Matthew Sanders: Reframing the debate on Hollywood's violent profits
The Weinstein Company, Andrew Cooper, SMPSP, File, Associated Pres
“Violence is one of the most fun things to watch.” Quentin Tarantino
Among the more remarkable aspects to the current violence debate nationwide is Hollywood’s defiance. As global trend-setters, television and movie celebrities’ fans follow their fashions, families, vacations and Twitter feeds. They have disproportionate influence on the world; they know it, investors know it and advertisers know it.
The entertainment industry consistently defies logic by forgoing more profitable, child-friendly G and PG rated movies in favor of purveying less-profitable PG-13 and R rated movies filled with profanity, sexual content and violence.
Among rated-R movies, director Quentin Tarantino’s movies stand out not only for their shock value, but also for their performance. The data, according to The-numbers.com, show that among seven of his best known films, he earned over $1 billion on production budgets of $285 million, for a gross profit of $864 million, or $108 million per film. His gross profit exceeded the national average of rated-R movies — $12.7 million — by more than eight times.
According to OK.com and Kids-in-mind, Tarantino’s movies rank among the most profane (8 out of 10), violent (10 out of 10) and sexualized (7 out of 10) movies produced in Hollywood.
And Tarantino can rely on very influential Hollywood talent to push his violence-as-fun agenda. In fact, in my own study of 85 actors in Tarantino films, I found them to be a very influential group. Three quarters of them are in the top 25 percent of Hollywood earners. On average, this group has acted in 1,341 films, or 16 each — where 70 percent of actors only do one film, and the average is three movies (according to The-numbers.com). In this group you’ll find well-known A-list actors like Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Harvey Keitel, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames and Bridget Fonda. These actors and their agents cultivate their image to optimize their fans and earning power, and their movies are available in theaters, on cable networks and now even via Xbox-based movie streaming available to children.
It is common for prominent individuals in Hollywood like these to throw their collective weight behind controversial causes like animal rights, global warming, abortion and contraception rights. Many in the industry also have championed efforts toward cancer research, disaster relief, food security and international human trafficking. But where is the movement for more humanity in film? Imagine the outcry among celebrities if a movie or game depicted a horse enduring brutal torture and murder. Instead of standing up for more humane treatment of humans, they defend their rights to creativity and free expression.
But rather than a free speech debate protecting the creative merits of violent entertainment, we should reframe the debate to focus on the needs of children. We orient our society around the rights, needs and pleasures of adults in just about every sense. It is time to come together to consider the minds of our children.
Children worldwide already face a tumultuous economic and societal future, yet they are increasingly exposed to human-on-human violence in movies or game simulations at astounding rates. Rather than top celebrities and entertainment companies selfishly straining to profiteer from simulated violence, why don’t actors, screenwriters, directors, producers and distributors of games and movies make the moral and economic choice to invest in and inspire the next generation?
Ironically, it is no longer edgy, avant-garde or even creative to push the limits on human depravity and cruelty in cinema. It is passé. So it should be the aim of creative leaders in Hollywood to use their protected freedoms to seek a new boundary, and rise to a new challenge.
But instead of proposing some new regulatory oversight, I appeal to the civic virtue of self-governance. A-list Hollywood celebrities should listen to their consciences, which undoubtedly are burdened by their profiteering from ultra-violent films targeting vulnerable youth. Thus, I echo Abraham Lincoln’s words to a conflicted nation, wherein he plead that society should “appeal to the better angels of our nature.” Similarly, the entertainment industry should redirect its collective creative brilliance to elevating and inspiring our children to achieve the highest ideals of humankind.
Matthew studied economics at Brigham Young University and business and government at Harvard University. He is a General Manager at Deseret Digital Media where he oversees Deseret Connect and Deseret News Service. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sanders_Matt.