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

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

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Lib Dem MPs have criticised David Cameron's decision to ask the retail tycoon Sir Philip Green (above) to lead a spending review when his Arcadia company is registered in the name of his Monaco-based wife  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat