Crime reality shows maybe doing more harm than good

MUMBAI: The darker genres of storytelling such as thriller, crime and horror have hooked viewers for years. Though at times gory, viewers gulp down crime stories if they are crafted with an element of fun. But a rise in criminals imitating scenes from shows has led people to blame both Bollywood and TV shows, not for showing, but for inspiring real-life crimes in India.

There is a very thin line between spreading awareness and sensationalism when it comes to this genre. Though the concept may be appreciated, the negative impact is hardly taken into consideration.

When it comes to crime reality television, Sony airs Crime Patrol Dial 100, Crime Patrol Satark and Crime Patrol Dastak running at various time slots. Star Bharat is also deep into the genre with three related shows - Savdhaan India – India Fights Back, Savdhaan India – Darr kar nahi datt kar and Savdhaan India – Kisse Anokhe.

Recent cases of a brother killing his own sister and mother, or a boyfriend killing his girlfriend, are manifestations of fast-changing and deteriorating mental streaks in which these crimes have lost value. Their conscience isn’t disturbed by their act because they are used to it and the psyche is immune to others’ pain. 

The positive side isn’t to be ignored. They bring to light various common crimes occurring across the country and enable their audience to be wary of similar happenings. Moreover, they help reaffirm people’s belief in the police system and encourage them to report crimes. Another major learning for viewers is to be cautious while employing domestic help and being alert to their surroundings.

According to Psychologist Dr Sanjoy Mukerji if a person wants to be happy, peaceful and positive in life, they have to focus more on the positive things then the negative things. “Crime reality shows bring an addiction and negativity to the people,” he says adding that they also have a positive impact by reinforcing belief in the police.

Counselling psychologist Rashi Laskari says that while show makers have the right intentions, the content ends up having a negative impact on some people. “Sensitive individuals, more so children or the elderly, are unable to see this reality as occasional, and start perceiving the world to be a bad place in general, which takes away their trust from their surroundings, making them experience intense negative emotions.”

Laskari adds, “We often see cases where individuals have developed a fear of moving around safely, as they imagine themselves in the role of the victim. This is also seen with children and teenagers, when they watch abusive behaviour on television, they absorb it as real, and either pick negative traits or become very scared and show changes in their behaviour.”

Psychiatrist Dr Rajiv Anand says that people look for excitement from their own and others’ lives. “So, whenever they hear any story concerning crime in other peoples’ lives, their antennae are alert. Human minds get swallowed into sensationalism. It begins simply as a kick but then it becomes a habit and they get dependent on the supply.”

When the mind is repeatedly bombarded with same crime stories, viewers live with them, visualise them, dream oft hem and form an obsession. This leads to a desire to experiment.  

Laskari, while sharing her experiences, says that she has seen a case where grandparents would watch Saavdhaan India on a regular basis, and would believe the dramatic representation to be true. She says, “As a result of it, they would talk to the grandchild every day about the ‘bad’ that happens in the world, and instil a fear in the child's mind about bad people and the harm they can cause. As a result, the child became fearful of everything- such as playing with friends, going to the washroom alone, answering the doorbell and many more things.”

These shows also instil fear in people. Dr Mukerji says he has seen people complaining of anxiety due to the shows. He added, “Women say that their husbands are scared to leave them alone at home.”

 Shows tend to desensitise people to crime. Therefore, sometimes, even if a murder takes place in front of their eyes, people will take photographs rather than take preventative action. Viral videos of crimes are spreading and breaking down the wall between the real and virtual.  

In the year 2016, the average per episode viewership of Crime Patrol was 1.6 million impressions, Crime Patrol Dastak was 1.3 million impressions, Crime Patrol Dial 100 was 1.8 million impressions and Crime Patrol Satark was 1.7 million impressions per episode, from 6 pm to 12 am. However, Savdhaan India garnered 2.5 million average impressions per episode during the peak hours.

In the year 2017, the average per episode viewership of Savdhaan India was 2.8 million impressions, Savdhaan India- India Fights Back was 0.8 million impressions per episode, Savdhaan India- Kisse Anokhe was 2.0 million impressions per episode, Crime Patrol Dial 100 was 1.8 million impressions per episode and Crime Patrol Satark was 1.8 million impressions per episode between 6 pm to 12 am.

As the ratings show, the popularity of crime shows is far from dwindling. They hold steady and broadcasters are creating sub genres within the crime genre. Despite the warnings that television shows advising people to only consider them as dramatic representations, people absorb them as real events. Whether entertainment or a mirror to reality, crime shows are here to stay for now.

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