Blame the Movies for Virginia Tech Astrocity?
Did The Matrix spur the Columbine shooters? Was the Paducah, Kentucky high school shooter inspired by The Basketball Diaries? Did Virginia Tech’s shooter Cho Seung-Hui kill because of what he saw in OldBoy (a violent Korean film made in 2003)?
In a recent Time.com article, author Richard Corliss wonders if it’s more than a strange coincidence that one of the pictures Cho took of himself where he “looks fierce and holds a raised hammer” is very similar to a shot in Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s film.
Just because he raises the question doesn’t mean Corliss actually believes there is any connection. In fact, he challenges anyone who thinks these movies are somehow responsible for the aforementioned shooting sprees to “explain why [everyone else] who saw Oldboy, and The Matrix, and Saw, didn’t do the same.”
A similar article in the New York Times muses that a fellow writer who tried to connect Cho to the Korean action flick as well as John Woo films “was simply trying to make a guess as to the features of the killer’s mental world.”
As someone who is trying to make her living in the entertainment field, my opinions run strong on this issue. I agree with both reporters that blaming movies for acts carried out by disturbed individuals is ludicrous. I know plenty of people I would trust with my life who pay money to see horror films like Saw and Hostel and enjoy every bloody second. My brother and his friends played violent video games all through their childhood, and so far, not a single one has checked in their sanity card. I saw The Basketball Diaries when I was young, and all it did was make me decide I was never, ever, going to do drugs.
A movie can’t turn a sane person crazy. John Woo didn’t put the gun in Cho’s hands. The entertainment industry is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is babysitter for the world’s youth. Every time a young person commits a horrible crime, we want answers. We want reasons. It’s too complicated to trace a person’s mental history or attempt to research his childhood. It’s too accusatory to blame the parents. But it’s real easy to find someone’s video rental log and draw a direct connection from screen violence to real violence.
Violent movies don’t instill a need for sadistic behavior in adept people. More likely, they are the preferred entertainment of a mind already warped by serious psychological and external forces.
Perhaps the Columbine shooters or the Kentucky teenager or Cho replicated images they saw in films during their killings, but it’s not the imitation we should be worried about—it’s the acts themselves, and the reasons behind them, that should be analyzed.