Subliminal Influences

It is generally accepted that the influence of television and movie violence in adults is transient. Which is why, as young adults, we did not turn into Govinda-like boors after watching all those rubbish David Dhawan film

But, there can be perceptible changes in behavior. Once after watching an episode of “The Big Bang Theory”, my wife enquired about my weekend plans. I replied, “I don’t believe I need to verbally enunciate what I have already put up on Google Calendar, shared with you multiple times over.” I am still regretting this “Sheldon Cooper speak” two months later.

We just finished watching both seasons of “Game of Thrones” (GOT). It is as violent as violence can get, with routine decapitations, face slicings and gut spills. The violence is often for its own sake and the actors routinely say things like “killing is the sweetest thing there is”. Lead characters die without warning and people plunge swords into each other at the slightest provocation. While the sex and frontal nudity are the reason we don’t allow our children to view GOT, what is alarming is the depth of the violence. It shakes you! When I meditate in the morning, vivid visions of some of the recently dead characters interfere with my ability to focus…the sexual scenes make no difference at all!

If this is the kind of effect, violence has on me as an adult, imagine what happens to children when they are exposed to violence on television, in films or in video games for prolonged periods of time. Obviously, if the violence is comic and non-real, as in Tom and Jerry cartoons, the children are able to make out the difference. But when the violence is real, it affects emotional and psychological growth and there is a strong likelihood of adverse short-term and more importantly, long-term effects on their psyche, which are known to be permanent and difficult to reverse.

The majority of those exposed to such violence, children or adults, however learn to live balanced non-violent lives. In a few though, depending on a bunch of other cultural, environmental, ethnic, genetic and peer factors, this exposure to screen violence, short term or long-term, may just about be the tipping point that can lead a person to commit acts of aggression and violence against others.

How else does one explain an Adam Lanza shooting 20 children in a school without any provocation? Or four men in a bus raping a woman and then inserting a rod through her vagina into her intestines? There has to be something extremely fundamentally wrong with such people…these are sociopaths who can commit such horrendous acts without any significant remorse.

Many sociopaths live among us. The vast majority of them are able to, despite their lack of a moral or social conscience, live non-violent, reasonably gainful lives. A few of these sociopaths / psychopaths however spiral completely out of control. And it is these individuals who are time and again, responsible for the shootings, rapes and other terrible acts of violence that shock us out of our somnolence. And somewhere in all this perhaps, violence on screen plays a small, but significant role.

Subliminal influences! We take television and films so much for granted. Our kids watch all kinds of trash on television and the big screen irrespective of the censor board status. Perhaps, both as parents and as responsible individuals in society we should become stricter about restricting access to serious violence on screen.

And lastly…violent sociopaths can never be reinstated in society. In which case, the obvious thing to do perhaps is to not have them living at all!


  • Bhavin:

    You have touched a RAW point. Delhi Rape in the bus has shaken us all. Some major change is necessary in our law structure and in our enforcement of the law or lack of it, people take Rape and Killing for granted. Life and Dignity has become insignificant. Who will bring the necessary change ? Your last two lines say it all.

    Regards: Sugata

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Lanza suspected that his mother was going to put him into an mental institution for life and took revenge, by first killing her and then went on a crazy spree. Also, apparently a bite from the victim made one of the rapist crazy to do what he did. These mentally sick go overboard in their actions and cannot be compared to the average person. However, even an average person tends to get affected when violence is shown repeatedly- bad for children definitely.

  • Dont forget the ubiquitous Internet! I sometimes wonder whether we talk enough,( openly, loudly and repetitively) about good morals, behaviour, in society. Open, loud and repetitive talks are mostly gossip or hot air!

  • Anil Lingras wrote:

    There is no evidence, not even media reports that I have seen that say Lanza killed his mother because she was going to institutionalize him. This is a very complicated issue and we have to resist the temptation to over-simplify it. There are many socio/psychopath in society. Many of them watch the same videos, movies etc. Many of them live through the same or similar life/family/world situations. Why is it that only a few of them snap? Killing such a person is eliminating one such person – it does not solve the problem. It lays dormant until the next one snaps. Human minds are very complex and Psychology/Psychiatry is very young field. Physical/Physiological illness has been recognized for a long time because it manifests into visible physical symptoms relatively quickly. Unfortunately mental/psychological illness does not manifest itself in the same manner and not in a short time. We need a lot more scientific research and have to keep working at finding a sustainable solution.

