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Programmers let lose Roman circus in Kiwi living rooms
by Graeme J. Davidson,
23 August, 2008

You’d think the only qualifications needed to get a job selecting our TV programmes are high scores in Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto, Killer 7, Crime Life – Gang Wars and similar violent computer games, and a cynical belief that we, the barbaric public, lap up vicarious violence.

....Alfred Hitchcock once said, “One of television’s great contributions is that it brought murder back into the home, where it belongs”. Kiwi television programmers think so, too, judging from the number of corpses they dump on our living room screens in shows like CSI (x 2), Chuck, SVU-Special Victims Unit, Sensing Murder, Women’s Murder Club, Medium, Criminal Intent, The Unit, and something called City Homicide starting next week.
....Armed sociopaths abound, as do graphic autopsies of their victims, especially on TV2 and TV3. And, what kind of ratings would soaps and cartoons get if they didn’t add their fair share of brutality and murder most foul?
....After a lapse of 10 years, I’ve tuned in to Kiwi-owned channels again and I’m appalled at all the blood. You’d think the only qualifications needed to get a job selecting our TV programmes are high scores in Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto, Killer 7, Crime Life – Gang Wars and similar violent computer games, and a cynical belief that we, the barbaric public, lap up vicarious violence.
....We are second only to the US for television violence. So, it’s hardly surprising that New Zealand sits seventh among countries having the highest number of reported assaults per head of population. The USA is just ahead at sixth.
....According to Interpol data, Western countries experienced a four or fivefold increase in violent crime after the advent of television, and the rate of murders pretty much doubled.
....But is TV wholly to blame? Although there are many reasons for violent crime, a 2004 report to the Minister of Broadcasting based on research from AUT, concludes: “the current level of TV violence in New Zealand may pose a risk for some individuals and vulnerable groups including children and young people, especially those who are also exposed to other major risk factors for violence”. The report adds that watching lots of TV violence makes us “more likely than other viewers to have an exaggerated fear of violence and mistrust of people”.
....Of course, our TV executives rationalise that they merely reflect what society wants and that far worse violence is available on the internet and from video stores. They stress that they stick to censorship rules, warn viewers of violent content, espouse our right to watch what we want and that if we don’t want to watch something, we can change channels or switch off. They rarely admit to the damage they might be doing and they steadfastly resist replacing violent dramas with non-violent ones.
....It’s enough to drive all of us suffering post-traumatic screen violence disorder to extremes – like torturing our television programmers for a TV ethics reality show until they confess how they load peak viewing times with vicarious carnage to grab viewer attention and make big bucks from advertisers. Their deaths in front of their own cameras would be an apt epitaph. To quote American novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us”.
....Naturally, our TV programmers practise a double standard. While justifying bloodbaths on our screens when it’s fiction, they advertise against domestic violence and are squeamish about letting us view the bloody reality of corpses and mutilated survivors in war zones. Perhaps they sanitise news footage because they don’t want us to become so shocked and outraged that we’ll work harder for peace and an end to violence.
....What about churches that have crucifixes and images of the 14 Stations of the Cross depicting the gruesome passion and death of Jesus? For Christians this is not vicarious entertainment. It’s a prayer and teaching aid showing us how God suffered and sacrificed himself to bring us closer to him. We see here the roots and consequences of violence and our need to be peacemakers.
....The brutality we see on TV dramas does the opposite. Our TV programmers use our living room screens as a Coliseum for their Roman Circus, which gratuitously entertains for profit and acclimatises us to violence.




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