Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Violence on TV can make us fat: now that's really depressing news

Good news is no news. Isn't that the case? One looks down the list of headlines online and it's murder, murder, war, rape, disaster, fatal accident and, finally, a talking penguin.

It's enough to do your nut in. As if that weren't bad enough, it's all packaged as entertainment. The BBC online has a section headed "Most popular", and I've seen it topped by a child murder, followed by various tragedies and disasters.

Other websites take rubber-necking to a new level: "Look! See actual pictures of the horror!" Even before the internut, the Guardian was notorious for picking up on controversial or rude pictures published in the Sun: "We reproduce the offending picture here, only larger."

And don't talk to me about broadcast news. There's no point. I never watch it, as I find its dramatic music and phoney gravitas too absurd. Last time I looked, they seemed to have the presenters adopting different positions: seated, standing, leaning against the desk, suspended upside down from the rafters.

There's no getting round the fact that the world is a bad place. But, in world news, Belfast only gets a slot when there are riots. People in America think: "These feral individuals with the Union Jacks don't seem to behave in a very British manner."

Fair point. Well done, you chaps in hoods. Jolly good show. But there's more to Belfast than fellows bunging projectiles. It's just that the good news stories of the sort that balance out the Bel Tel rarely reach a wider audience.

And it isn't just Belfast. Scotland only makes the UK news with stories of the "drunk laird drowns in vat of haggis" variety, or whenever she threatens to leave the United Blingdom (upon which the BBC takes the rare opportunity to invite racist, economically ignorant comments online).

It's all rather depressing. Literally. According to findings published in the journal Psychological Science, available in all good supermarkets, gloomy news items aren't just making the lieges depressed - they're making them over-eat.

Faced with a diet of murder and mayhem, we reach for comfort food, with volunteers in an experiment eating up to 40% more high-calorie sweetmeats compared to those viewing more neutral news items.

The trouble is that good news often isn't that exciting. There's no thrill, no frisson of fear or horror. That's the reason we read thrillers and rarely watch a film that doesn't feature violence.

Attempts have been made in broadcasting to promote a good news agenda in the past, but it all seemed glib, happy-clappy, unreal and almost unnatural.

It does make you wonder about us as a species. Fear and horror seem to be essential requirements of our lives. Yet you'd never get anyone admitting that.

"Excuse me, Madam. I'm from the Bonko Polling research organisation. What do you think about fear?"

"I'm against it."

"And horror?"

"Terrible business. There should be a law against it."

Yet, later that evening, Mrs O'Blenkinsop settles down to watch a nice murder mystery which, if it's Scandinavian, will involve particularly gross things being done to young women.

The University of Miami boffins, who conducted the experiment mentioned above, urged citizens to switch off the TV news if they wanted to shed a few pounds.

Same if you don't want to get depressed. Best thing to do with the world? Filter it.

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