Leading Article: The violence that begets violence

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the central truths of history is that words and images - stories and pictures - have the power to change people: to influence, perhaps even transform, the way they think and behave. John Wycliffe, labouring for years to translate the Bible from Latin into English, understood this. Hitler understood it. Saatchi and Saatchi understand it. It is the conviction that once inspired evangelists to embark for dangerous, uncomfortable and unmapped parts of the world and that now accounts for the billions of pounds, dollars, marks, rupees and yen that pour into the global advertising business every year. People may agree or disagree that today, Easter Sunday, testifies that Christ was the Son of God, but the potency of the Resurrection as a story (fact, fiction, or a bit of both) can be doubted by nobody.

A truth then: people can be changed by what they read, or hear, or see. And yet an influential pocket of opinion - including Guardian editorials and Michael Winner - has always stubbornly excepted one phenomenon. It insists that there is no evidence that violence on film, television and video leads to violence on the streets and in homes. Proof that one particular film led to one particular piece of cruelty is indeed hard to come by, no matter the speculation in the Bulger case. But such specific examples of simple cause and effect are equally hard to come by in, for example, the work of Christian missionaries in Africa. The scientific method cannot apply here; this is not cigarettes and lung cancer, but ideas and culture. There is growing uneasiness about a culture in which lavish cruelty is sold as entertainment. Professor Elizabeth Newson and 25 other eminent doctors and academics spoke to the heart of that gathering anxiety last week when they admitted that they had been 'nave' in their previous dismissals of public concern. Their recantation is welcomed.

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