Thursday, 29 May 2008

The Mary Whitehouse Effect

I caught some of this evenings discussion of Mary Whitehouse, and what effect she had on TV. She believed that viewing sex and violence on TV caused declining moral standards. I don't think anyone has proved a link between viewing something and how it effects us, but there may be one. Indeed it may be that seeing the effects of violence causes people to avoid it.

Michael Moore looked in detail at the causes of the Colombine massacre in his film, 'Bowling for Colombine'. Right wing politicians blamed video games, rap and the singer Marilyn Manson. Moore points out that weapons were made in the factories nearby, and that the USA dropped more Bombs on Bosnia than ever before, surely also an influence. He also asks what were the killers doing before they started shooting, the answer was Bowling lessons, hence the title. Did Bowling influence their behavior?

Historically people were entertained by stories that included violence, romance, heroism and adventure. Indeed the Bible is seen as a group of stories used as a moral code, giving examples of how to behave in various situations. But it also includes loads of violence, as does Shakespeare and most books. Are these things safer in books than on TV? If we censored all media would we be prepared when witnessing violence in others?

You could argue that its the lack of the effects of violence that leads people to think it has no consequences. TV news is full of violence, does anyone suggest we only see good news?

Jane Longhurst, 31, was strangled by Graham Coutts, 39, from Hove, Sussex. He was jailed for at least 26 years. Her mother Liz, from Berkshire, backed by Reading West MP Martin Salter, campaigned for three years to ban violent online porn. Mrs Longhurst, of Reading, said she was aware that libertarians saw her as "a horrible killjoy". "Sometimes the freedoms of like-minded, decent people have to be curtailed because of a few others. The bill had its final reading on Thursday where it received Royal Assent. Under the new rules, criminal responsibility shifts from the producer - who is responsible under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act (OPA) - to the consumer. Campaigners fear the new law risks criminalising thousands of people who use violent pornographic images as part of consensual sexual relationships.

Mediawatch is the successor of Marys organisation. She had an ability to be offended by almost anything, pointing to her complaints about the use of the word "bloody", her concerns about the TV character Alf Garnett, Doctor Who, and the violence in Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Mary Whitehouse also campaigned against the portrayal of homosexuality, she brought a number of notable legal actions, including a private prosecution for blasphemous libel against Gay News in 1977 (Whitehouse v. Lemon), the first such prosecution since 1922. The private prosecution concerned a poem, The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name by James Kirkup, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 1982 she pursued a private prosecution against Michael Bogdanov, the director of a National Theatre production of Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain.

I think people are effected by influences, but more subtly. When we grow up we are most interested in what our parents and older siblings do. There is evidence that abuse and domestic violence is more common when people grow up witnessing it. Surely the media is also an influence, but its one of many, and in some cases it can have the reverse effect. The rise of sport on TV has coincided with the decline in people taking part in sport. Violence has been in decline lately, though knife crime has gone up. Isn't this also influenced by the police, by architecture and transport planning, not to mention the government taking us on illegal wars?

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