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When Movie Violence Helps Inspire Real Violence, Isn't It Time To Tone It Down?

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Friday night's horrifying slaughter in a Colorado movie theater raises the same old issue that never seems to get solved in this country: Gun control... and the NRA's seemingly inexorable grip on Congress.

How many times do we have to compare our country's atrocious number of gun-related deaths against the rest of the civilized world before we wake up and change our laws?

Both President Obama and Governor Romney need to address this question as part of a renewed discussion on gun violence in America.

I'm also concerned about the effects of the graphic, turbocharged violence we witness in so many movies, TV shows, and video games today.

One of the spookiest aspects of this unspeakable crime is that many viewers thought the initial actions of the shooter were somehow part of the film's opening night program, and so didn't think to take cover before the massacre got underway.

Then after the attack, James Holmes, his hair dyed red, announced himself to police as "The Joker", clearly modeling himself (and his actions) on the demented character played by Heath Ledger in 2008's The Dark Knight.

True, this is not the first time a film has inspired violence, but now that it's happened again, in the very place where we allow those images to transport us, should we not consider toning down all the violence in our popular culture?

Whatever happened to "All You Need Is Love"?

One of the many reasons I admire great films from the thirties, forties and fifties is that the portrayal of violence never felt totally real... much more was suggested than actually shown, and most often the portrayal of violence looked and felt staged.

This was deliberate, not only because of censorship authorities, but also because the sensibilities of audiences would have been offended.

While many today will claim this is a drawback that lessens the realism of those movies, I humbly disagree. If a violent scene was set up and shot inventively, you could still experience the intended shock and suspense without the need to see a face being smashed to a bloody pulp.

And just what's happened to our sensibilities? They've become so coarsened and benumbed that virtually anything goes. Very little shocks us anymore.

Technology unites us, but at the same time, isolates and distracts us. The level of discourse in our national debate is at a low point. We feast on trashy, tabloid reality shows. And we are awash in violent images.

What does this say about us as a society?

As our hearts go out to the Aurora victims and their families, we should all be asking ourselves this admittedly tough and sobering question.

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