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Saturday, 22 April, 2000, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Hollywood's violent appetite
Christian Bale in American Psycho
Christian Bale plays the murderous American Psycho
By BBC News Online's Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Last year's Columbine High School massacre, which saw two teenagers kill 12 of their fellow students and a teacher on 20 April 1999, led to a rhetorical assault on Hollywood, unprecedented in recent times.

Politicians, religious leaders, and parents pounced on the American entertainment industry and pronounced its violent films, TV shows and video games were largely to blame for the acts of the Colorado teen killers.

Columbine memorial service
Remembering Columbine
The film industry came under exceptionally strong fire and it was left running for cover. Big name stars like Leonardo Di Caprio renounced violent movies.

Miramax Films, nervous that they had a picture in the pipeline called Killing Mrs Tingle in which teens kidnapped their teacher, announced they were changing the title to Teaching Mrs Tingle.

There was much soul-searching among production executives as the country witnessed one of the most intense debates over screen violence.

Business as usual

At the time the prospect of some form of censorship of violent pictures seemed a distinct possibility. But one year later it seems to be business as usual.

American Psycho, a film based on one of the most violent novels of all time, has just been released, but its director found she faced a bigger battle over the sex scenes than she did over the violence.

The Matrix
The Matrix won four Oscars despite its violence
The Matrix, a highly polished, but unashamedly violent picture won four Oscar trophies last month and became one of the biggest blockbusters of 1999.

The appetite for violent Hollywood entertainment appears unabated and the legacy of Columbine minimal.

But the Columbine massacre did provoke a response from Washington and it was more than just words of condemnation.

President Clinton ordered a Federal Trade Commission investigation, still ongoing, into how Hollywood markets violent and sexual material.

Government controls

Specifically, the government agency is trying to find out if the entertainment industry promotes adult oriented material to children. If there is evidence to implicate the film industry then it could open up the studios to expensive lawsuits.

Also, in reaction to Columbine, the recent Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain introduced the Media Violence Labelling Bill.

Helen Mirren in Teaching Mrs Tingle
Helen Mirren's movie softened its title
If his legislation is enacted it would force entertainment companies to adopt a universal content rating system.

Even though Washington has taken action the view now is that there seems little prospect of government controls over screen violence any time soon.

Partly this is because the film industry can claim that it has a constitutional right, under the First Amendment, to be free of any government interference over its content.

Also, the powerful underlying reality remains that America's violent entertainment sells, at home and abroad, and Washington has little desire to reduce the profitability of one of its biggest foreign money earners.

Growing unease

This means that all politicians can do is try to shame the Hollywood studios or individual directors if they create an inflammatory work directed at teens that seems capable of instigating a violent act.

Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry
Boys Don't Cry suggests a general malaise over violence in society
The more noticeable legacy of the Columbine tragedy is that it has left the entertainment industry with the very distinct view that the American heartland is no longer some idyllic trouble-free zone.

The idea of a pathology at large in middle America has given recent films like American Beauty and Boy's Don't Cry, in which a woman masquerading as a man in Nebraska is murdered, a compelling urgency.

Columbine proved that nasty things do happen in nice suburbs, not exactly an original idea, but it's a notion that now in the wake of Columbine has even greater currency in Hollywood.

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See also:

13 Dec 99 | Americas
Columbine killers' video anger
04 Nov 99 | Americas
Clinton alarm over US violence
25 Aug 98 | Entertainment
DiCaprio gives Bale a Psycho goldmine
05 Nov 99 | Tom Brook
Mirren's unlikely comeback
24 Mar 00 | Tom Brook
Oscar's Beautiful night
11 May 99 | Entertainment
Humour offsets screen violence
10 May 99 | Entertainment
TV violence 'turns viewers off'
21 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Matrix born of millennium angst
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