Nice girl, pity about her guts hanging out. I've just watched a film where a Californian teenage girl had a bad day. She was
kidnapped, raped, stabbed and disembowelled. Not quite the American dream.
Believe me, I've seen worse during my first six months as vice-president of the British Board of Film Classification. Our task is to decide what films and videos are suitable for viewing by the public. We can ban, cut and classify. The big issues are
sex, drugs, and violence. There's a lot of it about.
I wouldn't choose to watch these films for fun. I get my thrills from party political broadcasts. When I started the job, I worried that watching Hollywood horrors would gradually pollute my brain. If anything, it has made me less tolerant of obscenity
and brutality. But you have to develop mental strategies to protect yourself. My experience as a criminal law barrister helps. (Also, as the black Conservative parliamentary candidate in Cheltenham in 1992 I lived through an episode which could be
described as X-rated!)
When I was first appointed to the board, I was warned there were no set guidelines for coping with disturbing films. Censors have different personalities and their own ways of dealing with things. Anyway, you don't get chosen for this kind of work if
Bambi gives you nightmares. But while I must concentrate on the screen and make notes where appropriate, there is another world going on in my head.
For example, when someone's bloodied head is blown off by machine-gun fire on film, I remind myself it's only a special effect. Furthermore, this trickery seems pathetic compared to the simple, beautiful reality of the brilliant yellow flowers on display
in the viewing room. And no gruesome film image can match the splendour of a waterfall as it cascades down a mountainside into a river. The mental image of the rushing water cleanses, sustains, quenches and refreshes. You watch the film but you are not
soiled by it. This is not daydreaming or losing concentration. It is my way of reminding myself that, despite the warped imagination of some film makers, good is a more powerful force than evil. A prayer or two helps as well.
The problem is, violence is not only on screen. A combination of the war in Kosovo, Jill Dando's murder and nail bombs have created a confused and insecure atmosphere in Britain. Because I knew Jill as a friend and had worked with her, the awful impact
of her death hit me hard.
Violence has been the feature linking the stories dominating our headlines recently. I fear that by exposing society, especially the young and impressionable, to a constant diet of screen violence we have created a harsher society where violence is
accepted as a way to solve problems.
Even in America there is a growing recognition that the drip, drip effect of screen 'designer violence' on teenagers who have access to guns is relevant to incidents like the tragic shooting of children in a Colorado school. Film is an influential tool
in the advertising industry. Such a persuasive medium can work for good and bad. Video presents the biggest problem. It is an excellent teaching medium. A video can be stopped, replayed, slowed down, fast-forwarded - a great instruction manual in how to
punch, kick, stab and shoot. A pounding soundtrack, raising the adrenaline levels, can greatly multiply the impact. You don't believe me? Just look at the blockbusters in which Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis became household
names. They don't earn millions of dollars per film reciting poetry. Hollywood has no social responsibility, it produces whatever will earn the big bucks.
Last year, the Home Office published The Effects of Video Violence on Young Offenders. The report showed that offenders preferred brutal entertainment and identified with violent role models. In watching action films, they often skipped from one frenzied
scene to another, so the consequences of thuggery were not observed.
Vinnie Jones, the former hard man of soccer, won plaudits for his menacing performance in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels . Now he's set to become a Hollywood tough guy. Are you happy with him as a role model for young people?
Clearly violence has a number of causal factors. But we cannot afford to ignore the significance of film and video. The next film we have to view for video release is that old family weepie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.