Television and Violence

The following is the translation of an excerpt from Analisis Politico, the journal of the Instituto de Estudios Politicos y Relaciones Internacionales of the Universidad Nacional, No. 32, Sept.-Dec. 1997. It is an interview with three Colombian scriptwriters of television dramas on the subject of television and violence

"La mujer del presidente" and "Fuego verde" are television dramas that generally depict the Colombian reality of violence on television. The world of emeralds, drug-trafficking, the prison system, and urban violence are, among others, some of the issues presented, and their treatment has been other than the common treatment in national TV dramas, as their work is characterized by great realism and an excellent use of suspense and expectation, which explain their striking success. This time we wanted to explore the thinking of those who produce these programs. And so we spoke with Mauricio Miranda RodrRguez and Mauricio Navas Talero, the scriptwriters of "La mujer del presidente" and Carlos Duplat, director of "Fuego verde," on television and its relationship with violence. This is what they had to say:

ANALISIS POLITICO: What are the implications of recreating the daily violence of a country like Colombia in a television drama? What does it give the viewer?

MAURICIO MIRANDA: The mere recreation of the reality or a part of it, be it violence, love, power, injustice, without putting the facts in proper perspective, doesn't give the viewer anything positive.... A TV drama...should clearly and without sensationalism portray the existential conflicts we human beings experience. Both the origins and the positive and negative consequences of the characters' actions should be noted.... The viewer can then elaborate the violent contents from his or her own experience and adopt a critical attitude not only vis-B-vis the televised re-creation, but also with respect to reality, to one's everyday surroundings.

CARLOS DUPLAT: Violence, along with love, the struggle for life, for happiness, for dignity, and for re-encountering one's identity, are an integral part of Colombian life.... Violence is so present in our everyday lives that not seeing it results in being crushed by it.... It is imperative to confront it, to look it in the fact and understand it and seek means of eradicating it. Therefore, I believe that the greatest damage that can be done to our society is to show rosy, evasive, and escapist stories that distract the public from their reality. I believe that quite to the contrary it is necessary to depict that violence in our television, in our film, in our theatre, and in our literature. To hide it and embellish the situation is dangerous, deforming, and immoral.... Now, I believe that simply showing or illustrating and recreating the violence is also deforming, because it is not a question of turning violence into a spectacle. It is not a question of relishing it. In order for that re-creation of the violence to give the viewer something, it must be shown in its context, in its causes, in its process, and in its consequences.

AP: Do such programs contribute to sensitizing the spectators vis-B-vis the problem of violence? How?

MAURICIO NAVAS:... The insensitivity of the national community to the violence is not due to the rising number of violent acts, but to the presentation of these acts as isolated events uprooted from a historical and circumstantial context. The media has had much to do with this when categorizing massacres of human beings as regular news in which most attention is given to the statistics and the political or legal consequences, relegating to the anecdotal status the contextual value of the victims' lives.... I believe that the contextualized violence of fiction can be a good vehicle for the consumer of violence via the newscasts and newspapers to be able to re-connect with the principle that acts of violence actually perpetrated are perpetrated against human beings, each with his or her first name and last name.... I dare say that "La mujer del presidente" has sensitized more TV viewers to the problem of the prisons than all the headlines that have been announcing the prison crisis for the past year.

This is the potential fiction gives us, creating contexts that are so hard-hitting that they inevitably refer to the statistical realities of our information.

CARLOS DUPLAT: Showing violence as a mere spectacle, relishing the color and the forms, as the American productions have accustomed us to expect, can be as deforming and dangerous as avoiding it and hiding it. Contextualized violence, showing its causes, developments, and consequences, helps the viewer identify and address it, and--and why not?--to debate it and adopt attitudes in the face of it, insofar as you come to recognize it and discover it in your inner self and your day-to-day encounters.

AP: One might think that there is a risk of stereotyping and stigmatizing the violent actors, thereby contributing to their growing polarization, which would make it more difficult to achieve peace. How can such a situation be avoided?

MAURICIO MIRANDA: ... How to avoid that polarization? Mainly by giving the characters psychological features such that they appear as the result of many family, school, affective, social, and economic conditioning factors; creating beings with nuances, capable of doubting and of reflecting on their condition; depicting them as subjects who transform as they low, hate, struggle, subdue, or are subdued by others.

These characters are more difficult to write, to create, and of course, to interpret.... They are, in summary, archetypes, rather than stereotypes, who are going to take the viewer to understand that our actions depend on our decisions, and not on a destiny pre-set by some god-scriptwriter....

CARLOS DUPLAT: The stereotype of violence, of violent situations, and violent characters is born of schematic thinking, of facile simplification, and of the poverty of vision of those who produce it (scriptwriters, actors, directors) and want to show the facts. That is true. That may be the risk we take. But what is one to do about that? Violently repress those expressions, censoring them, imposing limits and regulations, or, to the contrary, should one seek to give direction and enrich the ways in which one understands them? I'm a decided partisan of this second approach....

I insist that in this country, with some four million armed individuals, many with official or moral permission to make use of violence, it is imperative that we find a way for Colombian television to address violence in an intelligent, understanding, and creative way, without fear. Perhaps in this way we can make real and effective contributions to making peace a reality in Colombia.