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Why are we comfortably numb in a violent decade?

Monday, 6 October 2008 - 3:55am IST

'Violence repels us but violence also attracts us; Violence alarms us but violence also entertains us; Violence destroys us but violence also protects us.'

Is the violence seen on TV, and in films, music, and videogames desensitising us to the carnage all around?

'Violence repels us but violence also attracts us;
Violence alarms us but violence also entertains us;
Violence destroys us but violence also protects us.'

The above lines are taken from a report by the World Council of Journalism and epitomise the times we live in today.

As bombs shattered the nervous peace across the country, the reaction of a large proportion of the citizenry was a sigh of acceptance, rather than one of panic. More "not again", and less "Oh my god!" 

Studies have gone some way to prove that exposure to violence is increasing every day and through every medium — be it films, music, television, news or videogames. So much so that some experts believe that this violence overkill is numbing our senses to the grotesqueness of these heinous acts, and could well have become a habit. We need our daily fix of gore.

The question as to who is the most wanton propagator of violent imagery in the mainstream media is one that has become embroiled in a never-ending debate, where blame shuttles between the various media.

Violent themes are rife in both Hollywood and Bollywood, and all sport growing fan bases. One such " gore addict" is 24-year-old writer, Varuna Naik. An avid fan of slasher films and Quentin Tarantino movies, she says, "After my first slasher movie I had nightmares. But then I got interested in the genre. " Her fascination with such films stems from a curiosity to know how they are made - the technical aspect, the visual effects, the research etc. "I do not allow these movies to get to me at a personal level. Repeatedly watching violence can make people immune, but it's not true in my case."

Though Bollywood has not reached Hollywood levels of ultraviolence, it has its own share of violent films like Jaani Dushman, Aandha Kanoon and Sangharsh. But do these films contribute to raising the levels of violence in society, and do they serve to immunise a public against violence?  Ashutosh Rana, who starred in Sangharsh and Dushman, says, "Films reflect what happens in society. The reflection is meant to motivate you to improve. They inform, they don't teach. Films do influence people, but you can't blame films for the existing violence in society."

Even music, the medium of Beethoven and Chaurasia has mot been spared the lyrics of bloody mayhem. Genres like death metal, and to an extent hip hop have used violence to lure the youth to their corners.

Gareth M's band, Spiked Crib, has recently released a song about a rapist. "We mean no harm," he says defensively. "There is nothing wrong with listening to music with explicit or abusive lyrics. This kind of music inspires me more than any other music. The only thing to remember is that you must not practice what is sung."

A similar argument is put forward by Khyati Bhatia, 22, who feels that one's reaction to violence depends upon mindset. "Sometimes, this kind of music tends to bring out emotions that you are unaware of at the individual level. These emotions need not necessarily be dark." She likes gothic, psychedelic, death metal, thrash metal etc.
Violence, for her, is part of the routine that people are exposed to through various mediums, on a daily basis. "Most violence is used to grab attention. People have become numbed to the destructive events that occur each day."

The most vitriolic criticism, however, has been reserved for the booming videogame industry. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Manhunter not only glorify violence, but actively require the gamer to indulge in gruesome acts in order to progress within the game.

Alok Kejriwal, director of games2 win, says, "There are games that have a lot of violence, but let's be honest, what guys like is women, cars and bashing each other up, and most of the games are targeted at guys." Most gamers believe that games, even violent ones, have a lot of advantages like allowing youngsters to make their own decisions and become more independent.  "I don't think games have that many ramifications. In fact, I feel that many people release their repressed feelings online and hence are sober in real life," says Kejriwal.

Pratik Hegde, a college student spends a lot of his time playing online games, especially violent ones. He says, "I like the action involved in the games. It is true that you get a bit more immune to violence with so much exposure, but real life is a different ball game altogether." 

Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist, puts down the supposed 'immunity' to violence to the fact that "people adjust and adapt to the violence in their surroundings, they do not confront it". He cites examples of the recent blasts in Delhi, after which life returned to normal swiftly. "People are accustomed to violence unless it personally happens to them.
Otherwise they tend to accept it," he says. For him, everything, including cartoons, has elements of violence in it.

He adds: "In the future there will be a point wherein people will become repulsed by the violence around them and may react to it." Till that point, violence will play a role in our lives unless one learns to confront it.

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