Leon Worden

Killers: 'natural born' or made for TV?

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, June 28, 1995

had to chuckle when Kansas Senator Bob Dole singled out the new Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers as the embodiment of Hollywood's evil love affair with sex and violence. You see, an old high school buddy of mine wrote the blasted thing.

Now that his work has become the stuff of presidential politics, my friend David Veloz, lead writer of the Killers screenplay, probably won't soon hear the end of it.

Listening to the sound bites on the evening news, you'd think this bright young man who played clarinet in the Hart High band and joined the LDS Church at age 17 had somehow turned into the sort of hideous monster who peddles "nightmares of depravity" — Dole's vernacular — to an impressionable public.

Though he declined to comment on the record, suffice to say that Veloz, now a 33 year-old Santa Clarita father of two, finds the assertion preposterous.

His movie, unlike most mass-market mush, challenges all facets of American pop culture that contribute to aberrant social behavior — including the media.

Natural Born Killers is the frighteningly intense story of Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and his common-law wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis), two ruthless sociopaths who take 52 lives before they are apprehended.

Comic book visions of childhood nightmares, oblique camera angles and a repeating switch from black and white to color create the illusion that Mickey and Mallory live in a world where fantasy and reality collide.

Raised in dysfunctional families heavily influenced by television, Mickey and Mallory don't know right from wrong. They seek notoriety — the kind of notoriety that Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez and Ted Bundy found when network TV thrust the famed serial killers into the nation's living rooms.

Fleeting images of Lyle Menendez, Waco, and even O.J. Simpson punctuate the story, as if to chastise both the media's sensationalism of real-life brutality, and our bizarre, couch-potato obsession with it. It is not just Mickey and Mallory's world where fantasy shadows reality; it is the whole TV generation's.

Mickey and Mallory aren't the tale's only villains. Everyone bears guilt, from the cops who cross the line to the Geraldo-type talk show host Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.), who has built a career on feeding his fans what he has taught them to crave: glorified violence.

Gale and the killers need each other. Gale needs Mickey and Mallory, to win ratings. Mickey and Mallory need Gale, to win fame.

But Mickey rebukes Gale when the latter feigns righteousness during a prison interview with the serial killer. "You're not even a man," Mickey chides. "You're media."

To Mickey, the media is worse than the killer. It fosters the cycle of violence. The media foists violence onto youngsters who grow into violent adults, in turn supplying broadcasters with fresh acts of violence to foist onto the next generation of TV junkies.

Mickey and Mallory ultimately grab Gale's camera and gun down the media whore in front of his own television audience.

"Killing you and what you represent makes a statement," Mickey says. "You're not the monster — you're Dr. Frankenstein."

Could it be that Messrs. Dole, Stone and Veloz are all saying essentially the same thing? That killers aren't "natural born," but made? And that the media is the Dr. Frankenstein who makes man into monster? And that neither the media nor the sociopath can exist without an audience?

Why do we keep giving them one?

Hollywood may be guilty, but no more so than those of us who line up at the box office. If we didn't want TV Guide, it wouldn't be America's top-selling weekly.

Little will change until we take our lives off remote control, until we wean ourselves from Beavis and Butthead, until we quit giving a damn about Marcia Clark's stupid hairdos.

Natural Born Killers is violent and disturbing. Its messages are too intense to digest in one sitting, too complex to exhaust in one brief newspaper column — let alone in a ten-second sound bite.

It's not a film for children or thin-skinned adults, and if you're just looking for entertainment, it's not for you.

Go see Batman instead. Some people get blown up, but you don't really see them die.

    Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident.

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