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Friday, 2018-03-02

Mediated images of violence

What has changed about the way violence is portrayed in films or on TV? Dr. Marcus Stiglegger, professor at the DEKRA University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, explains.

Fist and hand, © Romolo Tavani - FotoliaThe impact of recent media on young viewers is at the center of an interview of Stiglegger with Claudia Mikat and Christina Heinen of ‘Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Fernsehen’ (FSF), the voluntary self-regulatory body for German television, published on tv diskurs. Dystopian content, such as media belonging to the Walking Dead universe, has recently garnered great popularity: Such stories paint a dark and depressing picture of the future with the dissolution of existing social structures at the horizon. These fictional, somewhat exaggerated visions enable us to indirectly deal with topics such as failing democratic systems, abuse of power or exploitation.

According to Marcus Stiglegger, the current popularity of such topics with young people has to be sought in the everlasting fascination of youth for rebellion. Stiglegger distinguishes between an ideological perspective and a desire for individual rebellion, the latter often being at the bottom of the former. The secret of successfully dealing with these aspects in the media lies in connecting them, with societal change to the better often being triggered by teenage rebellion. The Hunger Games novels and films can be cited as a prime example.

But topics such as death and bodily destruction also play a major role in recent films and series. Stiglegger suggests a link with the way we deal with death, old age or physical disabilities in real life, often treating them as taboos while focusing on efficiency and self-improvement. It is in movies or on TV where critical reflection upon such developments can take place. But expert evaluators at FSF have to decide how to treat such content when judging whether certain media are appropriate for audiences below the age of 18: Which ways of depicting violence are unsuitable and which act as metaphors that potentially foster critical thinking in adolescents?

In practice, the crucial point is the explicitness of the violence. While clear differences between age groups exist in how well they deal with drastic depictions, boundaries seem to be shifting: Violent scenes that would have been considered detrimental to 12-year-old children some decades ago may be approved these days. We have come to understand that there have to be ways for adolescents to actively grapple with negative aspects of life. At the same time, it is important to strike the right balance and avoid approving scenes for age groups that may be unable to handle them. Incitement to violence, albeit fictional, is only suitable for mature audiences.

tv diskurs: Violence should be scary (German)

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