Since Quentin Tarantino has now been making films for just over 20 years now, his penchant for controversy has waned over the years. I don’t know if that’s a product of people becoming more familiar with Tarantino as a filmmaker (and getting used to his films being very violent) or the fact that media as a whole has grown so much, and that violence being depicted in it has become more of the norm. Are we more desensitized toward violence now than we were 20 years ago? Probably. But Quentin Tarantino can’t be blamed for that, especially in a country that has waged two wars in the past 11 years.
However, some are still quick to blame the filmmaker for the love affair our country has for violence, and I still don’t understand it. While making rounds for the Django Unchained press junket, Tarantino sat down with the UK’s Channel 4 host Krishnan Guru-Murthy to answer questions about the film. You can view the video below, but if you don’t want to sit through all 8 minutes, I’ll sum it up for you below.
Basically, Guru-Murthy asked Tarantino the age-old (at this point) question, does violence in media inspire violence in real life? I understand the question, and why he asked it. Off the tail end of mass shootings at the Dark Knight Rises opening night, and the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun violence is THE hottest topic up for debate at the moment. Don’t make a mistake, it’s always a hot topic, especially in a country with 20,000 plus gun deaths a year, but these horrific and surprising shootings have made it a Guns Vs. People debate.
So it’s no surprise that one of our most violent filmmakers is going to be asked about how he thinks his violent films affect our society. The problem is, as mentioned, he has been doing this for 20 years, consistently. He’s never made a light romantic comedy.
However, some are still baffled by the fact that Tarantino flat-out refused to answer the question on the basis that he has answered it thousands of times before. Many were more upset at his petulant attitude toward doing so. I think it’s completely justified, because as Tarantino said, this isn’t a debate forum, it’s an advertisement for his movie. He doesn’t want to waste precious promotional time debating an un-winnable debate that he has had many times before. Who can blame him? It’s akin to asking Eminem “Why, as a white man, do you like rap?”. He does. It may not have been the norm when he started out 14 years ago, just like ultra-violent movies might not have been fashionable in 1992. Either way, entertainment is entertainment, relate-able to those who enjoy it in a thousand different ways.
It’s interesting to note that in 1992, murder rates were finally starting to drop noticeably after the crack epidemic of the 1980’s began to slow down , so gun violence was, at the time, arguably the hottest topic. The past 20 years have been rife with other scandals, from a promiscuous President, to two overseas wars, to the financial collapse, American news outlets have kept busy. With the wars becoming old news, the president acting calmly in the face of adversity, and the financial collapse leveling off, I suppose it’s time the media had something to talk about again, and they keep going back to this subject throughout history. Do movies and video games inspire violence?
No, as anyone with a brain will tell you. People inspire violence, and guns inspire violence. I actually agree with Tarantino, who has said many times before that fantasy violence (as in a movie, music, or a video game) actually probably prevents real violence by providing an outlet for violent fantasies, instead of letting them fester until they become real actions. Anyone with the propensity for violence will do violent acts even if they don’t see it on TV or a movie. Entertainment is there for enjoyment, and anyone that can’t enjoy it responsibly is not the type of person that is going to live a normal, violence-free life anyway.
So why should Tarantino answer a question he’s answered a thousand times before? In the end, Guru-Murthy got what he wanted, his clip has been viewed over and over, and inspired a lot of debate on the internet. People who had no clue who he was (like myself) now know his name, even if it’s as the guy that badgered Tarantino for not answering a question he has answered before. So you have to ask yourself, is that why he asked the question? Did he know of Tarantino’s annoyance at the question? Or did he really expect a long, drawn-out explanation of why Tarantino makes violent films?
The simplest answer is that Quentin Tarantino enjoys screen violence. He is not a violent man (despite choking Don Murphy, he’s never massacred anyone with a pistol or samurai sword, at least that we know of) but most of his favorite films are violent ones. I also enjoy violent films, not exclusively, but I like them for the same reason I like sports movies. I will never be a pro baseball player that hits the winning home run at the best possible second, but it’s fun to watch those kind of movies and relate to someone that did. The themes might be different, but the idea is the same: People like to transpose themselves to the positions of others that do things they cannot. That is the entire basis of cinema as a whole, and anyone that doesn’t understand that on a basic level is just plain dense.
So when a journalist asks that question and wants to know how Django Unchained affects people like the Sandy Hook shooter, he should be shut down, because he’s talking out of his ass in order to get recognition. I believe his first question is a lot more relevant, as there aren’t enough movies about slavery that aren’t exploitation (and admittedly, Django Unchained is exploitation) and why that is (be it white guilt, fear of criticism, etc), it poses a much more interesting debate topic, at least in my mind.
Tarantino does not need to answer this question, because it’s unanswerable. Even if he espouses his own views on the subject, someone is bound to disagree with him, and take him to task to explain himself to them, when that’s not his job. His job is to make the movie he wants to make, if it is enjoyed by people, he has done his job well. If it isn’t enjoyed, that’s the only time he should be taken to task for poor taste, and that poor taste is not content related, it’s impact related. Despite the controversial plot and subject matter, Django Unchained has proven a hit, and been beloved by many. Anything else is just fluffy window dressing posed by those wishing to ride the coat-tails of a successful film director.