Saturday, June 11, 2005


And the winner is...

As I was watching the MTV movie awards this week, I was thinking about the role the arts in general (and movies in particular) play in perpetuating the culture of violence. My thoughts were probably triggered by Daryl Hannah and Uma Thurman winning the "Best Fight" category over the much-deserving Battle of the News Teams from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy. (Being involved in journalism myself, I'm biased toward profound explorations of media issues, such as those found in Anchorman.)

But I was really pondering the role of someone like Quentin Tarantino. From Reservoir Dogs to Natural Born Killers, from Pulp Fiction to the Kill Bills, Tarantino's signature films are awash with violence -- sometimes stylized, sometimes cartoonish, almost always over the top.

Okay, sure, violence in the media doesn't make people go out and act violently. But what contribution does a guy like Tarantino -- undoubtedly one of today's most creative, innovative people in film -- make to furthering the violence that's at the heart of pop culture? And, on the other side, what role could he play in planting seeds toward transforming that culture? I'm not blaming our violent world on the artists -- I won't even bother a silly comparison between the "effects" of art and the real-world consequences of acts by politicians (say, the Iraq war, for example). And I don't want artists to become propagandists, more interested in selling some "message" than in creating genuine art. But art does matter, and it helps shape how we as a culture look at the world. It helps define possibilities, and it creates windows of understanding that can alter the way things are viewed.

I'm not trying to pick on Tarantino, either. But he seems like such a savvy, smart, sophisticated, likable guy. If he wanted to, it seems like he could do some interesting and maybe even consequential things to help change the world we live in, instead of just showing us how messed up it can be.

Small correction to your post:
Tarantino did not direct "Natural Born Killers". That movie was directed by Oliver Stone.

I've always preferred that particular movie to Tarantino's fare.
That's correct; he didn't direct it. He was the writer. (He wrote the story on which the movie was based.)
When I first saw Pulp Fiction I thought it was just "really cool." Not until I read some essay force-fed to me in my College Writing class did I think about the other layers to his work. Namely, the fact that it is so over the top that he is actually making fun of a lot of the other hollywood action flicks. His bad guys do stupid things and aren't "cool" like they are in movies like Scarface, etc..

an argument could be made that Quentin is actually opening people's minds in this regard. They could see the movie and realize how stupid most hollywood action flicks are, they could see that violence and stuff really isn't that glamorous at all..
Yeah, I've heard that line of argument, and I think there's probably some merit to it. (People often say that's the point of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, for example.) Certainly, movies that "realistically" portray that violence has consequences are different than those that don't -- but ... oh, I'll stop. This question does indeed have many layers...
I might be able to agree with the "overly-violent-to-make-a-point" theory if it weren't for the fact that he continually does it. He seems now to be infected with the very disease that some think he diagnosed. If that's his point, he's made it. Now he should move on like RbnR said to make some more points.
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