December 21, 2012

Analysis: Violence baked into pop culture landscape

David Bauder / The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Well aware that the television audience may be particularly sensitive, the Showtime network aired a disclaimer warning audiences of violent content in the season finales of its dramas "Homeland" and "Dexter" last weekend. It was two days after a gunman killed 26 people in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

Michael C. Hall portrays Dexter Morgan in a scene from "Dexter." The show about a serial killer is the top-rated episode of any series in Showtime history.

AP

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candle in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained": "Barrels of squishing, squirting blood."

AP

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The political thriller "Homeland" that night featured the burial of a bullet-ridden body at sea and a car bomb that killed scores of people. "Dexter," about a serial killer, had a couple of murders.

Viewer sensitivity, it seems, was not an issue: Sunday's "Homeland" was the highest-rated episode in the two years the series has been on the air. "Dexter" was the top-rated episode of any series in Showtime history.

That's just one illustration of how violence and gunplay are baked into the popular culture of television, movies and video games. While gun control and problems with the mental health system have grabbed the most attention as ways to prevent further incidents, the level of violence in entertainment has been mentioned, too. There have been unconfirmed reports that gunman Adam Lanza was a video game devotee.

In the world of movies, danger is a constant refrain. James Bond has a personalized gun that responds to his palm print in the currently popular "Skyfall."

"The Avengers," this year's top earner with a box office gross of $623 million, features an assassin with a bow and arrow and the destruction of New York City. No. 2 is "The Dark Night Rises" ($448 million), with considerable gun violence including the takeover of the New York Stock Exchange. "The Hunger Games" is No. 3 ($408 million), with an entire premise based on violence — a survivor's game involving youngsters.

The top-selling video game in November was "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," according to the NPD Group, which tracks game sales. For players, "enemies swarm and you pop their heads and push forward," PC Gamer described. The magazine called "Call of Duty" ''Whack-a Mole, but with foreigners."

The second-ranked "Halo 4" is dark as well, and in the No. 3 "Assassin's Creed 3," a game where players get points based on how quickly and creatively they kill pursuers.

NPD did not immediately have the year's sales figures available. Top video games can earn anywhere between $1 billion and $6 billion in revenue, said David Riley, executive director of the NPD Group.

He emphasized, however, that November's sales list may be a little deceptive; while "Grand Theft Auto" is among the top-selling video games of all time, the majority of the big sellers are not violent.

The body count piles up on television, too. Seven of the 10 most popular prime-time scripted series this season as rated by the Nielsen company are about crime-fighting, often violent crimes. The series are CBS' "NCIS," ''NCIS: Los Angeles," ''Person of Interest," ''Criminal Minds," ''Elementary" and "Vegas," along with ABC's "Castle."

A "Criminal Minds" episode around Halloween was particularly gruesome, involving a woman who kidnapped people to treat her imaginary illness — including a pregnant woman killed for her placenta.

Hollywood often scours its product output to appear sensitive when a tragic event dominates the news, and makes adjustments like the disclaimer Showtime used on Sunday. NBC last Friday said it pulled a rerun of a Blake Shelton holiday special because it had a short animated segment where a reindeer was killed, and told its stations to show a Michael Buble special instead.

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A scene from Showtime's "Homeland." The political thriller's season finale on Sunday featured the burial of a bullet-ridden body at sea and a car bomb that killed scores of people.

AP

  


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