  • I think our Indian society is the most hypocratic in this world.where on one hand women are worshipped as Gods,in real life they are raped,molested,burnt alive for dowry,acid thrown on their face,inshort, brutally tortured in every possible way.And what safety for women can be expected when politicians with rape charges are elected in power.Just hope that this uproar will result in some kind of action by the authorities.

  • Why are we stereotyping it by saying Indian society … We are 1billion+ population, out of which more that 99% don’t do any crime. We worship women as gods and we respect them. Why to put a general blame on people. These are those very few minority section of people on the verge of mental breakdown that we need to identify and punish. After all One matchstick is enough to destroy the entire jungle, but it’s difficult to fine that one matchstick. Police & Law is doing their work, so please let them do.

  • Similar things happened in Norway and US but rarely. Delhi is common. That is the issue. It has many dimensions but I do not think TV and Films are to be blamed.

  • Thank you for your article which is very thought provoking.

    In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2.60 Krishna states, ” The senses are so strong and impetuous, that they forcibly carry away the mind even of a man of discrimination who is endeavoring to control them.”

    Just think, with a person of your maturity, age and intelligence gets disturbed by watching a TV serial then what to blame that immature young mind in USA who gunned down innocent kids or those drunken men in Delhi bus.

    I personally believe that it is not only these people who are at fault (of course, they should punished in the same way what they did to the innocent girl and the boy, for their sub-human act to serve as a deterrent), but the society at large which is the root of all problems.

    The more we give freedom to our senses, the more we are agitating the minds of the young. That is why we need censorship on the print and electronic media. Just read first few pages yesterday’s and today’s Times of India and you will know what I mean.

    We are just chopping of the rotten leaves and branches of a contaminated tree, but we don’t realize that new branches and leaves will grow in time. What we need to do is get to the roots of the tree. If we give it proper nutrition then we shall see the tree growing good fruits in abundance.

    Our country, with a low literacy rate cannot afford to have such blatant freedom of press. The other day there was a full 2 front page advertisement of a girl in a bra and panties, and another within the same paper, an advert for increasing your sexual stamina while showing a couple holding something between their mouths while almost kissing each other.

    We are training young innocent minds to feel that cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sex, violence in movies and games and print media are normal in society. Given half a chance they will convert the virtual into reality little realizing the consequences of their actions.

    There was a news item in the recent Mumbai Mirror edition (19 Dec, 2012 page 10) where it displayed adverts in US newspapers of guns for sale. A girl wearing a t-shirt saying, ” Dad says it wont’t hurt us –

    Just imagine, the governments, because they get huge revenue in taxes, allow sale of cigarettes, alcohol and guns freely. And now they are legalizing sale of Marijuana in Washington ( ). What next?

    Then what do you expect from common citizens when there are so many temptations on their paths.

    If we don’t address the root of the issue, this is going to get worse.

    I humbly urge you, in your capacity as a responsible journalist to put across these social ills to the proper authorities, if we want any changes to happen for the better.

    Or we just keep debating on television on how these ‘sub-humans’ should be awarded strictest of punishments and holding candle marches till the next violent crime occurs against one of our daughter, wife, mother or grandmother for that matter.

    The need of the hour is spirituality not materialism. We tried giving more freedom to ourselves and look what’s happening to our psyche.

    I apologize in advance if I have hurt anyone’s sensibility.

  • Sorry, I forgot to add this disturbing piece of recent news article in the Times, along with my earlier views.

  • I agree that killing a killer is a kind of justice but what about restorative and reformative justice. As humans and above all as Indians, coming from the the land of Mahatma Gandhi, shouldn’t we at least be discussing that line of action. After all, an eye for an eye will only make the world go blind.

  • It is very “appropriate” these days to take the moral high ground and spout the forgive, reform, rehabilitate line. Sociopaths, as Bhavin describes them rightfully, have to be given a response equal to their crime. And if that means chemical castration or hanging, so be it. It was amusing to hear a social activist-cum-actress smugly ask on a TV channel discussing chemical castration, “who will carry out CC?” It displays ignorance and is like asking, “But, who will hang Kasab?!!” Where this case is concerned, what is needed is a quick end to the legalities – hang them, castrate them or lock them up for life until natural death. Unfortunately such people are let out after 7-8 years. Remember the Aruna Shanbagh case. The rapist, ironically called Valmiki, was released after 7 years. Has he reformed? Does anyone know? meanwhile, the courts have turned down a euthanasia plea. So Aruna continues to lie in a vegetative state.

  • Ganesh Parameswaran wrote:

    The rapists in the Delhi case including the so-called juvenile need a swift trial and death penalty. Nothing less would be justice.

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