Actors Gary Graham, Adam Baldwin and author Cork Graham supporting combat veterans at the 2010 Stars and Stripes Foundation Celebrity Shoot in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Cork Graham
When I learn a friend is going to war, I tell them to read The Iliad. Upon their return home, I suggest The Odyssey. One story was told to young men going off to battle. The other was for those dealing with the psychological monsters and demons following them back as the warriors got on with their lives. Both stories were told in the hypnotic light of a campfire to help the young prepare for living within a society. How has Hollywood forgotten this in their modern storytelling medium, where the firelight is now on a screen?
Hollywood is always ready to take responsibility for someone being heroic and upstanding in a crisis as the result of seeing something in a film. But, when someone shoots wildly into a crowd because of some psychotic response, partly attributed to a film, Hollywood responds with, “We just emulate society.”
Youth seeks leadership, and society searches for heroes. Before the over saturation of modern media, those leaders were sought in the family, clergy, government, military, and history books. As many children are now raised in single-parent households, that subconscious search for role models leads to school peers, TV and film.
As one raised by what we used to call a “housewife” and an absent father, due to his frequent business travels, I sought my male role models in the films I enjoyed as a youth: “The Green Berets,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “Flight of the Phoenix,” “How the West was Won,” and “Ten Commandments.” Not too varied options on Armed Forces Vietnam Network, or the cinema at Tan Son Nhut Army Air Base, but they gave me a solid resistance against peer pressure on my return to the US as a teen. What I learned from those films, which relied on good storytelling, was how to handle firearms properly, and treat people with the same level of respect with which I preferred to be treated.
Most people try to do the right thing. The question is who got to them first with what is right or wrong or in a healthy society. If it was a rapper who only knows drugs and crime, and marketed by a major money-hungry NYC and LA public relations machine pushing the right buttons in the young, we get more teens and young men and women who think patriotism is for fools, and guns are for gangbanging, or the first choice for solving a disagreement.
So what’s the answer?
It’s the same as for what makes good storytelling: protagonists having redeeming qualities, against major odds, but most importantly, redeeming qualities. Before the early 1970s solidly ushered in the “anti-hero,” protagonists who carried weapons were easy to recognize.
Since then, it has become hard to differentiate the good guys from the bad. My response to the knee-jerk “we only depict real life” is to remind Hollywood of its bread and butter: escape and entertainment. Why would you want to pay hard-earned cash to watch a film about something happening everyday, perhaps leaving you in need of a therapist upon departing the theater? It’s free on the five o’clock news, not to mention all the cable channels packed with hours of some loser scumbag busted by law enforcement.
Hypnosis is a state in which “the subject suspends disbelief.” The greatest fear of a director, or author for that matter, is you experiencing the opposite that you’ll remember you’re watching a movie, or reading a story, instead of just being swept away. Now imagine going to a film where a majority of the characters are violently killed, more importantly, they’re killed just out of the psychotic enjoyment of the antagonist, without any moral importance. Imagine watching shows like this over and over, and you have an effect on the mind that is psychologically closest to experiencing combat without actually doing so. This is one of the reasons there’s such an increased level of stress in our modern society, and why some believe ideas that are totally false.
Film is so powerful. We try to diminish that power by saying, “Oh, it’s just make believe. It’s just a movie.” But, all we have to do is look at what “Platoon” had done to gain public empathy for those who’d fought in Vietnam, or the effects of “Braveheart” on Scots nationalism, and resulting establishment of their parliament in 1998, to see the power of the medium.
Censorship, though, is a slippery road, and there are better ways to get Hollywood to take responsibility. If you see a movie that exemplifies your principles, shows healthy behaviors in a positive light—yes, you can easily still have great drama and storytelling with protagonists having redeeming qualities, as proven for centuries—implore others to see it, too. If you see a film totally contrary to your principles and values, help others save their money and psyche by sharing your views with them. Hollywood will listen and its producers, and sponsors, will stop wasting time and money on such projects harmful to society.
The greatest defense against any nation’s enemy is not the military, but a nation’s united citizenry. Together each and every one us decides how much anything can, or cannot, destroy the principles that bind us together and strengthen us, no matter how chic or fashionable those attacks on our proven ideals may seem to the movers and shakers in Hollywood. When they notice their wallets thinned by theater attendance and DVD sales starting low and plummeting, they respond.