Can Hollywood Survive the Reality of Gun Violence?

Zero Day gives Columbine the found footage treatment.
Zero Day gives Columbine the found footage treatment.
Screengrab

It is only a matter of time before someone livestreams his mass shooting here in America. Guns aren’t particularly hard to get and cellphones make sharing our lives easier than ever, so this sort of escalation in attention-seeking violence is unavoidable. Whether it’s a lone wolf with a bone to pick with the world or a piece of terrorist propaganda, it’s going to happen eventually.

We know what the immediate aftermath will be, the statements made and the prayers whispered, the agony and the anger that comes with any mass shooting these days. But the more I ponder this scenario, the more I wonder what kind of scar a first-person-perspective act of mass violence would leave on the America psyche.

So rather than think about the big-picture problem of gun violence in America, I ponder what Hollywood would do in response. 

(This isn’t a blog about gun rights, so let us assume that when someone manages to stream his shooting rampage on the Internet, no new gun laws will be passed. Depending on your perspective, that thought is either really depressing or really inspiring, but that’s not what this blog is about.)

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Most Americans are not well versed in the reality of gun violence. We’re privileged that way. Most of us have never had the displeasure of seeing someone shot in front of us. This is a good thing for our general mental state, but it means that our ideas about what gun violence is have to come from other sources.

Because art and violence go hand in hand, it’s likely that if you’re reading this and you’ve never seen gun violence in real life, all you know about guns is what you’ve seen in the movies and video games. This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a reality of the society we live in. Violence sells, be it on the big screen or the small screen, something you watch or something you play.

The violence we see most of the time is stylized. It’s presented to get our attention, to worm its way into our heads, to give us that rush of excitement when we see it. It doesn’t have to play by the rules of mundane reality because it’s not; it’s a gateway into an alternate reality where guns just happen to work in ways that look really cool all the time.

I’ve never seen anyone shot in real life. I’m very happy to have made it 33 years without having seen gun violence in person. But thanks to the Internet, I have seen people be shot. More to the point, I’ve seen someone record a first-person shooting. That’s my gun memory of 2015.

There have been a bunch of high-profile incidents involving guns this year, so if I say the name Bryce Williams and it doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry; there’s been a lot to keep up with this year. Williams is the man who shot two of his former coworkers while they were filming an interview on live TV. If you think back a few months, you probably saw the clip filmed by the cameraman on the shoot. It was sad and shocking, but you probably haven’t thought about it much since.

But there’s another video of the shooting, one that didn’t get a lot of play on TV because even the 24-hour news cycle has its limits. It was shot by Williams himself and then uploaded to social media in the immediate aftermath of the shoot. It is chilling.

And it does not look like the gun violence you see in the movies.

There’s no big spray of blood, time doesn’t slow down and it is decidedly unglamorous. Mostly, it’s just quick and sad and uncomfortable. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen on the Internet, but it’s maybe the video that has affected me the most.

It’s certainly changed how I view gun violence in movies, which now just seems over the top, even when it’s mundane, relatively speaking. I don’t have a problem with guns in the movies; they just seem a little more foreign to me.

And so I wonder what happens on that dark day when we all finally see what it looks like to stand in front of someone and pull the trigger. How does Hollywood react? Action movies will certainly exist, but will the violence become even more graphic to further push it into the realm of fantasy? Will filmmakers use the attack as inspiration for future action scenes? Will we even be interested in gun-centric action movies?

Like most things with guns, there are no easy answers. I suspect, much like how guns will always be fairly easy to get, that gun movies will always exist. They’re too easy for Hollywood to just abandon. Violence sells, and in time all real violence eventually becomes fodder for screenwriters.

But it’s something to ponder at least. What’s the alternative — pondering what to do about the gun problem in this county? Don’t be silly. That’s not how this story goes.


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