How TV Affects Our Survival Skills
By Elizabeth A. Kennedy ©2003

* Ever notice that at some point in almost every horror movie there's a point where a woman is being chased by some psycho killer and inevitably the helpless female trips and falls and twists her ankle!! There could be five guys running with her, away from the same psycho killer, yet it's always the female that trips and falls. Then, some guy comes to her rescue, and helps her get away.

* Ever notice that at some point in almost every action movie, the male star says to the woman "Stay here!" while he goes after the bad guys. What does the woman do every time? She follows the guy, screws up his plan, and ends up getting kidnapped, and gets the hero hurt while he rescues her!!

* Ever notice in the movies how often the hero fights off multiple opponents while the woman sits huddled on the floor with her hands over her mouth with a look of panic and horror! Invariably she watches while the guy trying to help her gets punched, kicked and beaten. And then he wins anyway.

What kind of message does this send to the average female viewer? Even worse, what kind of message are we sending to our female children!

Although I personally believe that there are some producers and directors and writers that deliberately play up this type of scene to "keep women in their places" I'm sure more of it is cultural; societal norm. It's what we expect to see. And every time we see it, it reinforces those cultural beliefs.

However, regardless of the reasons, it affects the way we live our lives. It affects our expectations of the way men and women will deal with given situations. My concern as a survival instructor is that it affects our ability to "rise to the occasion" and survive a violent attack.

Now the good part for women is that since we do live in a T.V. and movie oriented society, the bad guys have those very same expectations of the way women will react!!! And that can be a great element of surprise when the rapist or mugger is met with a vicious counter-attack by his intended victim.

But the problem does not end here. There are numerous other "TV truisms" that have no basis in reality, and in fact could cause innocent people to get killed.

TV vs. Reality

TV Truism:
When a person is shot with a powerful gun their body gets blown backward from the shot.

Simple physics - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So if the gun and ammo were powerful enough to blow the bad guy backwards it would also blow the guy holding the gun backwards just as hard and just as far! Truth is that a person aggressively coming forward in a violent attack will continue to come forward in his attack! The gunshots may slow him down and even kill him, but that may not stop his forward attack! (Again - simple physics - bodies in motion tend to remain in motion.) According to Firearms instructor and DT instructor Tom Engleman:

TV Truism:
When you "whack" a bad guy on the back of the head with the butt of a gun or karate kick someone to the head and they go unconscious, they'll stay out until the next commercial (or long enough for the good guy to get to safety), and then they'll wake up with just a slight headache.

Unconscious in real life is not like TV. According to Dr. Joseph Sciammarella, "The typical "loss of consciousness" found in assault victims or victims of vehicle accidents is actually a momentary "stunning" or "clouding of consciousness" rather than a state of unconsciousness. An example is the typical boxing "knockout" - the fighter buckles, falls to the floor, dazed, and almost immediately attempts to get up. For a person to become truly unconscious constitutes a state of coma, and coma signifies significant structural brain injury. So if he were to go unconscious that long, he'd probably be in a coma or dead.

TV Truism:
Punches to the head and face are effective self-defense strikes.

Ask Mike Tyson, who almost ended his boxing career when he punched Mitch Green is a street fight in Harlem. Mike Tyson, Heavyweight Champion of the World, forget that his hands weren't taped and gloved. A punch in the head is a point in boxing. It's a knock-out blow on TV. And it's a broken hand in the real world.

TV Truism:
A gun is a better weapon than a knife.

This dangerous assumption has cost many a police officer his life. Within 21 feet the knife is the better weapon. Knives don't jam. They don't run out of ammunition. If you miss your target with a knife you just rip or thrust in a different direction. And the fact is, most life and death struggles take place within arms reach. According to Philip Messina, President of Modern Warrior Defensive Tactics Institute: "It is common for a person with a gun to underestimate the capabilities of a knife wielding assailant, where the reverse is rarely if ever true. Knife attacks are primarily offensive in nature while firearms are normally used in the defensive mode."

TV Truism:
Chemical Sprays (i.e. Mace, pepper spray, etc.) and stun guns will instantly stop a violent attacker

This is absolutely false. Do they hurt? Yes. Is it enough to stop a goal oriented violent criminal? NO. Would it stop you from protecting your child? Not for even a second. So don't think that it will stop a bad guy who's intent on causing you harm.

(For additional information on experiments conducted by the American Women's Self Defense Association, please call 1-888 STOP RAPE)

There are dozens of these TV truisms that affect our perception of what fighting is all about. If we become aware of them, we can start to diminish their detrimental ripple effect. So let's all turn off the tube and prepare for the real world.