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My 50 Cents' Worth

There's something deeply metaphoric about a good horror film. That's why it bothers me when a director tries too hard to be allegorical. It's already in the mix! The monster is inside us all, even as it threatens to tear our heads off. Evil may be all around us in reality--which is why some people have a lot of trouble understanding why horror continues to appeal to such a large audience--but wrapped in the artifice of cinema, it's conquerable. When we encounter real-life monsters, we seldom have an opportunity to learn anything valuable from them, but the monsters of the cinema force us to stare down our greatest foes, which sometimes turn out to be ourselves. In action films and violent dramas, on the other hand, it's more dangerous to be gratuitous. When horror goes too far, chances are you end up with something funny ("The Toxic Avenger") or laughable ("Dead Alive"). When an action film goes too far, you often end up with a movie that turns a blind eye to morality.

All of this is really just an attempt to justify my initial reaction to the controversy-stirring ad campaign for 50 Cent's new movie, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," which includes posters and billboards showing the rapper/actor from behind, in a Christ stance, holding a gun in one hand and a microphone in the other (click here for the BBC's take on the story and for a look at the image used to market the film). It's hard not to wonder how this got past the MPAA, when the original poster art for "Saw II" had to be truncated to make it less obvious that it depicted two severed fingers. One of these two marketing strategies feels a little close to home. I like to think, anyway, that I'm far more likely to be the victim of a drive-by shooting than have someone separate my digits from the rest of me--under duress, no less. I wouldn't choose either outcome, but I'm less worried about one than the other.

Not everyone is up in arms about the "Get Rich" billboards, of course. Jim Sheridan, who directed the film, seemed puzzled by the controversy in a recent interview for NPR's Morning Edition. He views the film as a reflection of a gun-toting society and makes it clear that he is not in any way a proponent of gun violence. I can't deny that I've heard such arguments before. Countless dabblers in the horror genre have been forced to dredge up similar defenses of their work, so it was not without a pang of hypocrisy that I, a long-time admirer of horror films, found myself mildly chagrined by the content of these billboards.

If nothing else, the controversy has people talking about gun violence in America. Even if it never moves beyond shallow banter and is forgotten by the time the next big entertainment headline rolls along, I guess that's something. If they'd used the image of a puppy to sell this movie, wouldn't that have been worse? This thing could have glided in right underneath everybody's radar! Maybe there's at least a bit of honesty in advertising this film with a startling image. And maybe it's that level of truth in advertising, as much as anything else, that has caught people off guard.

Realistically, there are probably more effective ways to make a difference in the world than to protest a billboard for a movie that, being a work of art, might actually have something to say about its subject matter (I know, this is assuming a lot). There's nothing wrong with a little righteous indignation now and again. The challenge is finding the right outlet for it. Unlike my wishing that the MPAA had allowed "Saw II" to give us the fingers, however, part of me is relieved that Parmount has voluntarily pulled the offending "Get Rich" ads from circulation. It was a quick way to make everyone happy--exept for Kenneth Turan, but that's another story.--Pete Mesling.

Posted by Pete on November 9, 2005 10:31 PM
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