The Face of Desensitisation

I started thinking about this subject just after Halloween. Each Halloween my daughter and I have a little ritual where, like many, we sit down and watch a scary movie. We have watched some classics such as Halloween and the Exorcist. The thing that I have noticed is that her reactions were considerably different then my generation’s was when the movies first came out. The Exorcist, for example, was a movie that affected a lot of people with its content and subject matter. Yet although my daughter thought it was a bit creepy in places it wasn’t really that frightening. The truth is, my daughter is now being exposed to much more than we ever were, which automatically dampens her reaction to such a movie, which is now over 40 years old.

Times are rapidly changing. What was once news, with some form of journalistic integrity, has turned into a thirst for viewership that is so strong that there seems to be a need for bold colors, dramatic music and dynamic headlines to present heinous acts of murder and terrorism that require absolutely no help in getting noticed. The warning, “these images may be disturbing to the viewer”, have become a common occurrence. The more the better and for fear of losing any of the precious viewers to their competition for one minute, the images and headlines are repeated on loop throughout the day, until by chance they are able to pickup on another catastrophic event taking place.

This is not for the sake of distributing the news, this is all for pure entertainment. One can think of it as an ongoing broadcast of a reality show. It is here that the lines of reality and fiction become blurred. The news channels have no need to pay for expensive makeup artists when they can get shots of the real thing, in the form of the injured or strewn body parts as a result of a suicide bomber. Ironically, this feeds perfectly into the strategy at the heart of terrorism, or anybody wishing to get their 15 minutes of fame. Create terrorizing images and the news channels with distribute them freely, on loop throughout the day, to help get the message across.

Does our constant exposure to these images daily begin to desensitize us? What my daughter is exposed to “in prime time” alone, goes far beyond what the movies produced 40 years ago. It is no wonder she is not bothered by it.

The sitcoms, dramas and movies being produced today seem to be raising the bar on what is socially acceptable. The language and innuendos present in most of today’s TV series have become so blatantly obvious that you may as well leave the door open to anything.

The Internet is a fantastic tool for the distribution of so much great educational content, however, as a powerful distribution tool, it is also a powerful channel for many disturbing images, speech tracks and the result of anything any sick mind can imagine. Add that to the social media revolution where the exchange of such ideas and images becomes that much more powerful.

It would be impossible to shelter a child from everything that is harmful that we are exposed to today. Censorship and filters seem to be a losing battle because we then find ourselves in a debate about where the limits of censorship lie and who decides. The best thing I can do is to try and explain things the best I can and to help identify what could be harmful and what to stay away from, in hopes that my child develops a responsible attitude.

However, even in my best efforts I keep wondering if this constant exposure to disturbing content is not somehow desensitizing all of us, including my child. What has to happen for us to become truly shocked into making a change for the better?

It may sound cynical but the recent events in London don’t come close to tipping the scales in that direction. The London event was nothing new. We have seen the events of Paris, Nice and previously London.  After a few weeks, life went on without any drastic changes other than some short-term increased security and lots of bravado talk. The results of 9/11 just resulted in the destruction of a country and a secular war which has caused more destabilization, which provided some content for the major news stations, however the large number of deaths and suicide bombings in the middle east have attracted less viewership so we don’t hear too much about them.  Unless you were one of the unfortunate ones to be directly impacted by the attacks it seems more evident that the general public has become desensitized.  London has been a shock for now, but unless there are fundamental changes in strategies there will most likely be more attacks. These will also be broadcast in loop throughout the day, which will in turn strengthen our desensitisation.

Hopefully we are more feeling than that, and will eventually find the key to reducing the amount of developing hatred and anger in the world, but until then we will probably do what we have always done….make a movie about it.