Essay: I know which films you won't be seeing this summer ...

... Because Hollywood has now decided that it's had enough of screen violence.

It's backlash time in Hollywood. This is not the first time, of course, that the television and movie industries have been accused of perverting the minds of impressionable teenagers with loose morals and gratuitous screen violence. But the recent spate of school shootings across America, culminating in the deaths of 15 people in a single attack at Columbine High School in Colorado in April, have galvanised the politicians and penetrated the conscience of the industry like nothing else in recent memory. Undeterred by his close personal links to some of Tinseltown' s most prominent figures, President Clinton has set the hounds of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission nipping at Hollywood's heels to investigate just how deliberately, and how cynically, the industry is inflicting mindless violence on teenagers.

For the first time since the McCarthyite anti-Communist witch-hunt of half a century ago, there is a very real prospect of government investigators ordering the seizure of confidential studio documents and congressional committees grilling senior executives about their strategies and motives. As momentum builds, the industry is rushing to stave off government action by preemptively striking at itself. Release schedules are being frantically shuffled and titles reworked, re-edited, retitled, or dropped altogether.

Miramax is busy toning down the latest instalment in the Scream series ahead of an autumn release, and has altered the title of the forthcoming Killing Mrs Tingle, directed by Scream's Kevin Williamson, to the more innocuous Teaching Mrs Tingle. A whole slew of teenage horror films is said to have been cancelled by 20th Century-Fox, which is worrying about the timing of this summer's The Fight Club, the new film by David Fincher, who directed the macabre thriller Seven. Disney, meanwhile, has banished guns from all its film trailers. On television, Warner Brothers yanked the season finale of the teenage cult series Buffy the Vampire Slayer because it featured an attack on a high school. CBS pulled a new mafia serial off its autumn schedule. And even Jerry Springer has been told that the flying fists, profanities and ripped clothing responsible for his sky-high ratings will have to stop.

Such are the opening gambits in a cultural war that is likely to be protracted and messy. And it is a war that does not just pit Hollywood against the establishment in Washington. In many ways, the real war is between American society and its own teenagers - a war that is going on in the entertainment industry just as much as anywhere else.

If the Columbine High School shootings brought home the unnerving power of the mass media, it was in part because the events themselves were so graphically and so immediately brought home to American households and offices on real-time network television. But they also spooked the country for what they suggested about the American Dream. Here were two suburban middle-class white kids with no material worries and everything in the world to hope for, who nevertheless turned to savage, utterly unforeseen acts of violence. What could have motivated them? Who fuelled their imaginations with such dark, destructive thoughts?

The pat answer - that it's all the fault of music, movies and video games - does not differ significantly in its cultural prejudices from the view in the 1950s that leather jackets and long hair were signs of moral delinquency or, a decade later, that rock'n'roll was the music of the devil. The real fear, both then and now, is of teenagers themselves - their secret thoughts, their secret worlds and, above all, their struggle to establish their independence. This generational tension has been at the core of American youth culture for decades, and the subject of countless novels, movies and pop songs. On the one hand, teenagers and young adults are the motors of change and innovation in this most mobile and progressive of societies. On the other, they threaten to subvert the established order with their uncouth manners, their wilful refusal to toe the line and their occasional, terrifying flashes of irrational behaviour.

For much of its existence, and certainly since the Second World War, America has been chronically uncertain whether to embrace youth culture or to try frantically to control it. The scowling, existentially wracked face of James Dean in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, a face at once unsettling and immeasurably attractive, was the perfect embodiment of that ambivalence back in the repressive 1950s. The Vietnam War and the hippie era unleashed a new surge of youthful energy in the 1960s and 1970s, an energy that the older generation may not have understood but could not help being impressed by.

Hollywood enjoyed a new Golden Age thanks to the frenetic, often subversive talents of Coppola, Altman, Scorsese and the rest who thrived almost in spite of the studio system. Peter Fonda once described how the executives at Columbia, realising that Easy Rider was turning into a hit, "stopped shaking their heads in incomprehension and began nodding their heads in incomprehension".

But the 1980s and 1990s have seen an unmistakable swing back to the controlling impulse. The industry itself has become more controlling, with big corporate conglomerates buying out the old family-run studios, piling pressure on writers and directors to come up with smash-hit blockbusters that blow audiences away on their first weekend.

The corporate free-market ethic has created a world in which demographics, not aesthetics, reign supreme. Teenagers and twentysomethings are the main market for film and television and, increasingly, the age group drawn upon to write, direct and star in small-screen serials and big- screen "niche" films - horror, buddy flicks, macho action or capers set in high school or college.

Violence inevitably looms large. It may not be remotely meaningful or well-considered, but market economics dictate that - depending on the genre - big explosions, grisly murders and furious duels reliably rack up the dollars at the box office. Hence, outside the elite purview of a few annual prestige projects, the overwhelming profusion of violent trash.

There are some delicious ironies and blatant contradictions to appreciate here. The same politicians who most ardently preach the virtues of the free market are the very same ones who are now railing against its trashy consequences for the entertainment industry. The "youth culture" being fostered on film and on television is largely a corporate construct springing from a deeply conformist agenda, with nothing to offer young people at all except perhaps a thrillingly excessive dose of sex, weaponry, sadism and death.

The violence is not in itself the issue. It is a lack of imaginative diversity. Everything about the Columbine shootings suggests that the school suffered from a stifling sense of conformity, one that had no room for rebels or freaks and pushed them to extreme despair. In response to the shootings, the entertainment industry is making the same mistake, seeking to eradicate its freakiest elements in an attempt to become even more homogeneous and mainstream.

Without diversity, either in life or the movies, what chance is there of nurturing the teenage imagination? Violence on the screen may not be nearly as big a threat as its root cause - irredeemable crassness, dictated by amoral corporate values. And that's something we all need to watch out for.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders