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Steven Seagal vs The Daily Mail

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It seems to be a tradition in the British press to connect every tragedy to some form of entertainment, no matter how tenuous the link. So when the news broke of the Cumbria shootings it was of course just a matter of time before the finger of blame was pointed firmly in the direction of popular culture. With the perpetrator (Derrick Bird) in his fifties, computer games were never going to provide an adequate scapegoat, so instead the tabloids turned their attention to the world of cinema. The film in question was ‘On Deadly Ground’ ,a 1994 Steven Seagal vehicle, shown on ITV4 the night before the shootings and allegedly viewed by Bird.
The story featured predictably enough in The Daily Mail who incorrectly identified the film in question as ‘Exit Wounds’ but never the less were able to highlight key scenes from that film which may have influenced Bird. We were also told he spent the evening “Glued to the film” and “Left looking like a Zombie at 12.30am“ as if the film had somehow hypnotised him. The Mail choose not to print the rest of the witness statement which revealed “He had been like that for a few days.”

The Guardian was at least able to correctly identify ‘On Deadly Ground’, a film that we were informed is both violent and grisly. The article opened with, “The debate over the effect of violent films looks set to be revived…” which sounded suspiciously like a statement of intent. They then went on to give a rather clumsy explanation of the film’s plot before telling us, “The film, panned at the time, but now something of a cult favourite, involved multiple scenes of graphic violence involving a range of firearms.”

Now, to anyone with knowledge of the action film genre, the assessment of ‘On Deadly Ground’ as a “Cult favourite” might seem a strange one. So how exactly did The Guardian come up with that? Well the answer would appear to be quite simple; they lifted it from Wikipedia. The Wiki entry for the film informs us; “It was a commercial and critical failure” but “In later recent years, it has gained a cult following”.

The Telegraph displayed a similar level of journalistic integrity by reworking Wikipedia’s “stereotypical and campy” as “corny” and “ridiculous”. They then went one step further, claiming it had ; “gained a cult following in recent years due to the graphic and excessive nature of the violence” neatly crossing the line between plagiarism and total reinvention.

This level of integrity extended to their description of a key scene from the film in which, we were told, Seagal’s character quips “Well, let’s see, that’s natives eight, oil workers zero.” after he had, “Killed a number of his foes”. In fact during the scene in question (A bar brawl) not a single person is killed, nor indeed is anyone up until that point in the narrative. Unsurprising it seems their research had not extended as far as actually watching the film they were commenting on. Interestingly enough this very scene was screened on the Guardian’s film blog as part of a ‘bar brawl’ article published a week before the shootings.

The Telegraph finished their article by referring to the statement of Professor Kevin Browne who had “Told MPs last year that violent action films were fuelling crime.” He apparently said, “If you live on a diet of hit first and ask questions later, then you are likely to copy what that violent hero does, for example Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and to a certain extent Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Helpfully, we were given a link to his statement , where we learned that he had continued to say, “They play heroes who are to an extent violent first and (young people) will copy their heroes and that violence if they come from a violent background.” The Telegraph clearly felt this quantifying statement didn’t suite the slant of their article.

By now it was clear that the journalists were keen to make us aware just how violent this film really was, The News of the World referred to it as “Violent Steven Seagal film” The Express choose “Violent action film” whilst The Times went with “A film with multiple killings”. The Mail by now had realised it’s earlier mistake and curiously managed to amalgamate all of the above into “Violent action film On Deadly Ground, starring Steven Seagal, which features multiple killings.

It seemed it was impossible to mention the film without referring to it’s violent nature. Curious then that the Mail’s own TV guide had previously described the film as follows: “A tough fire fighter sets out to stop the destruction of native tribes and the environment by an unscrupulous oil company planning to drill in Alaska. Environmental thriller directed by and staring Steven Seagal” No mention there of violence , killing or even action.

The Mail’s guide was also helpful enough to point out something that so far all the journalists had neglected to mention, the fact that the film was certified 15 by the BBFC. Strange that in 1994 (When film censorship was at it‘s most stringent in the UK) a film containing such a high level of violence would not have been awarded an 18 certificate. In fact it transpires that the UK version of the film was trimmed of much of it’s violence to achieve it’s lower certificate, and this soft cut was the version that Bird would have viewed. This information was of course omitted from any of the articles connecting the film to the case.



Written by nastyvideo

June 8, 2010 at 11:16 pm