Editorial: Biff! Pow! Kerannnng!

19:13, Nov 19 2012

Say we were to hit Justice Stephen Kos on the head with a frypan.

We're not advocating that. Let's be perfectly clear. Nix to hitting judges in any circumstance, with or without heavy objects. No good would come of it.

But if for some unfathomable and indefensible reason were we to do so, what would we expect the result to be? Might we in that moment, on some level, have a faint and fleeting expectation the pan would have an imprint of his face on it?

You would think not. Just as if we were to drop an anvil on him, we wouldn't really expect him to walk away like a squished concertina, complete with musical effects. Or as Shakespeare very nearly said: if we cut Justice Kos, does he not bleed?

But when push comes to shove, perhaps we are tending to a problematic extent to trivialise violence. For his part the judge harbours real concerns, more for our benefit than his own, that we should have a less cartoonish world view. He was speaking during a manslaughter case stemming from a bar manager's actions, putting a customer in a sleeper hold, then accidentally dropping him. The judge wished that the remarkable fragility of the human skull was more widely appreciated. People just seemed to to think others could be hit or dropped to the ground and they would be able to just get up, he said.

It's been a tough time for publicans and bouncers generally, with a landmark decision from the Australian Supreme Court that they have a duty to "anticipate and prevent violence". This is being taken as a warning to venue owners that they cold face compensation payouts if their staff fail to act even if the violence takes place outside their properties. This after security guards didn't intervene for 2 and a half minutes while a man was assaulted outside Rozelle's Bridge Hotel.


While the Aussies are getting a step-up intervention message, New Zealanders are being told, in effect, to get real. This is hardly the first time an authority figure has lamented the disconnect between violence, as it is so often portrayed in the media, and real-world consequence. TV viewers and game players see a huge amount of come-and-go violence, full of rebounds. Die on your on-screen game and you can generally come back if you're the hero. As for the minor characters, well there's plenty more where they came from. On prime time TV funny sound effects in home-video shows merrily disguise the pain of accidents.

From the days of silent cinematic slapstick, to the jovial and brightly-coloured fun of Itchy and Scratchy's adventures in dismemberment, we have a collective appetite for robust physical humour and dramatic derring-do with massive body counts of no-account baddies. Injuries matter in sport's coverage, but in other viewing experiences not so much.

Its understandable. More realistic lingering on the unhappy consequences would oftentimes be just a tad too miserable, perhaps too tedious, for stories that are essentially entertainment.

What matters is overkill. Steep ourselves in this stuff and there's no shortage of studies that conclude we're liable to become desensitised. That's hardly a revelation. The judge was really telling us something most of us already know. But with the problematic depictions coming thick and fast, it seems reasonable for the occasional word of caution to receive a repeated airing as well. The message isn't that bouncers should watch fewer cartoons. But a keener awareness of, say, the cautions contained in those "bigger the mess" road safety ads wouldn't go amiss for all of us.

We're far more fragile than we routinely tell ourselves.

The Southland Times