John Walsh: Killers aren't the result of what's on TV

Words like 'civilisation' express our attempts to rein in our savage instincts

Share

The horrific details of how Daniel Bartlam murdered his mother with a claw hammer must have been music to the ears of the anti-video-games lobby. It seemed that the teenager's homicidal onslaught can be held up as proof – at last! – that the depiction of violence leads to acts of violence.

Daniel was obsessed with a Coronation Street character who attacked a woman with a hammer. Daniel was a connoisseur: he pored over TV footage of violent soap scenes; he'd watched horror films since he was eight; he watched one of the torture-porn Saw films hours before the murder.

So has the prosecution won? Can we accept that there's a direct correlation between fictional and real-life mayhem? In a week when another American campus killing claimed seven lives, can we blame it on too much exposure to shopping-mall videos? Will it happen here? In Manchester this week, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers heard that children as young as four routinely act out scenes of death and carnage after watching Grand Theft Auto. "I watched my class out on the playground, throwing themselves out of the window of their play car in slow motion and acting out blood spurting from their bodies," confided an aghast vice-president.

The claim that young people receive an education in violence solely by watching dramatic representations of it, is usually made by people who think savagery and brutality aren't part of humanity. Words like "civilisation" express our attempts to rein in our savage instincts. Moral education, religious belief and fear of legal redress keep us (mostly) from taking the law into our own hands.

We may have "civilised" ourselves down the centuries, but a vestigial liking for confrontation, excitement, revenge, and violence lurks inside us still. We love its reification in sport, and its depiction in EastEnders. It's the reason little boys like to thump each other in playgrounds and fling themselves from play cars. And watch Call of Duty. But it doesn't turn them into killers.

When I was a kid in the 1950s, we played war games all the time. We loved war films without becoming violent ourselves. Violence was a subject for art (and play) but art didn't breed individual violence. What bred violence in the individual was a bullying sergeant and lots of rhetoric about duty.

What makes us violent is something else. When the printers of American Psycho refused to touch the book on the grounds that it was "a how-to guide to the dismemberment of women", they missed the point. They confused terrible knowledge with terrible will. Depictions or dramatisations won't make us muggers, thieves or killers unless we have the will to be so. Daniel Bartram was a once-in-a-blue-moon example of someone who had.

j.walsh@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable