When Hollywood stars testify before Congress, does anything ever get accomplished? Does either the star or his or her interrogators ever come off looking smarter or better informed about the issues?
Yesterday, Nicole Kidman testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. She was seeking funding for a United Nations initiative to thwart violence against women throughout the world via humanitarian grants to local organizations. But all the headlines talked about was her offhand comment, prompted by a Congressman’s fatuous question, in which she appeared to endorse the notion that movie violence has contributed to the real-world violence against women that she is trying to reduce. (See headlines here, here, and here.)
The question by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) deftly shifted the blame onto Hollywood; Kidman was equally deft in deflecting the blame away from herself, insisting that she, at least, doesn’t make the kind of movies that portray women as weak sex objects and targets of violence. (Watch the whole exchange here.) But the damage was done. Not only did the media focus shift to the most tangential part of her testimony, but she seemed to concede a point long argued by censorious types on both the right and the left, that Hollywood violence is somehow responsible for real-world violence.
Back in 1994, when Pulp Fiction came out, I interviewed Bruce Willis, who dismissed the notion that the violence in his films had any real-world impact. He cited the then-current genocide in Rwanda, saying he doubted anyone there had seen any of his movies. Willis was being flippant, but he was correct to say that no one in Rwanda needed any encouragement or inspiration from movies like Pulp Fiction or Die Hard to commit the worst kinds of atrocities. So it is today with worldwide violence against women; no one in humanitarian crisis regions needs any help from Hollywood in coming up with ways to brutalize and dehumanize women. Now more than ever, when the half-dozen major studios we collectively refer to as Hollywood have all but abandoned thoughtful adult dramas and are content to traffic in expensive fantasy filmmaking, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could apply what they’ve learned in Hollywood movies to real life, unless moviegoers get inspired to build giant robots or take flight via homemade balloon contraptions. (Uh, wait… nah, never mind.)
If Rohrabacher is looking to blame someone for inspiring real-world violence, he might want to take a look in the mirror. This is a guy who actually palled around with the Taliban before 9/11; who called President Obama a “cream puff” for not taking a more belligerent stance against Iran; who voted against elder abuse protection; who said he didn’t mind America kidnapping, imprisoning, and torturing innocent people if such indiscriminate sweeps also prevented terror attacks; and who, when that last assertion was met with groaning protests, told protesters he hoped their families would die in terrorist bombings. (Watch the speech where he made those last two remarks here.)
I recommend reading David Rohde’s series “Held by the Taliban” that the New York Times is publishing this week; it’s his gripping and suspenseful account of his seven months of captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rohde notes that, for all the terror and capricious violence involved in his ordeal, his captors never beat or tortured him, and that they pointed out that America could not say the same about the suspected terrorists and war criminals our forces have snatched off the streets. Fueling his captors’ grievances against America — and inspiring new recruits to make war by whatever means against the U.S. — were our policies of rendition, torture, indefinite imprisonment, and seemingly indiscriminate bombing of civilians throughout the Muslim world. In other words, the sorts of policies for which Rohrabacher has been an outspoken advocate, and whose consequences he would now like to blame Hollywood for. Kidman shouldn’t have risen to the bait.