When President Obama spoke on the campus of DreamWorks Animation last month, his only note of admonishment to Hollywood came when he mentioned gun violence, in which he said that "we have got to make sure we are not glorifying it."
He mentioned that in the wake of the Newtown massacre on Dec. 14, 2012, Vice President Joseph Biden (pictured) convened industry reps for a meeting, and "those conversations need to continue."
SEE ALSO: Brian Lowry: Why Nothing Changed After Newtown
But nearly year after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, predictions that the incident, which left 20 children and six adults dead, was horrific enough to produce a dramatic shift in gun laws and reduction in violence on screen has proven to be just the stuff of conversations.
In the weeks after Newtown, a focus was on the role of media violence, and videogame mayhem in particular. Industry lobbyists walked a fine line between expressing sensitivity and taking steps to prevent being scapegoated, making the case that research into the link between virtual violence and real-life mayhem was inconclusive.
A 2011 Supreme Court decision, which struck down a California ban on sales of violent videogames to minors, limited what lawmakers could do. A handful of state legislative proposals were introduced and a bill from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) to commence a comprehensive study of videogame and video violence, as well as the ability to use the bully pulpit.
The result? Not much.
Rockefeller's legislation got out of committee, but it has not advanced since then. The same goes for much of the proposed state legislation, including efforts to impose taxes on videogames with excessive violent content. Biden's meetings with the industry translated into new campaigns to promote existing voluntary film, TV and videogame ratings, as well as an extensive PSA effort by broadcasters to shine a light on mental health issues.
"I don't think that really much has been done," says Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, science, and related agencies. "The administration spent a lot of time talking about it and it just kind of evaporated."
Wolf says that Congress shares some blame for inaction, but he also called on the media to create improved, uniform ratings systems to keep up with the "increasingly violent content of popular media."
In the weeks after Sandy Hook, Wolf asked the National Science Foundation to convene a panel of experts to produce a report on mass violence. The result cited three contributors to mass violence: access to guns, mental illness and media violence. The report noted the contentious nature of debates over media violence, but it did cite studies showing an increase in "aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behavior" among youth, and a decrease in "helping behavior and feelings of empathy for others." But their report also called for more study.
James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, which advises parents and families on programming, said that research on media violence is "woefully out of date and incomplete."
But the Rockefeller legislation "just stalled because of the octopus-like reach of the media industry," he says, noting that the same thing happened in the middle of the last decade, when then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation to establish a research center at the National Institutes of Health to study media violence.
"We have never said that the media and the entertainment industry are the sole cause of the culture of violence in America," he says. "We do think that it is a contributing factor."
On Obama's visit to the west coast last month, Steyer says he attended a luncheon in San Francisco where the president held a Q&A and "was asked how nothing could have happened this year on the gun control front."
Obama, Steyer recalls, "said that if we couldn't get gun control after Newtown, I don't know when we are going to get it."
Steyer acknowledges that congressional dysfunction also has made it difficult for any legislation to move, but that the industry lobby "doesn't really want these issues looked at," noting the popularity of violent content. "Grand Theft Auto V" is this year's most popular videogame title, having grossed $1 billion in sales in its first three days of release.
Steyer cited a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics showing that the presence of gun violence in PG-13 rated movies has more than tripled since the rating was introduced in 1985.