Another tragedy…another shrug from Hollywood.
This past Tuesday, basic cable network FX’s show American Horror Story: Cult, was set to feature a scene in which a mass shooting occurs. After the horrific real-life shooting in Las Vegas, series creator Ryan Murphy (who was also responsible for FX’s Nip/Tuck) had the episode re-edited so that most of the gun violence occurs off-screen. But this action raises more questions than it answers.
Asked about his actions during a New Yorker Festival (as detailed by The Hollywood Reporter), Murphy said, “I believe that now is probably not the week to have something explosive or incendiary in the culture, because someone who was affected might watch that and it could trigger something or make them feel upset.”
But if graphic violence in media is “explosive or incendiary” and “could trigger something or make [people] feel upset,” it will continue to have these effects a week, or a month, or years after a violent act like the Las Vegas shooting occurs. Certainly, shooting victims and their families might be “triggered” and “feel upset” even decades after they are involved in such a tragedy. So why is it ever appropriate to show this kind of graphic violence at all?
Ryan Murphy has an answer for that, too: Murphy claims he was making “an obvious anti-gun warning about society.”
We’ve been here before. A Hollywood “creative” produces a scene of graphic violence. Then a real-life act of violence occurs; the creator fears a backlash from the public (or, more likely, from his show’s sponsors, as advertisers are notoriously skittish about controvery); and the episode containing the violence is edited slightly, or re-scheduled for a later date.
But the core problem remains. The entertainment product still contains graphic violence. Rather than stop making entertainment with graphic violence, Hollywood’s creators inevitably get on a soapbox and disingenuously claim to be “warning society” or “starting a conversation” about violence. (Well, except for Quentin Tarantino. His response to the school shooting at Newtown was, “There’s violence in the world. Tragedies happen. Give me a break.”)
The most blatant previous example of this was Kurt Sutter, creator/producer of FX’s program glorifying murderous biker gangs, Sons of Anarchy. Less than a year after the horrific school massacre in Newtown, Sons of Anarchy featured a graphic school shooting – performed by an 11-year-old boy. So disturbing was the scene that the superintendent of schools in Newtown warned parents at his school about the episode before it aired.
(Oh, and within the show, what was the “heroic” biker gang’s answer to the problem of school violence? Murder the little boy’s mother.)
Bad as Sons of Anarchy’s depiction of violence was, Sutter’s response was even worse. When the PTC called Sutter out on his exploitation of a tragedy and willingness to depict graphic violence, Sutter responded with a flood of profanity, then said that by showing this scene, he was trying to “start a conversation” about violence in America.
This is the favorite claim of allegedly “enlightened” Hollywood types, anytime they are confronted about their proclivity for promoting graphic violence. But this cynical lie rings totally false.
Neither Kurt Sutter, nor Ryan Murphy, nor any of the Hollywood types who profit off programs showing graphic violence, ever takes any concrete actions to actually “start a conversation” or “warn society.” None of them ever organizes a series of town hall meetings on the subject of violence, or even acknowledges the contribution Hollywood makes to the culture of violence gripping America. None of them ever admits, “Yes, my show does make violence look glamorous and exciting.” And under no circumstances do they ever stop showing graphic violence. They just delay it a week or so – and then go merrily on their way, amping up the violence and finding even more ways to “creatively” indulge in depravity and gore.
This was the case with American Horror Story. Ryan Murphy said he was re-editing the show to omit the violent shooting…but he didn’t really. While the shooting massacre was edited to be less graphic when shown on cable, the original, unedited episode, with all the gore intact, is available on video-on-demand and streaming platforms, where it can continue to make money for FX – and “trigger something or make [people] feel upset” — for years to come.