EDITORIAL WEDNESDAY 17.02.10.
This week has seen the tragic death of a 12 year old schoolboy after being stabbed at his Brisbane School. A 13 year old student has been charged with murder as a result. Another student in Sydney has been charged with assault and being armed with intent to commit an indictable offence. He is 11 years old. In recent years there have been other similar incidents reported. In fact it appears that reports of such events are increasing. According to a report from the New South Wales Department of Education the number of serious incidents reported by school principals has doubled over the five years since 2005.
Everything about this phenomenon is disturbing: the increasing numbers of kids who think it is normal to carry a knife; the earlier age at which they seem to do so; the apparently increasing level of violence involved in such confrontations; the apparently falling level of consideration for the safety and wellbeing of others. The most natural question to ask is “why is this happening?” Answering that question is not simple or easy.
One factor which has been identified is the increasing level of violence displayed on television and in video games. While debate might continue about the link, if any, between virtual and real world violence, there is rising concern that young people are developing a less empathetic nature and a more aggressive attitude. It’s hard to say whether their attitude is influenced by their choice of entertainment, or their choice of entertainment is influenced by their attitude. One view is that people don’t become violent because of TV and games, but already have a predisposition to violence anyway. But even if that is true, doesn’t that mean that the growing popularity of graphically violent entertainment must indicate an awful lot of people who might be harboring such a predisposition?
One expert has come forward to suggest that community concerns about sex and nudity in television have received considerable prominence while violent content has been ignored, and even considered to be normal and acceptable. In the view of psychologist Dr Jan Hall, it is the amount of violence on TV, and not the level of sex, which is the more troubling issue. Dr. Hall is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying that “Research has shown… that when we watch violence we model from it and are more likely to be violent in our own lives. It also desensitizes us to the impact violence has in real life.”
It’s a complex topic, and one which requires far more examination than can be addressed in this small space, but we know from decades of research that entertainment is not just a reflection of real life, it is also an influence upon it. For that reason, it is not just a matter of whether or not sex and violence is depicted, but also how they are depicted. The obsession with censoring sex scenes from television means that our society is constantly being sent a message that sex is dirty and bad and something to be ashamed of, while at the same time brutal violence is a normal part of life. It is a dangerously twisted message to send.