27 Apr 2009

This ad, currently showing in UK cinemas, has been deemed too violent to be shown in full on television. Instead, censors have demanded that a cut version be shown, with the violent second portion removed from the ad. The point of now showing the ad at all, considering it's about domestic violence, and the domestic violence will now be absent for it, seems questionable. The logic behind the censors' decision also seems, if well-meaning, entirely dubious. Consider that only 2 people complained about the advert when it was shown in full in cinemas. Consider the explicit violence and sexual content that's shown on TV every day. We may use the watershed (9pm in the UK) as a mitigating factor, but the point is, we've never been shy of showing violence on TV, so why are the censors suddenly getting cold feet? One can't help but feel it's got something to do with the unique nature of this ad. It's not a glamorous Hollywood fight, a Kung Fu movie, an action clip showing Matt Damon laying waste to some bad guys. It's a man beating up a woman - a very famous woman, no less. It's disturbing, and makes the viewer feel deeply uneasy. So, goes the argument - ban it.

The fact the censors could miss the point so badly shows how little we still comprehend the issue of domestic violence. It is MEANT to be disturbing, it is MEANT to be horrible, and it is MEANT to make you feel uncomfortable. Why? Because DV remains such a hidden, taboo, almost taken-for-granted aspect of daily life, that we need shaking out of our complacency about it. The idea that we need 'saving' from a scene based on the reality that occur in homes up and down the country every day, whilst it's OK to proceed with fictional scenes of extreme violence, is topsy-turvy thinking indeed. We NEED such scenes forced in our face, because it's the only way we will start to realise that it's not a 'private family matter', but something the whole of society should be concerned with. The very fact DV is given the cosy title of being 'domestic' has always implied it's something occurring within a private sphere which the rest of us should leave alone - the phrase 'Oh, they're just having a domestic' implies a minor spat between couples that we should a) consider trivial and b) keep our noses out of. When we actually consider what DV involves - punching, kicking, slapping, scratching, biting, burning, rape, imprisonment to name but a few - the idea that this is not a public issue seems at best misguided, and at worse, misogynistic.

The issue was raised on a discussion programme this morning, and a female caller suggested that the ad should remain banned because the last thing we need to see is more violence - it merely serves to normalise it and contribute to our increasing inability to be shocked by it. Her suggestion was to show a woman successfully leaving an abusive relationship and carrying on with her life afterwards. Such an ad could be a good idea, I agree. But to forget that DV remains a problem precisely because so many women feel unable to leave, implies things aren't as bad as they seem, and it's 'just that easy' to walk out. Any discussion about DV will inevitably involve someone piping up 'why doesn't she just leave?', neatly side-stepping the fact that of the two women murdered in DV cases every week in the UK, many of these women are murdered by EX-partners who they have found the courage to walk out on. The most dangerous time for a woman in a DV situation is the period right after she has left - because if someone is happy to beat you senseless and imprison you because they thought their dinner wasn't cooked right, what do you imagine this person might do if you actually have the audacity to leave their sorry ass? This assumption that a) it's that easy to leave and b) leaving will simply end the abuse either implies a complete ignorance about DV, or a continuing determination to lay the blame at the feet of women, even in the face of the contradictory facts. I would like people who think it's just that easy to walk out of a DV situation to consider how easy they might find it to walk out on someone who has threatened to track them down and kill them (and their children) should they ever leave, who has isolated them from their friends and family, cut off all forms of communication with the outside world, and smashed their head into a wall last time they attempted to pop out to the shops?

A panelist on the discussion programme proposed that the ad should stay banned not because it's shocking, but because it won't do much, if anything, to help the issue. She stated that the ad was not likely to make violent men sit up and think 'Oooh, better not do that any more', nor was it going to make cowed, psychologically destroyed, battered women, sit up and find the strength to leave. Sadly, I agree she is probably right, but I think the ad has a wider purpose than just targeting those actually involved in DV situations. To my mind, it's aimed at the rest of us, society at large, those who contribute to the helplessness of victims in DV situations by saying things like 'Oh, it's only a domestic' or 'Well, she asked for it by nagging him' or 'Silly woman, why doesn't she just leave?'. These offensive assumptions feed into a whole culture - one which the police and judiciary are not untarnished by - which doesn't take DV seriously enough, makes excuses for its perpetrators and fails to bring them to justice, and - as the disturbing two women a week statistic shows - fails again and again to protect its victims. The amount of jaw-dropping victim-blaming in the recent Chris Brown and Rihanna story shows how quick we still are to excuse the violent man and blame the woman - the fact Rihanna threw her partner's keys into the road during an argument was presented as an excuse for him punching her repeatedly until her mouth filled with blood. Famous, influential men such as Kanye West came out with pleas to 'give Chris a break', as if he had done something as innocuous as got a speeding ticket, implying that it was disproportionate of us to react to Brown's actions with shock and disgust.

Education about DV has to start somewhere, and fast, if we are to teach ourselves, and our children, something other than West's blame-dodging, trivialising attitude towards beating up your partner. The Keira Knightley ad may not have a direct impact on anyone in a DV situation, but if it makes even just a few of the rest of us stop and consider our attitudes, it is worth showing. Banning the ad because it's 'shocking' serves only to continue legitimising the glamorisation of violence, as long as it's not based on reality, whilst denying the seriousness of actual violence that takes place against women (and some men) every day, and bolstering the message that DV is 'too private' for us to interfere with. The ad should be reinstated uncut - I'm off to find out if there's anyone I can contact with a view to achieving this.

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