IS IT just a false perception on my part, or is the pendulum swinging a centimeter or so away from gratuitous violence in movies?
Even the newest Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, "Last Action Hero," is gentle enough to get a PG-13 rating instead of the usual R. (It's turning out to be a box-office bomb, but I'm told the confusing plot, not the rating, is the culprit.)
Are a few movies even indulging in some quiet preaching for integrity, common sense and decent behavior?
"Groundhog Day" examined the notion of living one day over and over and over again, improving on it and improving one's RTC conduct in the bargain. "Scent of a Woman" actually showed doing good and helping others as a reason to live. "Dave" depicted honesty and sound judgment as desirable conduct for the president of the United States. We may have a revolution here, Scalpgate and Travelgate notwithstanding.
There has been much in the news lately about violence in television programming, from the unspeakable to the merely ghastly. That's a good thing, but it's not as significant as movie studios making wholesome films.
The best part is that people are choosing to go to those films, which, of course, is why the studios are making them. Attending a movie the other day, I took an unscientific poll, and everyone in my line at the multi-movie complex was going to see "Dave." At another multiplex there was a wrap-around line to see "Much Ado About Nothing."
How nice if the movies, which reflect and to some degree mold our society, also are prodding us to behave morally, acting as cinematic bully pulpits.
A victorious (and profitable) cinematic crusade against violence and for more decent behavior may seem quixotic to some, but it's possible. If the TV producers and video-game heads are under pressure from Congress to reduce the violence that they depict so routinely, then the voters, who vote with their feet and their wallets, are in turn putting pressure on their elected representatives.
It's an effective one-two combination: At home they just say no, and to barbaric movies they just don't go.
It will take time and persistence to get the message about unwarranted violence to Hollywood and television, just as it did to get the messages out about the war in Vietnam and about smoking. But if democracy has any meaning, it is our responsibility to signal what we stand for -- and what we won't stand for.
It's a difficult battle, modern life being so saturated with crime and violence. Since advertising is such an important part of our culture, perhaps people and businesses can do their part by posting signs in their neighborhoods and on their desks: "Thank you for not stealing," "No mugging here," "Don't even think of shooting."
Sound silly? So did the early protests against the war and against smoking in public places. So did a bumper sticker I saw the other day.
It read: "Perform Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty."
Ann Egerton writes from Baltimore.