Josna Rege

201. Screaming Women

In 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Britain, Childhood, Family, Media, Stories, United States, women & gender on April 22, 2013 at 10:06 pm


In the evenings, after the storytime ritual was over and our son had gone to sleep, I would be faced with the choice between relaxing on the couch and grading student papers before class the next day. But no sooner had I settled down with a cup of tea and a sigh, than it would begin: the screaming women.

When I was first introduced to television in England as a child of nine, the government  was very strict about what could be shown on television during the daytime, when children might be awake and watching. Children’s programs were aired in the morning and afternoon, then the news, documentaries, and family programming—soap operas, comedies, music and game shows. It wasn’t until after 9 pm that adult programs were screened, including dramas, thrillers, mysteries, and anything with violent content. Even so, back in the 1960s the British rules governing TV violence were restrictive. Compared to U.S. standards British television was permissive about sexual content but much less so about violence. All that has changed now, of course; as much as I admire Helen Mirren, I had to avert my eyes again and again throughout the long-running crime series, Prime Suspect (1992-2006), and after just one episode I can see that it’s going to be more of the same with the new mini-series, The Bletchley Circle.

In the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s the television networks were encouraged to self-regulate when it came to  shows with graphically violent content, reserving the time-slot of 8-9 pm Eastern Standard Time for “family viewing.” But after 9 pm, violent programs would crowd the line-up on every channel without fail, and it only got worse in the 1990s. I’m not just talking about Miss Marple whodunits in which one family member after the other is poisoned in a stately home or Westerns with to-the-death shoot-outs in front of the saloon; these were films about sadists, psychopaths, and serial killers who invariably targetted women, predictably barmaids and prostitutes. Not content with one killing, it seemed, there had to be a sickening succession of them, each one more grisly than the last.

So the nightly onset of this programming would be signaled by the screams of members of my own sex. There was no way I could relax when one of those screams rent the air and my heart, and threatened to wake the baby to boot. The “screaming women,” our shorthand for that perverted category of entertainment,  were my signal to gather up my papers and retire to the study. It was positively soothing to grade error-riddled student essays when the alternative was bullet-riddled women’s bodies.

Nowadays, with hundreds of cable and satellite TV channels to choose among, one doesn’t have to wait until 9 pm; guaranteed, one can find a screaming woman on air at any time of day or night. Now that’s progress.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

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  1. I don’t see why violence has to be shown so graphically. After all the fuss made over Tom and Jerry and other cartoon violence which no one with a half a brain consider harmful, to allow horrible images of decomposed and battered bodies every night is not my idea of providing entertainment.

    And really there is no light programming anymore, unless you count reality shows as light entertainment.

    No – I’m a comedy guy. I do like some mystery thrillers – those that are mysterious, where the mind games and human behavior is broken down and brain is pitted against brain. Inspector Morse springs to mind, or Peter Falk’s razor brained but seemingly bumbling Columbo.

    We watch documentaries now most of the time.

    • I totally agree. Just watched the first episode ever of Columbo (1971) this evening with my Dad, and though there was violence in it, it was stylized, not depicted close up or in graphic detail. (Peter Falk is terrific.)

  2. And add the violent video games, a couple of wars, do we need to wonder about an atmosphere of violence around here? We haven’t had TV for a long time, so I missed much of the programming you are talking about.

    • TV-free! No wonder you get so much writing and research done. And yes, I suppose it’s not at all surprising that there is so mic violence depicted on screen when we are such a violent society and nation, at home and abroad.

  3. In the UK, there is v little good comedy/drama on the free channels to compete with the gore/abuse of women. I do watch Prime Suspect, Morse, Marple, Midsomer Murders & co. I admired Helen Mirren’s strong female lead in the first instance, but the main reason for my fascination is the battle between goodness & evil which, in any case, probably goes on in our own lives every day. Along with Poirot, I feel it is a battle which evil should not erton.

    • I watch those crime shows, too–Inspector Lynley, Lewis, the lot. But there’s a nasty streak to so many of them. I suppose evil does exist, although I try to resist the idea that there is such a thing as pure evil, and of starkly opposed polar opposites. I suspect that good and evil are bound up in each other, and in us, perhaps inextricably. But from your blog’s byline, I know you believe otherwise, so I will stop being so opinionated. (BTW, what does “erton” mean?)

  4. Win! I am doing this on my phone!

  5. I live in Spain and we can only stream UK TV online, therefore we watch hardly any British/American television at all. In fact I have only watched one movie since the bogging challenge began!

    I certainly don’t miss it.

    Although, I have to say the Spanish TV shows appear to be much worse than in the UK.
    Violence, sexual scenes and explicit language are definitely not censored before 9pm, I am extremely wary when I see my young children channel hopping. In a blink of an eye they can see some Latin American TV show and images of a man beating the hell out his wife.

    I have been living here for 19 years and it still shocks the hell out of me. The same goes for music, lyrics, albeit in English, are never censored. So the f-bomb and many other very strong swear words are heard in shopping malls, cafes and on my car radio!

    Not good at all! ☹

    Sarah x

    I am here searching for the Q post! LOL x

    • Thank you for visiting and for your comment! From what you describe in Spain, it sounds as if there are even fewer restrictions on violence that on TV in the U.S. I suppose there are degrees of everything. Perhaps with swearing being so pervasive, your kids will simply become immune to it—it won’t mean anything to them, at least not what it meant to us. When a word is taboo it gains a lot more power.
      Did you ever find my Q post? I must make my blog more visitor-friendly. Cheers, J x

  6. I remember an interview with Yul Brunner where he was posed a question about violence on the screen. I’ve never forgotten his response. He said violence was an inherent part of life and could not, not be portrayed, but when you portrayed it in a way where you have obviously become obsessed with it’s details and intricacies, then there’s something radically wrong. I think the same goes for the portrayal of sex.

    • Well put, Don (and Yul)! So much so that I can’t think of anything more to say. (I’m unduly squeamish about screen violence; I guess I didn’t see enough of it as a child to simply become inured to it.) Thank you.

  7. It was a typo. I meant “win!”

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