Salt Lake Tribune
October 26, 2001

Cinema gunplay shot down

Typically, when they're criticized for gun violence in movies and television, entertainment industry executives say they're only providing what people want to see.

Oops, wait a sec. Those cinematic and broadcast decision makers might want to set their sights on a survey released this week by an industry panel on violence.

The nationwide survey, sponsored by the nonprofit Entertainment Industries Council, covered 462 people, about half of them adults and half of them teenagers. The survey shows that gun violence in movies or TV is, brace yourself, the least attractive dramatic element.

At 19 percent, gunplay comes in dead last, so to speak, on a long list of movie-TV attractions, below physical conflict (40 percent) sex/romance (55 percent), suspense (67 percent) and adventure (75 percent). Put that in your storyboard and write it.

In fact, gun violence would discourage the most people from viewing a program or movie (44 percent), compared with sex/romance (15 percent), suspense (9 percent) and adventure (7 percent).

But, wait, there's another plot twist: The survey was actually done back in June, way before the events of Sept. 11 drilled home, live on TV, the awfulness of real violence and its sudden, life-snuffing consequences.

Like all of us, the entertainment industry was stunned by the terrorism. Some movie releases were postponed and other plans were shelved, at least for a time -- with the unspoken expectation that Americans, with their Wild West and enduring gun culture, eventually would return to fascination with violence. Maybe.

But entertainment by definition is escapist. Whether most Americans, youths included, still want to escape to explosions and murder after witnessing the real things remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, here's the survey's kicker: The element that gets the most people to watch a movie or program is -- you're gonna laugh at this -- humor (83 percent).

Given the choice between watching someone drop with a sudden, gory hole in his body or watching a funny scene, four times as many people choose laughter. It's such a crazy idea it just might work.