Media and Violence

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It is a welcome development that dead bodies, especially horribly defaced victims of violence, have slowly but surely begun disappearing from the front pages of local dailies. Once upon a time, it was almost the thumb rule for the media here to grade news worth of pictures by the gore and violence demonstrated. Crime reporting then was almost literally the lay reporter`™s own post mortem analysis of dead bodies, giving graphic details of how bullets hit the left chin to exitted at the base of the right ear etc. As if this is not enough, pictures of the victim would be printed alongside showing how accurate the descriptions were. Perhaps it is a question of the `shock and awe` value of these pictures depleting because of over use. Why would not it be too, daily carnage having become the state`™s staple? Once upon a time, somebody getting killed even by falling off the balcony or meeting with a scooter accident was shocking news for then unnatural deaths were rare. But today, it is difficult to keep the number of people killed for a week. Violent deaths have ceased to be tragedies that they are. Instead they have relegated to the status of just another routine fact of life.

But on a more optimistic side, it could also very well be a matter of a conscious re-sensitisation process happening in the media and the larger public as such. The latter, if it is true, is important, for this would then be the beginning of, or at least another important contribution to the campaign to de-legitimise violence. Violence in many ways is a state of mind. Even the ordinary and the least violent, are voyeuristically attracted to violence and violent deaths. Notice the number people who would rush to the spot where a suicide hanging has taken place. Crowds at such sites would almost invariably include children, housewives, elders etc. They would then talk about how horrifying the sight was, deriving perverse pleasure out of it even if it is accompanied by a shiver running down their spine. It is this same basic impulse in everybody that shapes the kind of journalism that relishes blood and gore on the front page. Fighting violence at its very basic, in this sense has to begin with an acknowledgement of the necessity to control this impulse. Denunciation of violence has to begin from the individuals and in private homes.

There is yet another danger in the representation of violence in art and literature.
While actual experience of violence is fearsome and traumatic, in art and literature, especially in insensitive hands, it can become static, communicating static emotions and not the actual sensations and the traumas that accompany them so that representation of violence often acquires a peculiar and perverse aesthetics of its own. This perhaps explains why violence on screen is so addictive and has such a large audience. Even cartoon movies and computer games these days contain so much violence, so much so that it is doubtful if today`™s children are able to get the real import of violence and its implications. Parents of school children will know better, but it would not be unreasonable to suspect children today see violence just as they are represented on screen and consider them as just another thrilling activity like hotly contested sporting activities. There is something very wrong in all this and the fight against violence must also include putting violence and its representation in art and literature in the perspective it is meant to be. To put it another way, it cannot be a comfortable experience for anybody to witness an injection performed. When the doctor pierces the patient`™s skin with the needle of the syringe, it would make any normal person cringe. Likewise, to watch somebody biting his or her nail and tear away flesh and skin, as is the repulsive habit of so many, is very discomforting. If he were to take out a razor and begin slashing his own wrist, it would make so many scream with horror even though the injury caused is not to the witness. But this sense of discomfort at witnessing a violent act is often not there in art or media representation of blood and gore. This is why we are encouraged by the waning space for blood and gore on the front pages of our media.

Leader Writer : Pradip Phanjoubam

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