‘Sons of Anarchy,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ and violent TV through life’s lens

Traditionally, there is nothing more frustrating to either compose as a writer or to read on a website than a random list of celebrities “reacting” to some big news that is spreading online like wildfire. It’s typically only interesting when the topic is relevant to those reacting, and it often times feels like a means for web traffic at the expense of an event that has happened.

Therefore, from an editorial standpoint it’s disarming to travel around the internet and see articles of 30-40 celebrities talking about the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado early Friday morning during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” It’s not necessarily a slight against those individuals for having an opinion — or the writers for composing such pieces — but in the case of something so tragic, do we really need to read the messages of others to tell us how we should feel?

Especially with the rumors coming out that the shooter, James Holmes, was trying to emulate the Joker from “The Dark Knight” in his attire, it brings to light the whole debate of art imitating life. Should filmmakers and TV producers really be held accountable for what they put on screen, or is this a mere justification for sensationalists looking for someone culpable over going to the root of the problem? Even if you believe that there is no connection at all between fictional violence and it in its purest form, events like this are ones that still give you pause. We personally now don’t have a desire to turn on a television and seen gunshots, regardless of if they or real or fake.

The two messages that we wanted to share from those in the TV community today are those that we found particularly interesting to this debate, especially as they are each involved in programming defined at times as being excessive in their depiction of violence. Our aforementioned idea of “pause” is something reflected in a message by “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter:

“woke up to the news about shooting. this kinda thing always makes me question my liberal use of violence in storytelling. i’m really sad.”

Men like Sutter or “The Dark Knight Rises” director Christopher Nolan are the ones who feel the pain in show business when events like this unfold. As artists who work within a lens of blood and death, the incensed somehow try and indict them for producing art — art that millions of people watch weekly and feel no need to emulate. Even if you claim that a man like Holmes was somehow influenced by a work of fiction, wouldn’t he have clung to a different violent product if the “Batman” trilogy was to never exist? If Sutter’s show was to disappear tomorrow, another violent series would soon replace it. Out of all creators of entertainment, these are the ones forced to justify their work, when in reality, the guilty parties should be the only ones forced into such an act. Individuals such as Sutter, Nolan, or “Breaking Bad” showrunner Vince Gilligan create art. Nothing more, nothing less, and while it is hard to think about violent programming on a day when so many witness real-life violence, this should not be forgotten.

This is ultimately why we should all just follow the words of Gilligan’s star in Bryan Cranston, who is a man who earns a paycheck by pointing guns and dealing illegal substances on the set of the hit AMC series:

“Priorities clarify when tragedy occurs. The joy of yesterday’s Emmy news vanishes when faced with the fragility of life. Hug someone today.”

Even though the work that some men and women create may be at times violent and profane, it is wrong to presume that any of this is in their heart; nor is there a desire to see their work leap off of the screen. On a day when so many of us are in mourning, let’s separate art from life and focus on he loss. As powerful as a show or movie may be, this is the one thing that can never truly be emulated.

Photo: AMC

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