Chris Willman ponders the latest wave of Hollywood postponements in the wake of the terrorist attacks
Francesca Neri, Arnold Schwarzenegger, ...
Credit: Collateral Damage: Sidney Baldwin

Why violent entertainment should change

In the world of media and entertainment, we’re in the middle of what we like to call a Take Stock Moment. The wave of terrorist attacks effectively shut down the entertainment industry for a rare pregnant pause, forcing the creators and gatekeepers of the popular arts to stop and consider: Do we have anything in the docket that could be considered insensitive or offensive in the wake of this tragedy? Is there anything forthcoming from our movie studio/TV network/record label/videogame company that might be seen as exploiting wanton mass violence? Come to think of it, should we be promoting any kind of violence as good fun? What if we just resolved to uplift the human spirit by… wait, what was I saying? It’s gone. Well, Take Stock Moments are like that: extremely fleeting.

I’m not suggesting that the entertainment industry will have completely forgotten the tragedy by next week. There will be some collateral damage. Like, for instance, ”Collateral Damage,” the Schwarzenegger movie that was to have opened in late September but now has been bumped to 2002. It was about Arnie avenging the deaths of his wife and children at the hands of terrorists, and, understandably, it’s toast… for now. Then there’s the former CD cover of a hip-hop group called the Coup, which was to have portrayed the collective’s anti-capitalist leader pushing a button to detonate the World Trade Center. Feelings are so sensitive about this event that the band leader not only willingly pulled the cover art but apologized, possibly a first in the otherwise unrepentant history of hip-hop.

No-brainers, these. But what if our Take Stock Moment lasted for 20 minutes, not just 15? Maybe the entertainment industry and retail community would come together and agree that now is no time to be selling kids ultraviolent horse puckey like the latest album from Slipknot. In his EW review of their new disc, Tom Sinclair quoted lyrics like ”I wanna slit your throat and f— the wound” and ”You f—in’ touch me, I will rip you apart” before concluding, ”It makes you long for the wit and inventiveness of Eminem.”

With so much purposeless death staring us in the face, suddenly only the things that bring us together and provide connection seem relevant. When MTV finally turned off the regular programming late Tuesday and went to a CBS news feed, I knew that the gravity had finally sunk in; when they resumed their normal schedule, I knew that the ashes of the WTC were so much dust in the wind. What if we seized this Take Stock Moment for a few weeks? What if MTV broadcast a Duke Ellington gospel concerto over a test pattern for days at a time? What if theaters pulled ”The Glass House” and ”Jeepers Creepers” and substituted ”The Sorrow and the Pity” and ”Sullivan’s Travels” as balms for what ails us?

What if pigs flew? Sure, this is all just my post-tramautic-stress pipe dream. The only really major ripple effect in the industry will be the unfortunate need to digitally erase the World Trade Center from the ”Spider-Man” trailer and ”Men in Black 2” footage that was already shot there. But if only we could also digitally erase Slipknot from the landscape, too, along with any movie that finds sporting fun in severed body parts or stereotypes about swarthy foreigners. If only we could believe that, a few months from now, all the cheap violence in entertainment — and all the merely banal crap that helps narcotize us to the violence — will still seem as meaningless, offensive, and crass as it does right now.

Collateral Damage
  • Movie
  • 115 minutes