Bang Bang You’re Dead by William Mastrosimone
Anti-violence play falsely tags hunters
By: James A. Swan, Ph.D Date: 01/13/2012 Category: | Wildlife Journal |
When I read William Mastrosimone's article "Confessions of A Violent Screenwriter" in a recent issue of Written By (the magazine of Writer's Guild West), I was heartened to hear a screenwriter expressing concern about the consequences of his work. When Mastrosimone said that he had written "Bang Bang You're Dead", a play to address school violence, and it was on the Internet, I quickly sought it out. Since the late l960s I've been working with social issues such as violence as a psychologist, a writer, and a concerned citizen. There is so much glamorized violence in the media, I was hoping to see a work that could shed light on its origins and show how to curb it instead of glorifying more gore. I downloaded the play and read it - three times. Then I asked some friends - screen actors, writers and health professionals - to also read it. Disappointment, sadness and shock have been the general reaction.
The play is about a teen-age boy who has shot and killed five of his classmates. He is sitting in a cell and the ghosts of his victims come back to question why he did what he did. Powerful stuff. It has the potential to be a healing work, but it quickly self-destructs because the character of the killer, "Josh," is identified as a hunter who has used his new hunting rifle to shoot his victims. His victims spend considerable time (at least 10 pages of a 65-page script) taunting Josh, asking if his killing them was like killing an eight-point buck he also shot with his grandfather. Few other motives for killing people are given except a recent break-up with a girl friend.
I know that not everyone likes hunting. People are entitled to their opinions. However, I believe the closer writers approach a serious social issue like school violence, the more that they have an obligation to base their work, fiction or non-fiction, on fact. This enables stories to encourage understanding, critical thinking, and compassion, and offer examples of coping strategies and role models that solve problems. Making Josh a hunter, and drawing comparisons between hunting and homicide, is not based in psychological fact. I can give numerous examples of well-respected behavioral scientists, such as Erich Fromm, Marie-Louise von Franz and Melvin Konner, who believe hunting is a normal, healthy pursuit. According to the American Psychological Association, there is no data to the contrary. Even closer to the times, in the November 30, 1998, issue of Time magazine, Ronald Stephens, director of the National School Safety Center, created in l984 to study school violence, flatly states "- the notion that anyone who hunts is violent is nonsense - There is no reason in my view to condemn hunting." In the same article, Terri Royster, who teaches a class about crime and juvenile justice for the FBI Academy, backs him up, saying that she can think of no research that links hunting and violence against humans.
You can make the killer a hunter, but why do it? There are 15 million licensed, legal hunters in the US. Thanks to hunter safety education, which is required in all 50 states to get a license, hunting is now safer than golf, tennis, bicycling, tennis and ping-pong. And thanks to wildlife management, most huntable species are more abundant than when Teddy Roosevelt was alive. The late Cleveland Amory, writer and animal rights activist, used to have a comedy routine where he invited people to join the "Hunt the Hunters Club." Its motto was, "If you can't play a sport, shoot one." I can't see where such humor helps make a better world anymore than I can see why making Josh, the killer, into a hunter, helps solve school violence. Hunters are already targeted by certain organizations and individuals that openly admit they use misinformation to distort the facts. Using a false stereotype for a scapegoat only further inflames an issue that already is embroiled in controversy.
Thurston High School drama teacher Mike Fisher in Springfield, Oregon, was recently interviewed by Scott Stouder, reporter for the Corvallis (Oregon) Gazette-Times. Fischer claimed making Josh a hunter was for "dramatic effect," and not intended to scapegoat hunters. He further stated that playwrite Mastrosimone is a hunter. Okay, I guess anything is possible.
If an animal rights agenda is not behind making Josh a hunter, and the psychological profiles of school shooters shows no association between shooters and hunters, then what purpose is served by putting a hunter's mask on a killer's body? If Springfield, Oregon, thinks it is appropriate, that's their business. Things sure must have changed a lot since I lived there and taught at the University of Oregon on the other bank of the Willamette River.
What does arouse my concern is that this play is being promoted as a resource to deal with school violence everywhere. The average teenager today does not know much about hunting. Those teens that hunt often have to bear the brunt of social criticism by their peers. Producing this play in a lot of communities turns kids who hunt into suspected killers. To me, that feels like asking for trouble, not solving it.
I can see "Bang Bang You're Dead" pitting generation against generation in a way that would make Bambi seem pro-hunting. This is modern, contemporary stuff, where lives are on the line, not a cartoon. School shootings are terrifying and real. Parents, family members or neighbors who hunt suddenly take on a shadowy feeling that divides families and communities. I can see other possible darker scenarios, too. According to FBI Director Louis Freeh, animal rights/eco-terrorism are "the most recognizable single issue terrorists of our times." Last fall we learned about the extent of eco-terrorism at the NAIA Full Circle symposium. The profile of the average eco-terrorist is a teenager. This is precisely the audience targeted by the play.
In "Thinking With Pictures," John Sayles says: "The first decision I made in writing Matewan was not to pick a side and then root for that side to be left standing when the smoke cleared, but to question the violence itself, to question it politically, strategically, morally."
Sayles urges us, I believe, to use the craft of writing to ask fundamental questions to probe hot, dirty, cloudy issues. It is easy to create heat. It is more difficult, but rewarding, to make people see the light. People need to learn to see through stereotypes, scapegoats and stigmatizing. If people know how to dissect fact from fiction, then emotional misinformation propaganda programs won't stick. Such programs thrive when people do not think. Having said all this, I ask you please, do not contact either Mastrosimone or Fischer and just repeat what I said. Please, log on to www.bangbangyouredead.com read the script and decide for yourself. There is an e-mail place for comments on the web site. Parents, teachers, health professionals, ask yourself if this play would create heat or shed light on the volatile subject of school violence. Then let them know. Let your local school drama teacher know what you think. This play could be your next senior class production.
I am not saying that Mastrosimone or Fisher are evil people. All I am asking for is a rewrite based on the facts, and hopefully with some professional guidance from people who understand school violence. Otherwise, the whole thing could fuel what it starts out to solve, and be just one more piece of quick, cheap, sensationalized glamorized violence.
Incidentally, if you are interested in the facts about what motivates school shooters and what some approaches are to stopping them, see the websites of forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Smith www.violentkids.com or the National School Safety Center at www.nssc1.org.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | James A. Swan, Ph.D |