According to Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, author of Non-violent Communication, punishment is the root of violence on our planet. This would seem to be the case in the recent Santa Barbara killings, where Elliott Rodger decided he would take it upon himself to punish women for the rejection he claimed that they had shown him throughout life. In recent years we have witnessed spates of violent killings, often at the hands of young males rejected by society.
Often, these killings have been linked to violent movies on the big screen. Sometimes these links are tenuous, suggestions made by those who are opposed to violence of any kind. Sometimes it comes right from the killers mouth, if he lives to tell the tale. With the news this week that two 12 year old girls stabbed a friend multiple times to honor a fictional online character, the need for discussion about violence in our culture is most definitely deserving of some attention in the spotlight.
Of course there are arguments both ways, and this article is not intended to make a judgement. It simply includes cases where specific movies were blamed for the decision to be violent. There could be many other factors that are involved; psychedelics and other pharmaceuticals have also been linked to many of these cases. Regardless, the issue is violence in our society and the apparent need for some impressionable minds to take it upon themselves to use violent means to punish those who they feel have destroyed their lives in some way.
What they all show is that although violence may not be carried out by the majority, there are a few people who suffer from psychiatric issues that can be pushed over the edge by it. What is the solution to this? It continues to be a source of much debate, one that we all play some part in whether we are aware of it or not.
So much for a romantic thriller. The Twilight series may have melted the hearts of women around the world, but it turned one young man into a self proclaimed vampire. Though not as brutal as some of the other violence covered in this article, it deserves a mention.
When a 13 year old girl reported that she had been bitten by the boy, teachers did a little research and discovered that he’d had something of a blood lust over the previous month, biting other children at the school. Turns out that he was quite the fan of the series and it had inspired him to use his teeth when he didn’t like people.
The young man was sent to juvenile corrections. Again, an isolated case, but you never know what it takes to trigger the madness in someone.
Nightmare On Elm Street
In 2004 a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, Donald Gonzales, went on a three day killing spree with a knife and killed 4 people. His challenge to himself had been to wreak as much destruction as his inspiration, Freddie Kreuger, had done.
As with so many of these cases where they were caught red-handed, the killer chose to blame someone other than the person holding the knife. He chose, in this case, to blame Wes Craven, the creator of the movie series. Needless to say, that was something that did not hold up in court. The killer could not discern between reality and truth, and Freddie Kreuger was apparently the man who planted that confusion inside of him.
When it turns out that the killers in Scream are the boyfriend and close friend of the main character, it makes these kinds of movies much more real to people. Real enough that at least six people decided to copy the method of killing, going so far as to wear the mask and placing phone calls to the victim.
In Belgium there was a case of a 24 year old who attacked a 15 year old girl who had rejected his advances. In many of these cases, it seems that rejection by society is a big part of the desire for revenge. Continuous rejection may not be pleasant for any of us, but it needs to be dealt with in more humane ways.
In 1981, an assassination attempt was made against Ronald Reagan, one that left him shaken, but alive. John Hinkley, Jr was the would-be assassin, and he revealed that he believed Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver) had told him to do it.
Hinkley was a fan of actress Jodie Foster, who played in the film, and he was insistent that he was doing this for her sake. He was later, unsurprisingly, proven to be insane. After returning from the Vietnam war, and facing his ensuing depression, Bickle finds a place for himself as a vigilante, a role that Hinkley appeared to take on with equal vigor.
The original Old Boy movie from 2003 was apparently a favorite of Cho Seung-Hui, the Virgina Tech student responsible for killing 32 other students. It was reported afterwards that Cho would sit and watch the movie Old Boy repeatedly.
Did it have anything to do with his choice to commit mass murder? The movie is a bloody and violent movie about revenge, something that Cho highlighted in a note. His revenge was upon the “rich kids” and the supposed rejection by a young woman that he had his eyes upon.
If none of our reality is really real, if it is an illusion, then perhaps we can get away with all kinds of crazy stuff. If we are living in an alternate reality, then surely that can justify us going out in to the world and creating random acts of violence. Those of us who are sane would immediately dismiss this thought from our minds, but there are others who have acted upon this seed thought and wreaked havoc.
In what has been termed “the Matrix defense”, lawyers have been defending the accused by saying that this was exactly what they thought, that they were in an alternate reality when they committed the deed. Most famously, one of the Washington DC snipers, Lee Boyd Malvo, became quite confused and insisted that the rest of us do what we can to escape the matrix.
The Dark Knight Rises
It would be easy to blame The Dark Knight Rises for the Aurora killings, as it was the movie that everyone was watching at the time that James Holmes walked in and committed the atrocities. As a society, we tend to seek out something that can specifically be blamed for an event as destructive as this on the lives of so many people.
The violence happened during the premiere, so the killer had not seen it prior to going on his rampage. Holmes entered the movie theater with a gas mask, something that Bane does in the movie. The killer would have had the opportunity to see the trailers beforehand and could well have devised his plan based upon them. Then again, some reports stated that he had been trying to emulate The Joker, the villain of the previous film in the Dark Knight trilogy.
At the same time, we have subsequently learned a great deal about the mental state of the accused, and though the violence might have given him ideas, it did not force him to take the action. He was a troubled man going some way back in time and some of his explorations in neuroscience may have somewhat distorted his reality. As such, violent films probably did him no good at all.
Child’s Play 3
The police officers leading the case into the murder of Jamie Bulger dismissed the possibility that Child’s Play 3 inspired Jon Venables and Robert Thompson to carry out their act of violence. These two young men were only 10 years at the time of the murder, and when the public heard about the murder scene, it sounded reminiscent of the movie Child’s Play 3.
It is claimed by some that the kids were splashing blue paint on the kid, something that Chucky did to one of his victims in the film. Apparently the father of Jon Venables had been watching it just a few days before. The police ruled this influence out, however, because Jon was not staying with his father at the time leading up to the killings. Regardless of the truth of this, it did have an effect on legislation around films.
Natural Born Killers
The movie shocked enough people when it was first launched in 1994 with the onscreen violence. Perhaps these same people were not quite so shocked when they learned that it influenced killers who had seen the movie.
The infamous Columbine massacre of 1999 was carried out by two young and disturbed men who decided to go out on a killing spree at their school. Their spree was, according to some sources, inspired by the movie; they had made references to it in their journals.
A case was filed by lawyers of the families of victims but was later thrown out of court. Other killings have also been linked with the movie, and it has lead at least one boy to do it in search of the fame that Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis’ characters attracted.