, Barack Obama went to Colorado and said many consoling and affecting words. After quoting Scripture, he assured the mourners, “Out of this darkness, a brighter day is going to come.”

But those words do not necessarily apply to Hollywood. The gritty Batman series of the 1980s and 1990s with Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney in the title roles -- considered pretty grim when they were made -- were markedly less dark and violent than Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. This merely mirrors the trend in moviemaking and television.

Three years ago, the bipartisan Parent’s Television Council released a report showing that between 2004 and 2009, violence depicted on television against women increased by 120 percent, a number that transcends partisanship.

“Hollywood has launched an all-out assault on women on our publicly owned airwaves,” said conservative writer Tracie Walker. “This is not OK,” added liberal writer Melissa Silverstein, “and if TV is helping to make young men think that this behavior is ‘normal,’ something must be done about it.”

But what?

While President Obama was consoling Coloradans, back in Washington those watching the hometown major league baseball team on television were treated to his campaign’s familiar attack ads insisting that Mitt Romney cares nothing for the American middle class.

This is inane, and the president knows it, and yet the Obama re-election campaign has spent an estimated $100 million on such negative ads in the past month. Think how much better it might be for the country if he had spent that money telling American parents to avoid nihilistic and violent movies. It would dry up some sources of his funding, but the thing of it is -- it might make the country safer, and it would almost certainly gain him votes.

NEXT: The news media's role.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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