I’ve had a number of odd jobs in my time, but one of the oddest was when I worked as a profanity counter.
As I recounted in an earlier column, I used to get paid to sit through movies and chronicle all the naughty bits. My reviews included a comprehensive list of every bad word in a given film and an accurate score of how many times such words were spewed.
After recording 273 utterances of the most notorious R-rated profanity in the movie "Reservoir Dogs," I decided that I would never again voluntarily subject myself to another flick written or directed by Quentin Tarantino.
This has put me out of step with many of my fellow film aficionados, many of whom believe that Tarantino is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. His latest, "Django Unchained," is receiving praise from all quarters, despite its rigid adherence to the "Reservoir Dogs" formula — a torrent of cussing, blood and gore accompanying scene after scene of graphic, relentless, over-the-top violence.
It’s not just that I personally disapprove of such loathsome material. It’s that I do not understand how someone can watch such things and not walk away diminished somehow. How can immersion in fantasy worlds that depict savagery as the punch line to a cosmic joke not yield real-world consequences?
Snarky detractors point out that millions of people who sit through Tarantino’s bile don’t engage in massacres on the way home from the theater. That’s very true. But it’s not the same thing as saying such films don’t have a negative effect.
A peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded that “exposure to electronic media violence increases the risk of both children and adults behaving aggressively in the short-run and of children behaving aggressively in the long-run. It increases the risk significantly, and it increases it as much as many other factors that are considered public health threats.”
But again and again, we’re told by the Tarantinos of the world that making such a linkage is inane. “I think it's disrespectful to their memory actually, the memory of the people who died, to talk about movies,” the "Django Unchained" director told USA Today. He continued by saying, "Would I watch a kung fu movie three days after the Sandy Hook massacre? Maybe. Because they have nothing to do with each other."
Does anyone, other than perhaps Mr. Tarantino himself, truly believe that? If movie violence is completely divorced from the real thing, then why shouldn’t a third-grader be allowed to watch "Pulp Fiction"? Hollywood has awarded Mr. Tarantino’s output with legions of accolades and awards. Opinion leaders insist that Tarantino’s blood-soaked epics are quality art. Wouldn’t exposure to such masterpieces ennoble our children?
I like to think that even Quentin Tarantino would balk at elementary school screenings of his cinematic cruelty.
There is significant research that connects the dots between brutal imaginations and brutal behaviors. And if we’re going to prevent future tragedies, like the one in Sandy Hook, we need to recognize that reality and deal with it. Even without third-grade film festivals, the Digital Age has made access to violent content far easier for children, who are the people least able to process aggressive images in a healthy way. It’s possible to take common sense measures to make such access more difficult without repealing the First Amendment.
In the meantime, now that I am no longer required to tally swear words in darkened movie theaters, I will avoid any and all “entertainment” with Tarantino’s stain on it. I will also use my own First Amendment rights to encourage my fellow moviegoers to stay out of Quentin Tarantino’s way.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.