Jim Carrey took to Twitter recently to announce he could "no longer support" his new film, Kick Ass 2, because of its high level of violence. Mr Carrey has a history of gun control advocacy: in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre he spoke out in favour of increased gun control legislation. He starred in a video for Funny or Die mocking Charlton Heston and his leadership of the NRA. And he wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post encouraging readers to contact their senator on legislation for magazine size limits.
Kick Ass 2 is scheduled for release in mid August, and follows on from the 2010 hit starring Nicholas Cage and Aaron Johnson. Anyone who saw the first Kick Ass movie will remember it as a massively violent film. Despite not being released near any school shooting, it still courted controversy for the excessive violence (and swearing) of its lead character Hit Girl, played by then 13 year old Chloë Grace Moretz. The second film is in the same vein. One Universal executive has admitted that it is "often offensive." So is Carrey right to protest?
Many have been quick to criticise Carrey's decision. It seems hypocritical for him to have starred in the movie to begin with, to have done nothing to stop its initial promotional pictures from being released after Sandy Nook (many of which feature his character holding a gun) or to have taken his paycheck for the role and then publicly criticised the film (no word yet on if he will be donating his salary to charity). You might doubt his motives, but you cannot deny the nobility of his cause. Nobody wants school shootings or gun violence to continue. Is self-censorship, like Carrey's, the answer?
Neither guns nor violent movies belong to the USA. Everywhere has them. There might be the odd regional flick, but by and large we all watch the same stuff. The same violent films are shown to audiences all over the globe and don't seem to have the same violent effects. Carrey's motives may be good, but his logic is misguided. He is trying to assert a link where there is not one.
Culture has always been violent. The dawn of cinema brought us cowboys versus Indians and we've been watching ourselves shoot each other ever since. And it's not just in film either. If we were to go very far back, most early poetry or plays were about either love or war. How many people get murdered in Hamlet? Or Macbeth? And we've had books detailing gruesome and violent murders for as long as we've had books. How many gruesome deaths are there in The Bible? Violence has been present in every culture since the birth of culture. So it's baffling that some people feel that violence in the US, particularly gun violence, is the product of 21st Century American cinema.
Last year Quentin Tarantino made headlines for a horribly awkward interview just after Sandy Hook where he refused to discuss the idea of a link between violence and violent movies. But he had a point. It is a well-trodden subject - and one he has addressed many times in the past. Tarantino has compared himself to Shakespeare, saying that in his day when there was violence people quickly moved to "blame the playwrights". For Tarantino, there is a difference between real life violence and "fantasy" movie violence. And Tarantino is right.
Movies are reflections of society, and society has been churning out violent films from the get go, in the US and abroad. But while gun-related violence continues to increase in the United States, it continues to fall internationally. So are there more violent films being released in the US than anywhere else? Simply put: no. A more plausible explanation would be the US's decade-long ban on military assault weapons expiring in 2004 and not being replaced. Or loopholes in existing gun laws that allow guns to be purchased without background checks. Or maybe even improper care and oversight for the mentally ill, allowing people like Adam Lanza or James Holmes to continue to be a danger to themselves or others.
Jim Carrey, despite his good intentions, may well have handed the pro-gun lobby an almighty gift. He has inadvertently added weight to the idea that guns aren't the main cause of gun crime, and that the unrestricted sale of all types of weaponry should therefore be allowed to continue. The United States remains an outlier in gun crime statistics. Their gun murder rate remains abnormally high in comparison to all other developed nations. Mr Carrey is absolutely correct to identify it as a major problem in American society. However, using violent movies as a cause for this problem negates the fact that they are something Americans share with the rest of the developed world. To see what makes truly America's gun murder rate so high, you would have to look at what is unique to American society, rather than what it shares with everyone else.