I still remember the post that started it all… it was in the comment section of this post on DWC blog when Julian suggested to Ronan to get people to share their opinion on the hot-button issue, and voilà! 😀
Do filmmakers have a moral responsibility?
Though it’s debatable whether there is a shift in moral code, it’s safe to say that people’s tolerance for certain things depicted in the media surely have changed over the years. What’s considered taboo before has become the norm and constant exposure to ‘shocking’ imagery/language/behavior surely have the power to desensitize our minds. I know that for me, my tolerance for violence and foul language have actually decreased as I get older. I’m becoming more mindful of what things I expose myself to, not only because I feel that is the right thing to do, but simply because I don’t find enjoyment in them any more. Those things don’t serve any purpose whatsoever as it neither inspire nor entertain me. But it seems that I am in the minority as there are perhaps more movies out there that are foul-mouthed than those that aren’t.
Sure there is the argument of presenting certain bad behaviors to illustrate a point or depict what really happened in history. So context definitely matters. But even so, I respect filmmakers who opt to show the violence, sexual act or what have you OFF SCREEN. One film that I thought did a great job in getting the point of the story across without resorting to unnecessary violence is Road to Perdition. It’s a dark story, yes, and there are violent scenes to be sure, but they’re not gratuitous for the sole purpose to shock the viewers.
I’ve been reading some arguments of those who don’t think filmmakers have moral responsibility and that such responsibility should be placed on the viewers instead. Sorry to single you out Julian but I just want to speak to your argument that ‘…viewers can, or at least should be able to judge what is appropriate for them, and more importantly know what they can and can’t apply from a movie into there actual lives’ Well, certainly in a perfect utopia, it would be nice if that were the case. It’s true that some people who’ve been exposed to dark/violent/sexual content since they’re a young age might not always turn out to be a disturbed person or serial killer. But that is not to say that there has never been a correlation between media violence and real-life violence. There have indeed been reports of some individuals doing very bad things because they are affected by what they’ve watched/played (in the case of violent video games). As in the case of the Columbine High School massacre over a decade ago, analysts/psychologists found that “…part of the killers’ problem may have been desensitization due to their constant exposure to violent imagery in such video games, as well as music and movies …” (per Wikipedia) Coincidentally, I have just read this article on CNN at lunch today and I couldn’t believe how extremely violent a lot of those video games that are easily accessible to kids, but that is a whole other discussion!
The issue of moral responsibility can be applied to all sorts of media, but since the question specifically pertains to filmmakers, I’m going to just contain my answer to movies.
So my answer to the question is: YES, the filmmaker do have a moral obligation to the audience, especially those geared to kids and teens who may not have the best judgments of right and wrong.
To borrow a quote from a famous Marvel superhero, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ I think that same sentiment can be applied to the powerful organization that is Hollywood (Now of course, there are other filmmakers outside of the US film industry, but Hollywood is by far the most mainstream). However, I don’t think the sole accountability lies ONLY with them. It ought to be a SHARED one with parents and teachers, as well as the moviegoers themselves. I think parents today have a much more challenging task in protecting their kids from all the temptations/distractions that bombard them day in and day out and my friend Scott (Custard) who’s a father of two girls can attest to that. There is a delicate balance between shielding them from harmful content and completely censoring them from anything that would help them to learn what’s right or wrong. I hope that when I become a parent one day I’d be able to know the difference. But as Ronan says in his post, I appeal that the power that be in Hollywood to take the initiative and give us a better quality of movies to choose from.
So that’s my two cents. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments.