Monday, January 4, 2010 Leave a comment
Originally published April 30, 2009.
We get to see a lot of things on television: kissing, fist-fighting, blood, naked bodies, surgery. The most popular shows on television right now try to simulate the most graphic situations we can imagine in everyday life — law enforcement and medical treatment.
But when it comes to domestic abuse, anything close to “everyday life” is apparently too close.
This month, British charity Women’s Aid released a two-minute film directed by Joe Wright (who also boasts Atonement on his directorial resume) starring Keira Knightley as an actress returning home from a day of filming.
In her apartment, Keira’s live-in boyfriend confronts her, accusing her of cheating on him with her leading man.
Nothing unsafe for television yet, right?
And if British advertising watchdog Clearcast has their way, that’s where this ad will presumably end. Nothing intense, nothing thought-provoking, and certainly nothing like real domestic abuse.
The full version goes on to show Keira being slapped, grabbed by her hair and thrown to the floor by her boyfriend just before he begins brutally kicking her.
The ad in its entirety has been posted on the Women’s Aid Web site, YouTube and has been shown in British theaters. But Clearcast has deemed the ad too violent for mainstream television viewing.
News flash, censors: that’s the point.
Domestic violence really happens every day, unlike some of the other explicit things we see on television. According to statistics listed on the Women’s Aid website, one in every four women will be a victim of domestic violence, and one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute. The Knightley ad uses the most powerful of these statistics: that two women die every week from domestic violence.
Yes, the violence depicted in the video is disturbing. By its very nature, domestic violence is disturbing, and depictions of it should rattle us to our cores. As spokeswoman Lucy Brown said, Women’s Aid constructed the ad around anecdotes from women who had experienced domestic violence themselves.
Running the ad on television brings the horror of domestic violence into the homes of people who thankfully haven’t faced it firsthand, so that they are made to acknowledge its existence and potential severity. And with the economy in its current state, there’s no better time than now to initiate such an ad campaign.
Susan Miller of the Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City, Mo. mentioned in the Kansas City Star Monday that in the last year, her agency has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of victims seeking assistance and in the lethality of domestic violence cases. Miller suggested that employment layoffs aggravate domestic violence situations as they force the batterer to be at home more often, but also because victims feel as though leaving will render them unable to support themselves financially.
If people consider the influence of the global recession, it becomes clear why Women’s Aid would ask for small donations from viewers instead of aiming the Knightley ad at a smaller demographic and listing a help hotline phone number. Enacting widespread aid programs takes funding and the attention of those who aren’t victims. When the best way to catch the attention of television viewers is realism, Clearcast’s mandate that the realistic portions of the film be cut frankly suggests that they either don’t believe domestic violence is a problem in Britain or that they would like to discourage the public from supporting women’s assistance organizations.
Despite the massive number of online views the Women’s Aid ad has accumulated, it’s critical that it reach televisions and living rooms across Britain (and honestly, we could use something similar in the U.S.). For women and children in violent households, there’s no Clearcast to blow the whistle on what’s “too violent.” Censoring the ad — or rather, promoting voluntary ignorance — will not make domestic violence disappear.
Chelsea is a senior in Creative Writing and English.