Some time ago I wrote to the Producer of the BBC programme Eastenders to complain about the story line they were following at the time. Those of you that watch the show ( which I hate to admit I do ) may remember the violence that took place in The Queen Vic when some visiting thugs beat up a number of people. I felt at the time, and still do, that what was most concerning about that storyline was that it was being shown at 7.30 in the evening when there were bound to be lots of young children watching.
The response I got was not unsurprising. It was not a justification of such a story being part of the show and being shown at that time of the evening, nor was it any intelligent comment on the relation between violence in society and the exposure of young children to such gratuitous violence on TV. The response I got was merely an explanation of the plot as though I had not understood the storyline. It was, clearly, highly patronising and unsatisfactory. There have been numerous occasions since when I should have written similar letters. Eastenders is fully of misery, violent crime, bad and abusive relationships and as such it must appear to many viewers that is what life actually is and those are the norms of behaviour. It rarely displays happiness or humour. The role models that young people must chose from such a show is frightening.
The debate on whether or not such a diet of violence has a lasting effect on people has raged for ages but it doesn't need a genius to work out that it must have a desensiting effect on people, making us more accepting of the abuse of others. The norms of behaviour adapt and change. We are now beginning to see the effect that free and very easy access to pornography on the web is having on the way young people are dealing with relationships and their expectations. It is beginning to worry those that are increasingly dealing with the consequences.
Cause and effect can be difficult to prove as the antagonists will say. I can here them now " show me the empirical evidence". However, the horrific circumstances surrounding the murder of Jacqueline Bartlam killed by her son Daniel, who apparently re-enacted a scene from Coronation St, is deeply disturbing. Here is an example of a direct link. Daniel Bartlam was examined and found to be perfectly sane and had enacted a planned, copycat murder. I cannot decide whether or not he is intrinsically evil or that his murderous intents have been nurtured by a constant diet of violence flooding through his life. Maybe it is bit of both. The book "We need to talk About Kevin" , although a piece of fiction, through up a fierce debate on this very issue in a way that the film was unable to capture.
No matter how tenuous the link between on-screen violence and real life behaviour may appear to be for some, I am convinced that there is a link. The majority of people, we assume, are able to disassociate themselves from imitating such behaviour but then all too frequently along comes a Daniel Bartlam and yet we seem to remain powerless to do anything about it. TV will keep pushing the boundaries in order to pursue ratings. That means it will never get better. As the nation becomes desensitised to today's level of abuse so the media take things to the next level to break from the pack. Why cannot people see that the only answer is a return to the kind of values that underpinned life in the UK 50 years ago? It may not have been a perfect society but I don't feel the intervening time has seen us progress.