Entertaining Violence
By Usha Jesudasan

Violence in the media affects us in many ways. At first we are repelled by it. But slowly as we watch more and more we actually become
numb to it
A few months ago, I stopped at a wayside tea shop. A young man came in and ordered some tea. He lit his cigarette and moved a few paces away. Meanwhile another man came and ordered his tea. As the first young man made no attempt to come and get his cup, the vendor gave it to the second man. Within an instant, a fight ensued. It started with abusive words. Then glasses of tea were thrown all over the place and fists banged into flesh. Eventually the fight broke up. An elderly man who had been sitting beside me remarked, Itís just like the movies. And it was!

We move now to a school yard. A group of teenage boys are bullying smaller kids. It begins with pushing and shoving, then progresses to playful punching. The punching then begins to get nasty. A young boy watching this intervenes on behalf of the bullied boy. Let him go, he says. The others look at him threateningly. He is outnumbered. They move in and soon he is left lying in a pool of blood. Later, I hear his mother cry, I canít believe this, itís like something that happens only in the movies. But it isnít the movies anymore - It is real life.

A normal home on a Sunday afternoon. A teenage boy is watching cricket. His mother has been nagging him all afternoon to clean up his room. Her voice grates on his nerves, and he canít hear the cricket commentator. Suddenly the boy goes out and comes back brandishing a kitchen knife. Is this a movie or real life? Itís a script for a class play written by a ten-year-old boy.

The above stories show how violence in the media infiltrates our homes and lives without us even being aware of it. Turn on the television and there is bound to be a movie where the woman gets punched and beaten. Put on a computer game and the earth is being blown up and destroyed. Take a ride in a lift in a busy shopping mall, and the ugly graffiti - violence against property - hits your eye.

Violence in the media is portrayed as glamorous and manly. The macho man is the one with a gun. He can fling someone to the other end of the room with a flick of his wrist. When heís angry, he can slit someoneís throat and walk away without any blood on his hands.

The media often portray violence as the only solution to any kind of conflict. The bad guys punch and batter and shoot their way out. But so do the good guys now. Only their weapons are faster, sharper and slicker. When we are left with no other alternatives but violence so we too end up believing that it is the only solution.

Violence in the media affects us in many ways. At first we are repelled by it. But slowly as we watch more and more we actually become numb to it. We come to a point when it does not affect us any more. And when we stop reacting to it on the screen, we begin to stop reacting to it in real life too. There was a time when my young son could not bear to watch any of the violence shown on the TV news. But as time went on and we began watching more and more bombing, shooting, blowing up, one day I realised that he was now watching it all without batting an eyelid. Doesnít it bother you any more? I asked. No he said, I just got used to it.

In many homes, violence is a way of life. As part of a writing assignment I asked a group of teenagers to describe their most unforgettable experience. One lad wrote that when he was ten years old, he had just handed over his report card to his father. Opening the card, the father found out that his son had not come within the first three places. He lifted him up, threw him against the wall on the other side of the room and walked away.

Violence robs a man of his innate dignity as a human being, and it deprives the violated person of dignity too. My gardener is a young man who has a nasty temper. Sometimes his wife or daughter help him finish the chores. When he gets angry and violent his eyes become blood shot, his face darkens and all the natural good looks that he is blessed with just disappear. Often he beats his wife, and as she cowers in front of him, she is like a little animal, frightened and vulnerable. Turn on the TV and you will see this scene played over and over again.

Photo: Peter Williams/WCC
Violence is sometimes seen as exciting because it gives a sense of power over another person. This kind of thrill is satisfied only by more violence, more atrocities, and more bloodshed. Throughout the ages, violence and power seem to have gone hand in hand. Rape, kidnap and murder form the basis of any popular serial or film.

The worst thing apathy to violence in the media does is that it stunts our conscience. When we no longer see it as something hateful and destructive, when we start making excuses for it, when we accept it as inevitable, then something terrible has happened to us.

At a Sunday school discussion, I asked a group of teenage boys to name their five favourite films. All of them had chosen some of the most violent movies ever made. Intrigued, I told them about the script the ten-year-old boy had written for a class play where he pulled out a knife on his mother. She deserved it, said one. Imagine telling him twenty times, said another. I would have done the same, said yet another. None of them could see that this was not the natural way for a young son to behave.

As parents and teachers, can we afford to look the other way and pretend that it wonít touch our children? I am reminded of a story about Chauntecleer, the rooster, who is appointed as watchman of the farm. In the river in the distance dwell snakes who would eat up all the animals if given a chance. But as long as the watchman keeps his eye on the river as it floods after the rains, the animals are safe. After a while, the rooster becomes so immune to the sound of the river that he no longer fears the serpents. It canít happen to me, he thinks. But one day, when he least expects it, the river floods and the snakes come into the yard. They attack the roosterís children first. If only I had been more vigilant, cried the rooster. We canít afford to be like the rooster. We need to be vigilant, and take a stand, before itís too late.

Usha Jesudasan is a journalist and writer from India, author of I Will Lie Down In Peace, a book on facing terminal illness, When Winter Comes, a book on dealing with pain and grief and beginning again, and a series of graded childrenís books on values - A Childís Path. She is currently working on a series of childrenís books called Living In Peace and Harmony for the Decade to Overcome Violence.

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