What About This? Hollywood’s Glorified Violence Drives Gun C… : Emergency Medicine News

gun culture, gun violence, Hollywood, movie violence, mass shootings:

A memorial for the victims of the mass shooting in Buffalo, NY.


A scene in the action thriller “Reacher” shows the hero, an ex-military policeman turned drifter-vigilante, lure a group of assassins into an abandoned home where he finishes them off one by one.

The first few villains fall easily, but the last, per Hollywood protocol, is the toughest. The bad guy repeatedly wallops Reacher with a crowbar. All is nearly lost until Reacher takes whacks in the face with the crowbar, falls into a pool, and is held underwater by his foe. But he’s the hero, so he finds his gun from him, and fires three bullets into the bad guy’s chest. Minutes later, Reacher is running around, no worse for the wear.

I don’t need to tell a readership of emergency physicians what actually happens when a man lands a crowbar squarely in a person’s face: The person dies. If this somehow were not a life-ending event, it’s certainly a life-changing one: long-term cognitive issues and massive facial trauma.

Real Life Violence

That brings us to the 18-year-old with an automatic weapon who killed 10 people in Buffalo on May 14. (AP News. May 18, 2022; https://bityl.co/CtwA.) Ten days later, another 18-year-old with an automatic weapon killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers at a Texas school. (New York Times. June 9, 2022; https://bityl.co/CtwD.) About a week later, a 45-year-old with automatic weapons killed his orthopedic spine surgeon and three others at a hospital in Tulsa, OK. (New York Times. June 1, 2022; https://bityl.co/CtwN.) Two days later, a man with a history of violent behavior walked into a Los Angeles ED asking to be treated for anxiety, then stabbed a doctor and two nurses with a knife. (Los Angeles Times. June 7, 2022; https://bityl.co/CtwS.)

I did not know Preston Phillips, the orthopedic surgeon killed in Tulsa, but those who knew him described a wonderful person. (The Harvard Crimson. June 12, 2022; https://bit.ly/3IsqK74.) The same could surely be said of Pearly Young, 77, who ran a food pantry and was shopping for it when she was killed in Buffalo. (NPR. May 16, 2022; https://bityl.co/CtwY.) I didn’t find out anything about any of the fourth graders in Uvalde because it’s too upsetting.

Most of us mourn, but an angry subset of us knows it’s surly business as usual. The Tulsa community was in a shocked daze after those people were murdered at St. Francis Hospital, but only three days later, at a second Tulsa hospital, a man with back pain in the ED was loudly praising the first gunman and threatening to emulate him . (KWGS Public Radio Tulsa. June 7, 2022; https://bit.ly/3bAZTtr.)

Less than a week after that, staff at a third Tulsa hospital said a patient told his doctor and staff, “You have a few seconds before I bust some caps in both of you,” and started counting to 20. (Fox News. June 12, 2022; https://bityl.co/Ctwi.) He also said he would be coming back to shoot everyone at the hospital. He took a swing at security and was arrested. Three days later, staff at a fourth Tulsa hospital called police, who arrested a patient who had threatened to shoot them because he was upset about his food tray. (ABC June 14, 2022; https://bityl.co/Ctwm.)

Horrors In and Out of the ED

You might think, “What’s up with Tulsa?” but this goes on across health care institutions. The only difference is that you get arrested for it in Tulsa right now. No doubt the doctors and nurses have zero tolerance for the usual abuse and threats, so they are calling the cops and filing charges.

Violence, gun violence in particular, is a core issue for emergency medicine. Not only do we see the consequences and treat the victims, but we, our coworkers, and our patients are targeted.

Emergency physicians have been passionate advocates for reducing gun violence. (ACCEPT. https://bityl.co/Ctwq.) That said, emergency physicians cross the political spectrum: More than 40 percent of us own a gun at home, and we can be just as divided as the rest of the country on gun policy. (West J Emerg Med. 2021;22[2]:257; https://bityl.co/Ctwu.)

That brings me back to Jack Reacher shaking off a crowbar to the face. EPs see the horror of all sorts of violence—stabbings, shootings, utterly reckless and avoidable vehicle crashes. Then, we are offered in our time off—on television, in video games, at the movies—the most stupid and pointless celebrations of this same violence.

A Prolonged Marketing Campaign

The entertainment industry is too lazy to write plausible scenarios. Every plot difficulty is managed by someone getting cracked over the head and conveniently going unconscious, left just to shake off a mild headache.

Every movie hero can engage in a high-speed car chase, causing all of his opponents’ vehicles to crash spectacularly but somehow no one innocent is ever hurt? But a movie is a consequences-free fantasy, so we applaud. It’s good, clean fun when a handsome man races a souped-up car through a flock of panicked pedestrians.

And Hollywood makes having and using a gun look incredibly sexy. The movie industry is practically a prolonged marketing campaign for Glock, Inc. President Biden expressed exasperation about assault rifles after the Uvalde shooting, saying, “Deer aren’t running through forests with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake!” (White House. May 24, 2022; https://bityl.co/Ctx1.)

But people own assault rifles not because they are useful, but because they are made to look awesome. We have been shown that by movie heroes gliding through movies, effortlessly wiping out evil, never accidentally killing, say, a kindly orthopedic surgeon or a woman shopping for the food pantry. The hero may take a bullet through the shoulder and will briefly wear an arm sling to signal: “I got shot too, but I’m just that tough, so it’s only an inconvenience.”

No Hollywood hero ever ends up with a colostomy bag.

It’s time emergency physicians start expressing some exasperation and contempt for Hollywood’s sanitized, glorified, and consequences-free violence. It’s clearly a driver for some of the worst tendencies in society. It drives mental illness: The plot of too many movies is the lonely, good guy who gets pushed too far and is now taking violent revenge. It drives gun culture: Hollywood makes guns glamorous and seductive. It grinningly invites viewers to applaud the most reckless behaviors without ever showing the terrible costs.

Dr Bivensworks at emergency departments in Massachusetts, including St. Luke’s in New Bedford and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Follow him on Twitter@matt_bivens.

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