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TV Violence

I was angry when I read that Auckland streetkids wouldn't believe in the seriousness of the injuries done to bashed Auckland shopkeeper Navin Govind. Hitting someone repeatedly over the head with a softball bat does do damage, and I can only hope that Mr Govind's death the following day may have caused some of those blithe young men to reconsider their ideas.

So where do youths get the idea that taking to someone with a bat won't do a lot of harm? It may be an obvious target, but television and film does have to bear the brunt of the responsibility for that, I believe. How many times have we seen the hero take a whack over the head from the nasty guy wielding a chair, and then come back for more? How many times have we seen the hero stabbed or shot yet continuing to grin and bear it?

It may be ironic, but perhaps the problem with television violence is that it isn't violent enough. The old British cop programmes were past masters in showing the results of getting into a fight -- their protagonists would have skinned knuckles, bruised cheekbones, sore ribs. Yes, you can deplore the violence depicted, but in a sense it was far less dangerous than giving impressionable, idiotic viewers the idea that there's no worries in having a bottle broken over your head.

The fine line between fact and fiction on television has all but disappeared in the flood of endless numbers of docu-dramas (like "911", "111" et al), "reality" shows (such as "Cops") and pseudo-documentaries (like "The Extraordinary"). Small wonder that some people have difficulty distinguishing between reality and the world of make-believe. The calm sanitised emergencies we see on these shows segue seamlessly into news clips and on into UFO abductions and celebrity superstitions in a process that demands suspension of disbelief in all.

People often lament the apparent cynicism of our age, but there remains a frightening tendency to believe something if it's seen on television -- more so if it's presented in the guise of information or, as the pundits proudly term it, "infotainment". Such an attitude has disturbing implications for our psychological health in terms of the way in which we learn and think about our world. And, I believe that the Auckland incident shows, it can have very real dangers for us physically.

Vicki Hyde is the editor of New Zealand Science Monthly.