Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cool Violence and Artist Responsibility

Okay, so I'm going to let out my peacenik persona today. And I'm going to use Angelina Jolie as a case in point. She just happens to be a timely example, but far from the only one.

Jolie has set herself up, somewhat, as an international humanitarian. She has made trips to troubled areas and adopted children from all over the world. This is all well and good as far as it goes. It's good to see celebrities spend their millions on things other than the outfit for their next photo op.

I just watched a trailer online for Jolie's next movie, Wanted. It seems to be an ultra-violent story of a society of assassins. I have no idea where the story goes (despite it being based upon a comic book series---I'm reading a lot less comics these days) and it may be that it is, ultimately, an anti-violence film.

But the trailer is just so damned sexy. It is slick and cool and all the violence looks very exciting and clean and shiny . . .

It is a huge disconnect from the humanitarian work that Jolie does.

I won't see this movie, so if it is a story of a society of assassins being brought low by their own violent lives, if there is, indeed, a moral to this story, someone will have to tell me about it. The trailer doesn't leave me much hope for that, however.

My point being, how do we hope for a better world, wherein the need for international humanitarian trips are reserved for natural disasters and make---and consume---entertainment that glorifies the violence that creates orphans? As other people have asked before me, if we contend that art can inspire us to becoming better people, the opposite is also true---art can inspire us to become worse people.

This isn't a cry for censorship. I would never call for laws that say movies like Wanted shouldn't be made or distributed.

This is a call for artists to think about what they're doing, what they're putting out in the culture. I don't believe in censorship but I do believe in responsibility. If violence is part of a story, I find it irresponsible to make it look cool and attractive and sexy and smart. I recall reading that part of the impact of Bonnie and Clyde, some 40 years ago, was that it was violent, yes, but it was a sickening violence. It revealed violence for what it was. To me, that's a more responsible artistic statement.

Again, I don't believe in censorship. Make all the sexy violent movies you want. Just be aware that there is responsibility in what we create. There can be incredible influence in what we put out into the world, and it's just plain hypocritical to offer humanitarian aid one day and create ultra-violent, super-sexy assassins the next.

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