We’re spoilt for choice with war and violence

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If our TV-watching habits tell us anything, we live in a world obsessed with war, violence, treachery and bloody endings. 

At a time when we can look back at more than 60 years without a major global war, we appear to be making up for the shortfall by dining out on the memories. 

It wasn’t good enough that the original film reels from World War II were available, we were soon to be brought The Second World War in Colour. We’ve had The World at War, The War, The BBC History of WWII, not to mention a constant stream of D-day re-enactments. 

Hitler? We’ve watched docos about his early days, his last days, his bodyguard, his wife, his holiday home, and his bunker. 

More recently it’s been Band of Brothers. The Pacific is now playing on TV One and The Dambusters is in the pipeline. The less war we have, the more we seem to want to watch. 

As the London Times columnist Frank Skinner observed the other day, scouring the satellite channels for this sort of fare is like searching for the hay in the haystack. 

He believed men “of a certain age” were the most interested in the depictions of war, not necessarily because they pined for those days but because of the sense of reassurance they received from recalling how it all ended. 

The baddies were beaten. The villains in the piece received their comeuppance. Order was restored. 

Over in the Telegraph, discussing a similar theme, Patrick West dismissed suggestions the war scenes were just feeding a violent appetite, claiming the glut of exposure could be put down to a simple truism. 

“It persists because the Second World War was both the greatest triumph and biggest calamity in history,” he wrote. “At no time were the stakes higher.” 

However, not everyone’s sold on this general fascination with the bad guys. 

In Australia, former Supreme Court judge James Wood has attacked Channel Nine’s Underbelly series and other similar programmes, saying they had the effect of normalising antisocial behaviours, made guns and violence more acceptable and glamorised characters based on people who were nothing but “hoodlums and thugs”.
“There’s nothing honourable or admirable in relation to the people who are depicted in these programmes,” he told reporters. 

“For the impressionable kids out there watching these programmes, they think it’s a lot of fun. 

“Well, it’s bloody well not a lot of fun. It’s harming a lot of people and carries huge risks. You’ve got a high chance of ending up in a prison for 20 or 30 years. These shows don’t show that.” 

But as Channel Nine censor Richard Lyle responded, Underbelly, the third series of which started this month, was absolutely a precautionary tale, and one in which the main “baddies” would eventually end up dead or in jail. Days later notorious Australian mobster Carl “Fat Boy” Williams managed both. 

Which in many ways isn’t too different than the old Second World War stories. A bit hair-raising at the start, perhaps. But the good guys always come through in the end.