They’re the usual suspects. Like the Jesse James gang in the old Hollywood Westerns, they’re rounded up instantly, regardless of the crime. You hear their names invoked every time CNN breaks the news of the latest school shooting: Marilyn Manson. Eminem. Doom. Natural Born Killers. Washington Republicans think they’ve found a winning issue, and surprisingly, Democrats aren’t far behind. Gone are the days when Hollywood buzzed about the possibility of President Clinton taking a job at DreamWorks; on June 1, the President’s romance with the entertainment industry screeched to a halt — at least temporarily — when he held a press conference announcing an investigation of videogame advertising that markets violence to teenagers, attacked the leniency of the PG-13 movie rating (a rating that itself was created in order to address charges that the PG rating was too lenient), and criticized video-store managers who fail to enforce movie-rating age restrictions. Do shock-rockers, splatter flicks, and joystick bloodbaths really deserve our blame for a national epidemic of youth violence? Here, Entertainment Weekly takes a look at 10 of the targets that routinely appear on Most Wanted posters. Harmless scapegoats or agents of Satan? You decide.
1 Natural Born Killers
THE CHARGES In Texas, a 14-year-old boy was accused of mutilating a 13-year-old girl — and the 1994 movie Natural Born Killers was blamed. In Paris, two young lovers led police on a car chase that ended up killing five — and the girl used the same catchphrase that Woody Harrelson’s Killers character does (”It’s fate”) when she was caught. And in Louisiana, a teenager shot a convenience-store clerk, leaving her a quadriplegic. Lawyers claim her inspiration was…take a guess. While NBK isn’t the first film to be blamed for copycat crimes — Stanley Kubrick pulled 1971’s A Clockwork Orange from British theaters after that film’s ”Singin’ in the Rain” rape sequence was imitated in several real-life attacks — it’s become the most notorious.
THE DEFENSE As Oliver Stone and Time Warner (which also owns EW) will undoubtedly argue in a Louisiana court later this year (when they’ll be contesting a civil suit brought by the family of that convenience-store clerk), millions of others sat through NBK and didn’t leave theaters transformed into cold-blooded killers. Besides, the film was clearly intended as a send-up of media obsession with violent crime, not a symptom of it.
THE CHARGES The Columbine shooters played countless hours of Doom and Quake; and the 14-year-old boy who fired on a prayer meeting in West Paducah, Ky., in December 1997, accurately hit eight people though he’d never held a gun — except in videogames. ”The facts speak for themselves,” says Lieut. Colonel David Grossman, author of On Killing: Gory games desensitize kids to violence and teach them to ”derive pleasure from human death and suffering.” The result: Playing shoot-’em-up videogames, just like watching violent TV, makes kids more aggressive.
THE DEFENSE It’ll sound familiar: Millions of kids play Doom and Quake, but the vast majority never commit a murder. “There is no research at all that shows playing videogames increases the likelihood of violence in a kid,” says Don Tapscott, the author of Growing Up Digital and the man Al Gore calls a cyberguru. Teen-homicide rates have declined even as videogame sales have skyrocketed. And mayhem has been portrayed in popular culture since long before first-person-shooter games — which account for just 6 percent of the market — became popular.