“Violence is one of the most fun things to watch”

by | Jan 24, 2010

The quote in the title is, perhaps unsurprisingly, attributed to Quentin Tarantino.  It no doubt refers to film rather than real life violence, but lately I have been pondering the massive apparent increase in violence of all kinds, whether it’s drunk guys smashing each other on Saturday nights or the appalling violence visited upon Indian students in Melbourne or sexual assaults or kids filming fights at school and posting the results on YouTube.  I say ‘apparent’ because I’m not sure whether there is actually more violence, or whether it is being reported more often.  Growing up in what my sisters call the ghetto, there were fights all the time, in school and at parties: sometimes the police turned up, sometimes they didn’t, but these days it would turn up on the news: back then, everyone turned a blind eye.  Having said that, the drugs that are around these days does make people crazy with violence, and I’ve spoken to enough nurses to know the effect drug-fuelled violence is having on EDs around the country (and particularly in the country).  But drugs aside, what is causing it?  Is it only drugs?  And what effect does media saturation – ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ – have?

I don’t have any answers.  I worry, though, that the media portrayal unintentionally glamorises and normalises violence for those inclined to be violent.  I worry that the images and news we have of the latest beating or stabbing or assault creates paralysing fear and dread amongst the rest of us.  I also worry that if we don’t ask questions about how people come to be violent, we will never know how to address violence.  And don’t forget that a large component of violence – in the home, against children – is invisible, and its victims largely silent.

I do think, though, that it might behove the media to treat violence in the same way it treats suicide – journalists recognise that reporting suicide leads to an increase in suicide attempts, and they voluntarily desist, unless there are important reasons to do otherwise.

Fiction, as opposed to news stories, lets us have more than a one-dimensional view of what makes humans tick.  I’ve recently finished Barry Jonsberg‘s Ironbark, which deals with a violent kid, the kind most adults would avoid on the street.  The book doesn’t offer any answers, either, but it made me ponder families, violence and self-control in ways I hadn’t before.

I know fiction isn’t the answer to the perils of the modern age: I only wish it were.  But it’s better than screaming headlines that aim to provoke primal emotions and a mouse click.  It’s a shame that Quentin Tarantino is right.

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