Videos too good to be true? Then axe the programme

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The Independent Online
ONE MAN who is not convinced that video nasties are the main cause of violence is Professor Luke T'Gallant, head of the applied psychology unit at Milton Keynes University. The professor has been exploring the sources of media-linked violence, and has come to some rather startling interim conclusions that are very different from those which David Alton and Michael Howard are tossing around. But let the professor explain:

'I've always thought that asking whether video nasties cause violence is rather like asking whether golfing videos cause golf,' says Luke T'Gallant pensively. 'Now, a man who buys an instructional video on golf, watches it repeatedly and then goes out and plays better golf could be said to have been incited or driven on to golf by watching the video. But, surely, the seed of playing golf better was there already before the video was bought? The video was caused, if you like, by the desire to play better golf, not the other way round.

'Anyway, you will never find the answer by studying violence simply in the context of videos. What you have got to do is look at violence and find out what causes it. Examine all the possible causes. To ask, 'Do video nasties lead to violence?' is rather like asking, 'Does taking snuff cause cancer?' The answer is probably a partial yes, but you could spend years establishing that snuff caused cancer while totally ignoring cigarettes, and that would not be very helpful.'

So what does cause violence, according to Professor T'Gallant's research?

'The answer, surprisingly, is: video nicies.'

Video nicies? What are video nicies?

'They are the diametrical opposite of video nasties. Basically, they are films that are so pure and wholesome and horribly good for you that they drive you to tear your hair out. Or other people's hair out. I'm talking about really provocative video moments here. Early Cliff Richard films. Those black and white Channel 4 films on Saturday afternoons, either with clean-cut American swimming stars or British people with crystal-glass accents. Anything that has Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald in it. Mary Poppins, especially when Dick van Dyke is doing his cockney accent. The romantic bits in Marx brothers films. The Sound of Music. Even Roger Scruton might be driven to physical violence after being forced to watch the third consecutive showing of The Sound of Music.

'We coined the term 'video nicey' to distinguish those films that are deliberately produced to enter a fantasy world unhealthily free from fury, fear and failure. So-called video nasties have often been criticised for dwelling exclusively on pain and sadistic practices - and quite right, too, as such an approach gives a totally one-sided view of reality. But the supposedly wholesome feature film is equally and appallingly one-sided and imbalanced, and the effect on even the well-intentioned viewer may be to send him or her into a paroxysm of rage and destructive violence.'

As an example of this, he quotes an instance concerning a Mr Scruton (not Roger) who thought he had taken home a video called Terror on Torture Island for his Friday night viewing, but who had in fact been given The Famous Five go to Black Island, and who went berserk during his evening's viewing, smashing up the sitting room, the television set and several relations with an axe. Normally Mr Scruton took his bloodthirsty videos calmly, testified his wife, who survived. Only with The Famous Five go to Black Island had he flipped.

'We've all had these feelings,' says the Professor.

'Inside of us all there lurks a potential maniac who will suddenly be provoked by the sight of really clean-living, really decent folk, into doing something mean and horrible. Why, I could switch on my television set right now and be affected by something mundane . . .'

He suited the action to the words. He switched on. There was, by coincidence, an interview taking place with Michael Howard. Michael Howard was being suave, smooth, smiling and oleaginous. Professor T'Gallant turned, in front of my very eyes, from being a calm academic to a monster.

'That man . . .' he screamed.

He controlled himself. He smiled at me. He said: 'I'm sorry. It's Mr Video Nicey himself. He always has this effect on me . . .'

I think I know what he meant.