The debate about the consequences of film and computer violence, kicked into gear by last month's shootings in Connecticut, has had a profoundly unsettling effect on the liberal left. On the one hand, the average liberal is likely to be strongly opposed to the idea of censorship, on the grounds that film-goers are entitled to make up their own minds about the implications of what is placed before them, irrespective of its ability to do them harm. On the other, faced with the latest Quentin Tarantino slug-fest, he (or she) will at some point have to concede that much of what passes for "entertainment" on our screens is, when judged by one set of values, morally disgusting.
Back in the days when certain films were screened before audiences of local councillors in a bid to establish their suitability for public view, this attitude led to a curious kind of detachment, the moral equivalent of a chemistry teacher, clothes-peg clamped to his nose, waving a class-full of children into a laboratory dank with the fumes of sulphuretted hydrogen. Thus a card-carrying libertarian would emerge from a showing of Steven R Monroe's I Spit On Your Grave to remark that, yes, what he had seen was degrading but, no, he would defend to the death the right of his fellow-citizens to watch it.
In the wake of the American school shootings, and a fair amount of evidence suggesting that susceptible (and mostly male) sensibilities can be deeply traumatised by on-screen mayhem, this stance looks to have shifted slightly: the proper attitude among modern liberals seems to be that while constant exposure to on-screen brutality may only prompt a handful of psychopaths to take a header into the deep end, the general effect is to "de-sensitise" the greater mass of the viewing population to violence.
And having established this fact, what do we do about it? At the very least one senses a widespread uneasiness among film-makers about the consequences of their art. Several films, after all, had their US release dates delayed in response to the Connecticut tragedy. But if a violent film is judged to be offensive in the light of a school shooting, then surely some of its offensiveness keeps up after the smell of cordite has cleared?
Meanwhile, it is worth pointing out that a Tarantino movie works its effects by way of a sort of moral confidence trick – a stream of bullets unleashed through the cinematic air without acknowledging that out in the real world bullets actually kill people – and that numberless vistas of wide-screen slaughter are routinely given a 12A certificate by the British Board of Film Classification.
The week's most significant court case involved the Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez, who found himself arraigned at Manchester Crown Court on charges of failing to provide information to the police. Mr Tevez, who is Argentinian, had ignored letters sent to him by the Cheshire force on the subject of alleged speeding offences, but maintained in his defence that he did not know the meaning of the word "constabulary" on the letter-heads. He was found guilty on two counts and banned from driving for six months.
Your first thought, naturally, is that this is a shocking indictment of the British legal system. Here is a professional footballer on a stratospheric salary who has merely driven his car too fast and, against all custom and precedent, no one seems to have been able to get him off the hook. Where was Nick Freeman, the notorious "Mr Loophole", whose magic touch has been able to preserve the licences of so many turbo-charged celebrities, when he was needed?
In another year or two, when some yet more stratospheric wage-packet beckons, Mr Tevez will return to his native land, no doubt troubled by the memory of just how badly British justice let him down.
In a recent interview the actress Gemma Arterton could be found examining the difficulties of keeping in touch with her working-class roots. "You should have seen me a couple of days ago" Miss Arterton confessed. "I had just got back from a trip to Spain, where I didn't really wash for a week. My hair was in dreadlocks, and my nails were filthy. That's the real me."
The idea that you emphasise your working-class origins by going around looking a mess is, of course, a comparatively recent one. Working-class men of my father's generation were almost fanatical about dress codes: they put on a collar and tie to show that they were capable of functioning in the formal world beyond their front doors and could crack its codes. In much the same way the Mods of the 1960s were a working-class movement built on the desirability of style.
The implications of this attitude for ordinary people who reach the summit of their professions are rather disturbing. The "Prescott defence", in which a working-class politician explains away his inarticulacy and boorishness on grounds of upbringing, cut no ice with my father. A working man who presumed to appear on a public platform should do his audience the favour of communicating with them properly, he argued. Learn to play the toff's game and you could defeat him at it. As for the thought that avoiding a flannel is a way of staying in touch with your roots, Keir Hardie would turn in his grave.
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