I have not owned a television for many years and I rarely watch programmes. As a result I wonder if I have become over-sensitive to the gruesome scenes which seem common fare to TV viewers these days- and I’m talking about the news as well as crime-thrillers. I used to enjoy ‘Inspector Morse’ and, more recently, the series ‘Lewis’ and though these always involved a murder and generally a view of the corpse and the pathologist dissecting it, I don’t remember having to watch any graphic violence. The recent glimpses I have had on iPlayer of recommended viewing such as ‘The Fall’ or ‘Whitechapel’ have left me hiding my face in a cushion, like a child watching Dr Who or simply turning away in horror. Rape scenes, blood, guts, gore, violent attacks are shown in technicolour detail.
After wondering if it was just me who has to avert my eyes from this horror, I was relieved when my cousin told me that she had stopped watching ‘Waking the Dead’ and ‘Silent Witness’ because each series had become steadily more gruesome, had started to give her nightmares and leave her with unpleasant images in her head.She is a nurse and not squeamish in any way but these previously watchable series had gone beyond the pale even for her. Reviewers though seem to think that the likes of such programmes are tame in comparison to the sexual violence seen in the Scandinavian noir dramas which have become so commonplace on the prime time schedules.In today’s Observer, Ann Cleeves, herself a writer of televised detective fiction, complained that the Scandinavian crime writers “seem intent on outdoing each other when depicting graphic violence against female characters.” She said: “I especially don’t like the graphic violence against women and children, often depicted in novels such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and others. I’m not sure if it’s being done just to entertain, or whether it really is necessary for the characters involved.”
But judging by the ratings, many viewers are thoroughly enjoying this new genre of drama. Many of us are capable of enjoying the drama knowing full well it is not real and nobody is really getting hurt.Some can have a personal reaction because they have known violence, some people are easily spooked and perhaps enjoy the feeling of being frightened in the safety of their living room. I am just somebody who should steer clear of horror films; I cannot understand how people can take pleasure in watching sadistic and needless violence as entertainment, whilst eating Popcorn and Revels, as people on screen are brutalised. But I realise that in the same way we all have different thresholds of pain, we all have our own inner gauge of horror we can stomach. My eldest son is sensitive like me but I was mildly troubled when his seven year old sister, by accident rather than design, watched and clearly enjoyed the DVD ‘Sleepy Hollow’ finding the ‘headless horseman film’ very entertaining.There have been many studies carried out which suggest that media violence does influence aggressive behaviour, but not all children react the same. Professor Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, said such studies could not prove a causal link between watching violent images and committing real-life violence. He said: “I don’t think anybody would deny that people do become desensitised to violence. But the real issue is whether that in and of itself causes negative consequences.” Just to be on the safe side though, I will be steering my youngest daughter away from the films of Quentin Tarantino for as long as possible.