Hager Column–May

YOUNG PEOPLE`S BRAINS

WHAT WE WATCH

By Mandy Hager
24th May 2010

Killing us not-so-softly with what we watch…

In the last month two small articles in the DomPost caught my eye, helping solidify a growing concern in my mind.

The first, headed ‘Violence at home harms young brains’ states that joint research by Kumamoto and Harvard Universities revealed that the brains of fifteen 3-17year-olds who routinely saw their father physically abuse their mother showed an average of 20.5% less visual cortex in the right hemisphere of their brains as a result.

It also noted that blood flow in the right visual cortex of this group indicated that the brain was consequently hyperactive.

This, in itself, is horrifying enough, but a couple of days later another article appeared: ‘Youth crime rate down but offences more violent.

Media ‘surfeit of violence’

These two thoughts combined to get me thinking (yet again) about the effects on our young people’s brains when they are overloaded with the surfeit of violence and sheer meanness depicted in every type of media readily accessible today.

Take a good look at the vast majority of TV programmes, films, video games and new social media as ‘You-tube’ and what do we see?

Police, CSI, and crime series appear on every channel, every day. Add to this graphic depictions of war, mob violence and brutality (much of it against women), plus the sheer meanness of the whole reality TV culture — where contestants are ritually humiliated — and the glamorisation of psychotic violence in such shows such as Dexter (which, for goodness sake, sides the viewer with a serial killer) and Underbelly (glorifying Melbourne’s ongoing gang warfare).

Niceness seen as weakness

Video games blast away innocent bystanders without a care, ‘niceness’ is seen as weakness and deserving of derision, and even TV cooking shows (for a while the only shows I could watch without wanting to throw something at the screen) have turned into a vehicle for abusive, foul-mouthed bullies who take delight in reducing their victims to quivering wrecks… all in the name of entertainment.

No wonder we’re seeing so much violence and bullying in our schools — these damn shows apparently make this kind of brutal behaviour sexy and cool.

Does this worry anybody else? I find it most perturbing, especially as I’ve always been an advocate of free speech – but surely all this has gone too far?

As science writer Jonathan Gitlin spells out: ‘Repeated exposure to media violence desensitizes the region of the brain whose job it is to control the more primal response. The practical upshot… is that exposure to violent media results in an increased level of aggression.[[1]]  Is this not just sheer common sense?

I’m not necessarily calling for re-runs of The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie, but surely we are now reaping the terrifying fruit of what we’ve so passively allowed to be sown?

It makes the need for a real TV charter all the more important (and more vigilantly adhered to.) In the meantime, I’m switching to Maori TV — the only really civic-minded, responsible public broadcaster (bar RNZ on a good day) we have left.


[1] http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2007/12/media-violence-and-the-brain-when-movies-attack.ars

I totally agree with Mandy’s assessment. For years, I have had major problems with the disturbing content on the television screen. Much of this content is so disturbing that I find it impossible to watch.

These programmes are seen as “normal mainstream entertainment” by the multitude. I have often wondered how children and teenagers cope with being subjected to the constant graphic violence in their living rooms on the daily basis. I think their behaviour in society illustrates just how they do cope with such garbage.

TV is a sensational medium. The news is just as sensational and is designed for entertainment rather than to inform.

As far as I am concerned, I will stay with National Radio and Concert for my entertainment and news information.

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