Is there much difference between Jason Voorhees, the hockey mask wearing killer of the Friday the 13th movies and vigilante killer Paul Kersey of the Death Wish movies?
The title of this post might be a little surprising given Hollywood’s reputation for unapologetic liberalism. After all, Avatar was a two and a half hour sermon about how we mistreated the American Indians and The Day After Tomorrow was a two and a half hour sermon about how we need to protect the environment. Even the sixth entry into the Saw franchise was heavy on political commentary, with an evil health insurance company executive serving as Jigsaw’s latest victim just as the health care reform debate was heating up.
It is surprising, then, just how many of the action movies have the “hero” ignoring due process and civil liberties for accused criminals, with the “hero” serving as judge, jury and executioner for the criminals the permissive liberal justice system sets free. We see this in the Death Wish and Dirty Harry movies, and Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra was especially heavy on the message that the police are powerless because they have to “play by the rules” while the criminals don’t.
With film “heroes” like these, is overuse and abuse of paramilitary SWAT teams surprising?
Back to the opening question. Voorhees goes on killing rampage after killing rampage because he watched his mother get killed in the first movie. Paul Kersey, a bleeding heart liberal pacifist, goes on killing rampage after killing rampage after his wife and daughter are raped and murdered. Charles Bronson’s portrayal of Kersey in Death Wish III indicates that he’s not just doing this to clean up the streets – he enjoys it.
There are serious cultural implications to this question. Hollywood movies, after all, are only a representation of the broader culture. Since the 1960’s, a perceived lack of toughness in our criminal justice system has led to more and more “tough on crime” measures, but the problem is that “tough on crime” has often translated into being tough on civil liberties. In the real world, we far too often unethical actions by prosecutors leading to false convictions.
Most frightening is the trend toward overuse and abuse of paramilitary SWAT teams. The 92-year-old woman gunned down in her own home in Atlanta and the mayor of Berwyn Heights who was held at gunpoint for hours are only two examples of why we should all be concerned about how we view crime and criminals.
Don’t get me wrong here – I am no thug hugger. I was absolutely furious when a thoroughly corrupt Scottish “justice” released mass murdering terrorist Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, and the pathetic 25 years in jail for genocidal psychopath Dominique Ntawukulilyayo had me burning with anger. Closer to home, the pathetic abomination of a “punishment” for a teenager who sawed back and forth across the throat of an elderly woman in a failed attempt to kill her had me beside myself with rage.
What I support is stiff punishment for criminals who are convicted after a fair trial – especially the death penalty for cold blooded murderers. But we should never compromise on civil liberties protections for those not convicted of a crime, and we should never retreat from the principle of innocent until proven guilty. I only need to mention the Duke lacrosse case to remind people of the reason we have these protections in the first place.
Hollywood movies are harmless. The blood-soaked rampages of Paul Kersey are fictional and didn’t deprive a single person of their civil liberties. The actors playing the thugs got back up and went about their lives. My concern is the fact that far too many people are cheering these fictional serial killers as “heroes” and buy into the notion that we need to toss aside protections for civil liberties in order to win the “war on crime.”
As much as you may fear criminals, history shows we have much more to fear from government abuse of power. Ignoring civil liberties is not a conservative position by any means, especially at a time when the Tea Party movement has us increasingly focused on the US Constitution’s limits on government power. Instead, it is an extreme right wing fantasy world – and that’s scarier than any horror movie bad guy.