I'm still reeling from last night's episode of Underbelly. This is a well-made series and I've been enjoying it - until one particularly sadistic scene that I haven't been able to get out of my head, and which has disturbed me ever since.
As a feminist, I never quite know how to feel about representations of violence - I just know that they often make me feel really icky. I never seemed to develop a tolerance to it, and things I see or read about often upset me. I don't mind too much if my kids see sexual content on TV (so long as it's not too graphic!), but I do my best to shield them from violence - partly on principle, because I don't think violence should be entertainment, and partly because I know that my thoughtful little daughter will be upset by it.
Strangely, though, different 'kinds' of violence affect me differently. Gratuitous, stupid movies with people punching and shooting each other in choreographed ways don't bother me at all (although I don't really understand why people find this entertaining). Violence with a sadistic intent, like last night's episode of Underbelly, disturbs me a lot. (I was incredibly bemused a few year's ago by Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' - from what I could see of this movie, it attracted people who liked being able to conceal their bloodlust under the respectable guise of Christianity.)
Reporting of violent events on the news also troubles me. When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me to watch a documentary about the Holocaust. What they were trying to do was laudable: they wanted me to think about the world around me, and the importance of caring for others and standing up to what you know is wrong. The doco had a powerful effect on me, but was also very upsetting. Is it better for a kid to understand violence and learn a moral lesson from it - or is ignorance bliss?
I suppose the point of this rambling post is to wonder aloud if and how watching violence affects us (children, particularly). Is the effect the same if its unreal, choreographed violence, a portrayal of sadistic violence, or real violence - like footage of warfare?
TV and video game violence get the blame for all sorts of tragedies. Whenever a kid in the US goes crazy and shoots his classmates, someone is always eager to point to the online games he played, rather than the fact that he had access to a gun. It's too simplistic to pretend that TV violence causes actual violence in any straightforward way - but what are the effects on an average person of being surrounded by constant violent imagery, particularly when violence as entertainment is such a common part of our TV diets?