More TV violence in bid to draw viewers
AS GAME Of Thrones swept the Emmys to become the most awarded narrative series in history, the TV world remarked approvingly that its exceptional production values were being given due recognition.
But critics say its success is emblematic of an increasingly disturbing predilection in TV for intense violence.
Since its debut in 2010, the fantasy epic has been the target of criticism for senseless violence and, more controversially, its pervasive use of rape as a dramatic device.
Over the years, the show has brutalised women, killed children, depicted graphic sex and had its characters hacked, stabbed, flayed, poisoned, decapitated, burned alive, eye-gouged and eviscerated - all in glorious, close-up detail.
News magazine The Atlantic described the show's tendency to "ramp up the sex, violence, and - especially - sexual violence" in George R. R. Martin's source novels as its "defining weakness".
Leigh Whannell, who created and starred in the Saw and Insidious horror franchises, said the creep of violence into TV was the inevitable result of the small screen usurping cinema as the go-to medium for quality entertainment.
"As the broadcasters open up, there's places like Netflix, Hulu and all these different streaming services..." he noted.
"They don't have to stick to the rules of an ABC or a CBS."
The blood and guts clearly is not a turn-off for fans of Game Of Thrones, which has grown its audience in the United States to more than 25 million.
A host of other violent cable and satellite shows, from FX's The Strain and Showtime's Penny Dreadful to Cinemax's The Knick have all been ratings successes.
And network shows like NBC's Hannibal demonstrate that violence is not confined to cable.
A 2013 study by Parents Television Council said "some of the most violent TV-14-rated shows on broadcast TV have similar levels and types of violence as TV-MA-rated (Mature Audience) cable TV shows".
There is some evidence of a correlation between small-screen and real-life violence though proof of a causal link has always been patchy.
Psychologists George Comstock and Haejung Paik analysed more than 200 studies published between 1957 and 1990, concluding that fictional violence might have a short-term effect on the mindset of susceptible viewers.
Six US medical bodies reviewed the research in 2000 and issued a statement to Congress concluding that "viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behaviour, particularly in children".
Mike Flanagan, director of upcoming horror film Ouija: Origin Of Evil, said: "In order to get people's attention, there's this gravity towards pushing the envelope even further."
But he argues that TV provides a "safe space" for people to reflect on the darker side of human nature.
"One of the positives is that at least we get to explore that side of ourselves in a relatively safe environment... where we can turn off the TV or where the lights come on after the movie is over," he added.