I don’t really plan on answering the question I’ve posed. It’s one that keeps resurfacing from time to time and my opinions always change depending on the time, place, and content. I’ve written papers about violence representing some kind of cleansing, growth, necessary change, shock, etc. I’ve also pondered that maybe violence in video games should be treated more seriously than violence in novels or film because in most video games, the player is actually performing the acts of violence through a character (and I’ve been surprised by how intense and gory some of these games can be) and maybe there’s more risk of impressionability. I would never ever (ever never) watch films that depict graphic violence similar to depictions of pornographic sex (things like Saw or Hostel), but more so because they will give me nightmares than that I have some kind of moral objections. On the other hand, I love all the violence in Game of Thrones and the abundance of severed body parts and the appearance of Raul Esparza’s spleen in Hannibal. Can we give that spleen an Emmy or something?
Now, none of the above regularly depict gun violence, except the video games. Could we say there’s something more artistic in the way Saw and Hostel find brutal ways to harm oneself and others in the most terribly painful ways using everyday objects, as opposed, let’s say, just shooting each other off? Is cannibalism somehow a higher form of murder (cut to classical music melody playing in Hannibal’s kitchen as he puts his gorgeously plated meat on a serving platter) than the quick death a bullet to the head provides?
Some might argue yes. That gun violence is an easy murder of power, i.e. I have a gun and you don’t therefore you die. But we could also see it this way- when a film shows a crazy Nazi surgeon sewing together one man’s mouth to another man’s butthole, there’s absolutely no way a viewer goes home thinking “hmm, that looks like a lot of fun!” When Eddie Izzard makes his victim’s torso looks like an opened can of worms, we don’t think, “hey, Eddie Izzard’s character is so manly and powerful.” Nazi scientist and Eddie Izzard are bad people, crazy people, and perhaps more importantly, people with means. Not only do they need enough of the crazies to actually do what they’re doing, but their methods of violence necessitate lots of research, genius, and money.
Nobody needs a biomedical education or perverse genius to wield a gun. Nobody needs thousands of dollars of equipment and a secret lair to shoot someone. Hell, even a kid can do it!
Which finally brings me to Kick-Ass. Now, I really enjoy the Kick-Ass series. Both Kick-Ass movies specialize in over-the-top everything. Lots of violence, lots of cursing, lots of drama, huge plot twists, big comedy, and big characters. There’s an “I don’t give a shit about subtlety” attitude in both films that is exhilarating. You can’t expect to wander into a screening and analyze it for cultural relevance and dramatic structure the way you go into The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises (though I think you’d find your efforts mostly wasted in either of them to be honest, don’t hurt me).
Kick-Ass 2 has lots of fun characters, but doesn’t waste time on making them all complex and self-important. It establishes quick community, breaks that community, raises the stakes, and resolves its issues in a quick ninety minutes, all the while bringing character development and lots of humor, some of which is scatological. (Man, I thought I wasn’t supposed to analyze for dramatic structure…)
My good feelings about the film, however, do mean that I would take a ten-year old kid, like the one sitting a few seats away from me, to see the film. The opening scene of the film shows Hit Girl shooting Kick-Ass in the chest at close range while he is wearing a bullet-proof suit. No lies, it looked like a lot of fun. And if I were living in a community that glorified gun violence the way that many communities do, and I were a thousand times more impressionable, I might start contemplating becoming a gun-owner. Now, that’s nowhere near actually becoming a murderer, but it makes it one huge step easier.
But I still hesitate to denounce a scene like that as promoting gun violence. I’d be quicker to denounce photo-shopped magazine covers. In fact, I’d be quicker to denounce photo-shopping than a scene depicting bulimia in a film because a magazine cover tends to often ‘speak’ to consumers directly (‘YOU can lose 5 lbs. a week!) while a film locates the bulimia within a character’s storyline. I could also say that Kick-Ass 2‘s ending shows the consequences of violence, and perhaps a film might show the emotional and psychological effects of bulimia, but this is a case-by-case basis and I don’t think the film’s ending is didactic enough (nor should it be) to trump out all the scenes where shooting things looks like total fun.
There’s also the big gun-toting, ball-blasting, camouflage-wearing elephant (?) in the room and that’s… Jim Carrey. (I stand by my elephant image because Horton Hears a Who is a great movie.)
Something had always troubled me about Jim Carrey’s refusal to promote the film, and this Flavorwire article hits it right on the nail. The key point of the article is that by denouncing the film, gun-control activist Jim Carrey is actually feeding into the pro-gun lobbies’ message that violent video games and films, NOT guns themselves, are the root of mass killings and gun violence.
This is bad, you guys. What’s worse is that he’s amazing in the film and, I believe, genuine about his activism. After watching the film, I thought that maybe Jim Carrey realized he’d have to defend playing a character who shoots up a mafia boss to interviewers who can’t function on a high-school critical thinking level, let alone do research on their topic. I’m guessing he couldn’t figure out what he to say when Piers Morgan asks him how he could criticize Charlton Heston and play Stars and Stripes at the same time without getting into theories of genre and entertainment mediums and alienating his audience. Maybe he needed a spokesperson like moi to beat off the angry crowds.
Whether Carrey believes in the film or not, the discussion on gun-control and gun violence depictions should continue.