Tuesday, 9 August 2011

NewsPorn

Violence, criminality, civil disobedience and of course death play natural roles in many works of fiction, be they films, literature or drama. The reason that this formula has stood the test of time and remains as prominent as it still does today is simply because so many people clearly enjoy watching or reading them. Such scenes have this tendency to trigger a part of the brain which derives either macabre fascination, or outright pleasure from the whole thing. There is also the security for those taken in by it all that comes in the knowledge that no actual damage is being done. There is no real victim of, say, the brutal murder that is unfolding on your television screen, an absence of actual grieving friends or relatives, whose lives have been ruined and scarred for all eternity. "No harm, no foul" as they say, so simply keep watching, or flip the page in the pursuit of discovering 'who done it'.

Real-life and live broadcasts of these events of course bring with them a clear distinction, as potential viewing enjoyment is naturally tempered by the carnage inflicted upon the real lives of real people. Losses of homes, businesses and even those lives themselves serve as checks of conscience to the immediate reaction of thinking, "bloody hell, that police car/bus/van is on fire" or more simply, "this is insane...and strangely compelling at the same time". However, a great many people, this bunny included, see civil disobedience and rioting as astonishingly good television, at least on the level of base instinct. While always aware of the potential consequences and having natural sympathy for innocents caught up in events beyond their control, the initial buzz is something that seems to be beyond our control. In the same way, it's going to take something pretty good elsewhere to make us change the channel.

The American shock comedian Denis Leary once observed, "people say 'all your generation did was watch TV'. What did you expect? We saw Lee Harvey Oswald get shot live on TV one Sunday morning and we were afraid to change the channel for 30 years. Hey, this show sucks!! I know, but someone might get shot during the commercials". Of course Denis (either inspired by Bill Hicks or copying him depending on your perspective) was joking, but we laugh because it's true. Commercial television channels in particular love these sorts of events, since they tap into the part of the human psyche that wishes to either study and examine why they took place, or simply enjoy and talk about them.

NewsPorn is a fairly modern term for something that is nothing new in reality. With the Breivik massacre in Norway and now the riots of Friday followed by days of random looting, British lovers of a bit of X-rated news reporting have already had more than their fix for 2011. However, TV schedulers and producers have been deliberately using real, graphically violent and/or criminal content in their quest to win the ratings war for the best part of two decades - OJ Simpson scored a NewsPorn double as both his initial police chase then the entirety of the trial were broadcast for the benefit of a mass audience. The late Michael Jackson, ultimately cleared of luring kids to his gingerbread house at NeverLand, was amongst those who followed suit.

Warzones are covered extensively as entire passages of conflicts are beamed live into the viewer's front room, with 'highlights' replayed later that day just in case you were at work or missed anything. Scores of TV shows have been built around footage of real crimes and/or the (usually successful) attempts of the police to apprehend those responsible. Perhaps seeing the getaway car chased down and cornered in a cul-de-sac, or the villain falling foul of his own stupidity helps to sell it as 'public service broadcasting' or a promotional tool for law enforcement? However, the unavoidable truth is that crime, disorder, violence and chaos, just like their 'real porn' cousin, have a propensity for selling to the masses like little else can – it might be that only live sport can compete with them on equal terms?

One final observation - something I've noticed from the recent civil disturbances in particular is the way in which they have also activated the macho streak that exists in a great many of us. Why, when presented with the question "what would you do about it?", are solutions involving the army, live ammunition and street shoot-outs proving disturbingly popular? Perhaps wary of the prospect of innocent people returning from work walking onto bullets fired by those in uniform, or seeing our streets resembling those of a South American dictatorship, this bunny will pass and stick to his original analysis.

No more 'nice' policing, where the gangsta culture of London or any other city is 'understood' - more than anything, this is a patronising insult to the law-abiding members of such communities. Competent and proportionate application of the law without fear or favour is all that is necessary here. In the meantime, the armchair generals and commanders can put their water cannons and machine guns down. while I should get going, since I've heard there's some looting being shown live on Sky News. Take care, and I'll see you tomorrow.

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