News broke yesterday that Jim Carrey has withdrawn his support for Kick-Ass 2, saying that in the wake of the horrifying Sandy Hook elementary school shooting he "cannot support that level of violence". Given his pretty hardcore mocking of gun culture earlier in the year, Carrey's new standpoint on the comic-book sequel might seem to be a logical progression. Alternatively, it could be seen as a problematic conflation of the real-life and the fictional.
I utterly abhor real-life violence. When I was nine years old, I punched another kid in my class in a fit of pique. He started crying. I felt so bad about it, so utterly poisoned inside, that I resolved never to try and use violence of any kind to resolve anything. I've stuck to that for the last three decades.
I feel infinitely happier living in a country where most kinds of gun ownership are against the law, and I refuse to feed into the spirit of ever-escalating paranoia that starts with wanting to own something designed solely to kill other people and seems to keep growing from there. From owning a firearm, to owning more firearms, to carrying them everywhere, to insisting that other people have to carry them too.
I don't believe that the best way to reduce the amount of coffee getting consumed is to ensure that everyone owns a coffee maker.
So, I'm anti-violence. Anti-gun. I'm a pacifist who wants everyone to live in love, happiness and peace. For them to find common ground with their neighbours and find a positive way to resolve any differences they may have between them.
Except in movies.
I don't want to see characters in movies living in love, happiness and peace. When it comes to movies, I'm pretty pro-violence. Pro-chainsaw. I write violent movies because a certain bunch of people seem to think I'm pretty good at it, and I watch violent movies because I feel that a glimpse into fictional darkness can make the return into the sunlight of the real world all the more beautiful. When a fictional character dies it can mean everything or nothing. It can teach us something profound about the human condition or it can be a throwaway gag. The important point is that it doesn't intrinsically matter, because the 'person' being hurt doesn't actually exist. If all storytellers were obliged to treat fictional characters with decency and humanity, they'd be telling some pretty goddamn boring stories pretty quickly.
Visionary director David Cronenberg once said "Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with illusion". I love that quote, but nowadays it isn't just the censors. An awful lot of pundits, commentators and, yes, actors seem to be feeding into the same vibe. Every time someone throws up a new disco remix of the hypodermic needle model as if it was a new or reputable idea, the storytellers feel the chill a little bit in terms of the tales that they can or can't tell (assuming they still want to reach a mainstream audience).
Incidentally, I'm still not convinced that graphically depicting violence is more problematic than suggesting loads of it but showing no detail. Like tabloid-approved photographs from war-zones, neatly cropped and framed to avoid showing actual carnage and thus obscuring the human cost, the alternative to balls-to-the-wall, brains-on-the-floor fictional brutality is often the type of 12a/PG-13 violence commonly referred to as 'action', where thousands die but nobody actually bleeds or suffers onscreen.
Ok, just for one second, let's all pretend that the hypodermic model is true after all. That on-screen entertainment is a clear case of 'monkey see, monkey do', where we end up emulating whatever we see onscreen. Which is a more damaging message for us to be injecting into the minds of our youth? That violence is incredibly messy and painful, or that it's clean and unproblematic?
I like Jim Carrey as an actor, and I think his intentions are good. Anyone who spends any time throwing stuff out into popular culture is also likely to spend the occasional 3am insomnia session wondering what effect (if any) their contributions have had upon that culture. Whether the world is ultimately a better or worse place for their contributions. I understand that. Despite my rhetoric about storytelling freedom and my absolute denial of a causal link between movie violence and real-life atrocities, I still feel try not to contribute to cultural trends which make me feel uneasy.
And, yes, I'm aware that the creator of Strippers vs Werewolves talking about making positive contributions to popular culture might seem a bit rich.
My name is Pat Higgins, and my conscience is clear.