The United States is obsessed with murder. If you take a look at the homepage of Netflix or any other streaming service, it becomes evident from the most popular titles: “Making a Murderer”, “The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness, ââ Unabomber: In His Own Words, ââ Night Stalker: A Hunt for a Serial Killer âandâ The Ted Bundy Tapes âto name a few.
This country has often been criticized for its almost incessant manifestations of violence in the popular media. Unlike its European counterparts who avoid overtly brutal scenes, violence is accepted under the current classification system. In the United States, movies are rated using the MPAA system, or Motion Picture Association of America. Its most modern iteration appeared in 1968, following the removal of strict production codes.
Before the late 1960s, the Production Code made it difficult for many filmmakers to fully express their creative visions. During this period, Hollywood was strictly censored. Think of the famous Alfred Hitchcock film, “Psycho” (1960). In order to adhere to the Production Code, Hitchcock chose to film in black and white, reducing the film’s most shocking scenes. Even the choice of filming a flush, the length of a kiss, or a couple’s shared bed was considered racy and appalling.
How did we suddenly go from a strict, censorship-friendly society to a seemingly violent society? I doubt we can point to a single cause. Yet perhaps one of those possibilities was the combination of this momentous dissolution of the Production Code and the origins of serial crimes like the Manson murders that simultaneously haunted and fascinated the American public.
From 1969 until the end of Manson’s conviction, horror flooded Hollywood and the country. Suddenly the nation was carefully closing its doors and the fear of “the other” increased. Manson has become a household name and his image, with a swastika carved on his forehead, has made the headlines of almost every newspaper in the country. Copy crimes, like Son of Sam, continued the Manson craze for decades.
Yet while simultaneously being horrified by these atrocities, people were puzzled. District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi’s “Helter Skelter”, chronicling the Manson family trial and investigations, became an instant bestseller. TV shows and movies followed. In 1972, the surgeon general wrote a report on the dangerous impact of televised violence, proof of the constant rise in violence in the media.
Why are we drawn to serial killers and crime? Is it ourselves that we see in the depravity or even in the victims or perhaps how far human nature can extend beyond the perceived “norm”? I would say these options are not mutually exclusive. There is a horror in the humanity of crime, a “seeing yourself” in the worst of humanity. And, there is a revulsion at his rejection of universal moral codes.
Violence is also not a rare phenomenon in this country. The United States has the 32nd highest death rate of gun violence around the world, a rate that is only keep increasing during the final months of the pandemic. In addition, there are 393 million guns in the United States alone, making it the world’s number one gun per capita and owning more guns than people. Is the murder in the media simply a reflection of the culture of violence in the United States? Or, as the Surgeon General argued in 1972, does the media influence behavior, exacerbating violence to unprecedented levels?
Whatever the reason for its increase, murder in film and television does not appear to be decreasing anytime soon. Driven by the consumer, violence in the media has, in effect, more than doubled since 1950, and that craze for four to eight episode real crime docuseries on Netflix is ââgrowing more and more. The violence industry has become an unwavering pillar of American media, a pillar that will continue to provide the foundation of Hollywood.
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