By Unéné Gregory

On a calm Saturday evening I found myself watching a raved-about movie, Hanzel & Gretel Witch Hunters, a children’s folktale that had been given a twist by Hollywood. As I waited for the movie to begin I expected action and suspense. What ensued I was not expecting. Half-way through the movie I found myself wondering when movies had become so bloody and gruesome. I sat through the entire movie, cringing through most of it and watching the “action” scenes through my fingers.

These kinds of movies with their emphasis on portraying a high level of realism have become common. Gone are the days of tomato-sauce blood, hearing gunshots during the action scene though never seeing the entry and exit bounds and suggestive scenes merely being suggestive sounds and shadow movements behind a curtain, or at best rummaging beneath the covers. Apparently people want more.

The nation and the world is becoming more and more desensitised. Video clips such as the hostage situation in Kenya have become common. These are the type of images we show on prime-time news with a simple “warning”, to protect ourselves by law, that states “the following images maybe be disturbing to sensitive viewers, viewer discretion advised” or something of that nature. When did being disturbed by gruesome images make one a “sensitive viewer”? When did it become a norm to have the front-page image of a newspaper, in all its full colour glory, be a woman lying on the ground soaked in blood?

Do not get me wrong, I believe in reporting the news and keeping people abreast with what is happening in the world. However, showing bloody and gruesome images is not essential to conveying the facts of the situation. When did such images stop sending shivers down our spine, making us teary-eyed and just want to look away?

Television shows and video games have also become as big-a-culprits for displaying rather explicit scenes. The same video games that glamorise crime and prostitution by having the objective of the game to steal cars or by taking the user through a prostitute-filled mall are the very same games we allow our youth to buy and consume. These are the kind of TV shows we let our youth watch and glorify, and yet we wonder why people are becoming more violent? One cannot outsource parenting. One cannot expect to place a child in from of the TV, check out emotionally and physically to do what you “need to do” and expect and assume that the child will turn out great.

I, like the next action/thriller lover, can appreciate a fantastic plot and good production; though just as we have “red taped” human cloning as “immoral” surely we could “red tape” certain types of scenes and images, or at least the level of gruesomeness. If nothing else, shouldn’t certain types of movies, TV shows and video games be completely inaccessible to our youth?

When I was in high school (which wasn’t too far back) it was unheard of for a pupil to attack a teacher or to bring a gun to school, or perhaps I was never exposed to such, though we now see an increase in these occurrences. We ask ourselves when did children become so violent. I ask, when did parents stop parenting? When did humans become so cold?

For you see one of the reasons we cringe or get shivers when something horrific happens is because of our empathy for the people experiencing whatever it is; for those moments we put ourselves in their shoes. Empathy is what allows us to sympathise with people and what they are going through, it is our capacity as humans to care and feel. So in essence, the desensitisation of our nation means the degradation of our ability to be empathetic; it is the degradation of our moral fibre.

The onus is on parents, communities, on us as a nation and as a people to not allow ourselves to wither away and become devoid of feelings, compassion and empathy. How do we begin to resensitise our nation to ensure that some of the things that make us who we are as humans remain intact? How do we ensure that we do not facilitate the breeding of psychopaths, of people so unaffected by suffering and pain that it becomes a norm? When do we say enough is enough, put our foot down and start doing something about it?

Unéné Gregory is a 2012 Mandela Rhodes Scholar and is currently completing her master’s degree in electrical engineering within the niche area of assistive technology.


  • Mandela Rhodes Scholars who feature on this page are all recipients of The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and are members of The Mandela Rhodes Community. The Mandela Rhodes Community was started by recipients of the scholarship, and is a growing network of young African leaders in different sectors. The Mandela Rhodes Community is comprised of students and professionals from various backgrounds, fields of study and areas of interest. Their commonality is the set of guiding principles instilled through The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship program: education, leadership, reconciliation, and social entrepreneurship. All members of The Mandela Rhodes Community have displayed some form of involvement in each of these domains. The Community has the purpose of mobilising its members and partners to collaborate in establishing a growing network of engaged and active leaders through dialogue and project support [The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship is open to all African students and allows for postgraduate studies at any institution in South Africa. See The Mandela Rhodes Foundation for further details.]


Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Mandela Rhodes Scholars who feature on this page are all recipients of The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and are members...

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