By BOB STRAUSS
Los Angeles Daily News
LOS ANGELES — Hollywood responded to the Dec. 14 school shooting in Connecticut by postponing or toning down movie premieres and advertisements, yanking violent episodes of television programs from broadcast schedules and even agreeing to support government efforts to prevent such tragedies.
How long, though, will that attitude last?
“Right after these things happen, things are so charged and so emotional that you try not to have obvious references that are going to seem really insensitive,” noted Robert Thompson, the widely respected professor of Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
“Now, the next, bigger question is not what movie studios and television networks do for the first week or two after one of these things. The next question is if they actually want to do something on a more permanent basis? And I don’t think we’re going to see much of that.”
It looks like he’s right.
Paramount Pictures postponed its Pittsburgh premiere of the Tom Cruise shoot-em-up “Jack Reacher” from the weekend right after the Newtown killings to Dec. 19, and the Weinstein Co. switched its red-carpet premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody slave era drama “Django Unchained” to a low-key industry screening. But both of those pictures stuck with their Christmas-week commercial openings.
The Fox Network spiked episodes of the animated “American Dad” and “Family Guy” series two days after the school shooting, in which 26 people including 20 young children were killed, out of sensitivity for the situation. But that very same “Family Guy” episode ran Sunday.
Also last week, the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Christopher Dodd, issued the following statement:
“(W)e join all Americans in expressing our sympathy as well as our horror and outrage at this senseless act of violence,” wrote Dodd, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut. “Thus, I have reached out to the Administration to express our support for the President’s efforts in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. Those of us in the motion picture and television industry want to do our part to help America heal. We stand ready to be part of the national conversation.”
Critics of the entertainment industry, which admittedly includes violent videogames and provocative pop music (Ke$ha’s “Die Young” was pulled from many radio playlists last week), see all of these moves as typical Hollywood smoke.
“This is just another example of the doublespeak in that ‘Oh, we’re heartbroken and we’re concerned about those who lost their lives, but we’re only going to really be concerned for a couple of days because then we’ve got to get back to making some money,”’ suggested Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, which calls itself a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment.
“It shows the hollow nature of the concern, because if the concern were genuine, and they thought for a moment that what they were doing actually had an impact on behavior, then they’d step back and say ‘You know what? Let’s rethink this entirely,”’ added Winter, who did praise the moves entertainers made in the immediate aftermath of the shootings. “But there’s a lot of money to be made.”
Of course, fingers have been pointed at Hollywood when past massacres occurred from Columbine High School to Aurora, Colo., and too many places beyond and since.
True to the established script, in a controversial press conference last Friday, National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre tried to shift some of the blame for Newtown to the media, stating “(T)oo many in the national media, their corporate owners, and their stockholders act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators.”
Winter, while agreeing with some of LaPierre’s points, distanced himself from any singling out of one facet of American society.
“It’s interesting to have the lovers of the First Amendment pointing at the lovers of the Second Amendment as the reason and vice versa,” Winter said. “Rather than saying ‘It’s not us, it’s them,’ I think we can step back and say, ‘Perhaps it’s both.”’
Some members of the creative community have already pushed back in defense of their aesthetic rights.
“It’s just a horrible tragedy,” Tarantino told CNN on Monday. “What are you going to say about it? It’s horrible. But at the same time, I don’t think it has anything to do with that. This has gone back all the way to Shakespeare’s days, all right? When there’s violence in the street, the cry becomes ‘Blame the playmakers.’ And I actually think that’s a very facile argument to pin on something that’s so real-life tragic.”
Others sound a bit more conciliatory. At a press junket for the upcoming movie “Gangster Squad” — held the day following the Newtown shootings — actor Josh Brolin noted “Of course there’s a sensitivity. But you have to look at the grand scheme of things from a universal standpoint. There are videogames and psycho-pharmaceuticals and parents that aren’t at home; there are many, many different factors.”
“Gangster Squad” is actually a rare example of a big Hollywood movie being altered in the wake of a real-life massacre. Following last summer’s Aurora mass shooting at a theater showing “The Dark Knight Rises,” Warner Bros., the distributor of both films, pulled “Gangster” from its September release date in order for a violent gun-attack sequence set in a theater to be replaced with an also bloody one staged in L.A.’s Chinatown.
Brolin later told the Daily News that the reshoot was a no-brainer.
“The movie theater sequence was too exact,” the actor explained. “It’s not even like you change it because you let the (killer) win by manipulating everything and letting him control all this other stuff because of this psychotic decision and manifestation of himself. It was too similar, it was gross it was so similar. There was no decision to be made, it was already made, it was just so obvious.”
Warners plans to release the still gunplay-heavy crime drama on Jan. 11.
“We always review our materials to ensure we are being sensitive when horrifying events such as these occur,” the studio said in a written statement. “‘Gangster Squad’ is a film based on a specific historic incident, and we intend to go forward with our plans for its release.”
Genuine grief and horror over the Newtown massacre has been as evident in the entertainment community as much as it has in every segment of American society, though.
For instance, last Monday, New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center canceled a fundraising tribute — for K-12 education, no less — to Cruise that included a screening of “Reacher,” with both the star’s and Paramount’s avid consent.
“New York and Connecticut are so close together, it’s like the difference between Hollywood and, say, Woodland Hills or Calabasas,” Rose Kuo, the Film Society’s executive director, said of her decision to cancel the event. “If a shooting involving 20 schoolkids occurred in Calabasas and there was going to be a benefit celebration at the Chinese Theatre that night, I think the organizers would have canceled.”
Still trying to get her head around the enormity and horror of the latest multiple shooting, Kuo wondered how much every part of our culture was culpable.
“We all bear a responsibility,” she said. “As a society, as a culture, we all bear a responsibility to ask ourselves why is this happening and how do we prevent it.”