Back in the 1970s, there was a phrase that annoyed me to the nth degree. It was ‘any relation to Mary?’
Which Mary? Mary Whitehouse, of course.
It happened every single working day of my life – because I was a journalist and, in those days, you had to call police, fire and ambulance at two-hourly intervals to find out what was going on with the emergency services.
It even got to the stage where I had a chart stuck up on the wall at the radio station where I was the breakfast newsreader, and which marked the earliest time of the week I was asked the question. The earliest was 05.17 on a Monday morning.
I hated it. I was in my 20s and wanted to be seen as cool, as you do… And Mary Whitehouse was the antithesis of cool.
For those of you who don’t remember, Mary Whitehouse was the founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Asssociation, and lead the charge against ‘filth’ and violence on the BBC. She was deeply concerned at the direction our television programming was heading.
Looking at the world right now, her campaign could be classed as one of its biggest failures. And yet, looking at the world today, I think she was a prophet.
An annoying, prissy and hopelessly naïve prophet for sure, but she saw the way the wind was blowing.
She spotted Gary Glitter, by the way, calling him out after watching an appearance on Crackerjack. Obviously, no one listened.
Today, we have a world where we cheerfully swallow down a daily dose of murder, violence, rape, cruelty and rage on our television and movie screens and we think that this is normal and acceptable.
We also have films and TV normalising anal sex with girls. Now, if you’re a girl and you truly fancy anal sex, that’s up to you and good luck to you, but a friend who’s a nurse has reported a colossal increase in young women coming to A&E with ruptured anuses. Anal sex requires care, and love and gentleness. It is not something to be expected on a first date. It’s not something to be expected at all. But online pornography has changed all that.
In even typing this, I have to face the horrible fact that this particular M. Whitehouse may have to take up the baton of her predecessor because unless we humans stop and think about what we are creating with all our normalisation and glamourisation of violence in any form, we are heading for a very big pit.
There’s this thing called ‘the law of attraction.’ Some folk think it’s New Age and flaky but it is also known as Karma or ‘what goes around comes around’ and that is very, very old news. It’s in all our holy texts… Basically, what you put your attention on, expands and comes back either to bite or to bless you.
We are creating – and enjoying – an awful lot of Karmic teeth.
‘On not, me,’ you say. Oh really? Do you watch Casualty? Do you watch real-life A&E programmes? Do you watch Dalglesh? Do you watch What We Do In the Shadows? Silent Witness? Did you watch Game of Thrones? Death in Paradinse? Scandi Noir? All good innocent fun?
They are not.
They are wiring the neural pathways of our brains to believe that violence, pain, blood, anguish, is normal. Even worse, we are learning that violence, protests, hatred and anger are the route to take when something has gone wrong in our lives.
We focus on the lone, maverick hero with whom we can identify because he/she also has issues and faults, like us, and we watch them face up to the evil and sort it out. Frequently with a gun.
We also learn that only the good guys can shoot straight. And that, for sure, is not true.
If you’re annoyed right now … or still defending your TV watching, then I’ll own up and say I know…I know… I’ve been watching the Dalgleshes, I enjoy Endeavour, I love New Tricks. So I am complicit in all this too. And I do know that the vast majority of us are certain that what we watch has no effect on us.
But I do know it has an effect on me. My wiring means that if I watch violence, I dream about it; nowadays, I start to feel uncomfortable and turn away at the first blow. We re-watched Gladiator the other day. It used to be my favourite film but this time I simply had to close my eyes for every fight, every slash and every shot of spurting blood.
It’s fair to say that my beloved husband doesn’t see what I’m getting at. He can watch anything and it seemingly has no effect on him. He loves watching Nascar including the crashes. Me? I watched some with him for a while in early solidarity – and managed to get my car crashed into by some bright-spark racing driver who hit a bollard and span his car into mine.
‘Okay,’ you say. ‘It’s just you. Stop nagging the rest of us.’
But we have a maverick in charge of the UK and we had one in charge of the USA and both countries are being increasingly broken. America, particularly, is in crisis – and a crisis that people genuinely seem to believe requires guns and shooting. The answer, in America, to shooting children in schools is to arm the teachers and increase security.
And why shouldn’t they increase the gun power? How many Westerns? How many CSIs? How many superheroes who always fight? Surely, a superhero should heal?
I made a commitment at Northlew Methodist Church the other week – while I was giving the Sunday talk. I promised that I would take a one-day Sabbath every week where I committed to not watching or reading anything containing any sort of violence. It may not sound like much but it is an important decision because I know that that enough is enough and I must change my own patterns even if in a tiny way to be part of a whole world change. As Rabbi Hillel wrote all those years ago, ‘If not I, then who is for me? And if not now, when?’ The truth is that there isn’t only me. We are all interconnected and what one person does, matters. What we do in life echoes through eternity (thank you for that, at least, Maximus!)
We are violent to this planet, to each other, and to our own hearts. The neural pathways of our brain are programmed by repetition, particularly by what we see. And the more we see that is violent, the more we numb ourselves to the reality of it. The more we see, the more we create. It’s not directly affecting us – or is it?
Okay, again, you’ll tell me that it doesn’t affect you; that you aren’t desensitised, that it’s irrelevant.
Tell that to Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Tell that to the dead children in American schools. Tell that to sex slaves, tell that to the women in Afghanistan. We are spreading blood across this beautiful world and we are doing it unconsciously. We are all connected. We may not feel it but we are creating a demonic force-field of violence that we don’t even notice. Until it’s too late.
How about one day off? Just one day a week where we all commit to turning off the madness? Where we commit to watching only shows about love and connection? Where we say yes to peace and no to war? Where we turn off the news and social media?
Would it make any difference? I think it would. It is often said that one per cent of humanity are interested in spiritual growth and one per cent of that one per cent actually do something about it.
Can we make it two per cent?
Who’s with me?