Shock and Terrible Awe: Our Television Culture of Violence


As I watched television last night, I was struck by our whirling, tragic out-of-control world.  So much pain, so much anger and malice towards are fellow human beings. Everywhere is needless death in spades and acts of pure horror without much intent.

 I'm not talking about the Boston Marathon, although it was all of these things.  I am talking about the new show Hannibal on NBC.  

 See, I was staying up late working on cleaning out my inbox.   Ryan had gone to bed early, as he was exhausted and not feeling very well. First, I watched The Voice because um, Adam Levine.  Then I watched another episode of The Voice because um, Adam Levine.  Then, for some mindless reason, I decided that it would be a good idea to watch the new show Hannibal at 11:00pm.

 I was stunned and staggered by the zeal for violence in that show.  Throats cut with blood arching in the air.  The show started with a terrifying murder, by gun, of a husband and wife inside of their home.  The show then continued with the murder of two young girls in a row, and then two more girls after that.  Two of them were impaled on antlers, like wall hangings. Then Hannibal ate some lungs. That was followed with another brutal scene, with two young girls getting their throats slit in a VERY graphic manner.

I realize that I was watching Hannibal, which is about the murderer/cannibal from the film Silence of the Lambs.  I didn't think this was going to be a Hallmark movie, or Modern Family. I knew that this was going to be a dark show about solving murders. But I didn't think that the violence, on a primetime network television show would be so disturbing.  What struck me the most was how many young girls were murdered. It was as if the show couldn't get enough of them.  The images that I saw on the screen seared into my brain, and as soon as I closed my eyes to go to sleep, I kept seeing the blood arching through the air, or the tortured girl impaled in the woods.  It seemed like senseless gore, rather than a sharp look at the criminal mind. Let me remind you that this was NBC. NBC, the same news channel that has provided non-stop news about the Boston Marathon, and the terrible, real cost of violence.  I know that it's all for entertainment's sake, but when does entertainment become dangerous? What are these shows and movies teaching our young men?

It also makes me furious when I think about how the major news networks are claiming that they aren't covering the Gosnell trial because the details are too disturbing. So let me get this straight:  impaling young girls on antlers and mounting them in a living room is not too disturbing, but featuring REAL news about something VERY disturbing is too hard on viewers?  Grrrr.....

  I've thought about it all day today.   I wondered why that particular show of violence disturbed me so deeply.  I watch Game of Thrones.  It's very violent.  But I've also read the books, and I know that the books are violent. A PG-13 Game of Thrones wouldn't really be Game of Thrones.  It's a book series about a world fracturing war.  It's also a fantasy world, a world you know doesn't exist.  There's all these factors and then there's the main thing: Game of Thrones is on HBO.  That is a premium cable channel, and it's pretty hard to watch if you are not an adult who has ordered it.  Hannibal is a primetime major network show.  I'm not tryign to excuse the violence in Game of Thrones. It could definitely be toned down. But I feel like someone shoving a sword through someone in a battle is different then a teenage girl being tortured and then cut apart like a fresh kill, all for entertainment's sake.  And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe death is a death is a death.  But on a show like Game of Thrones, the violence is woven into a bigger story; on Hannibal, violence IS the story.  I use to like Dexter; now I can't even watch it. The darkness is too much, and I am seeking something much lighter to nurture my soul. 

Watching Hannibal made me react in several dramatic ways: first, I couldn't look away, but was plagued by haunting images later in my mind.  Second, it made me wonder when the bar for shock value and what is allowed on network TV was raised so dramatically.  Is it because they are trying to compete with the cable networks?  Third, I fear for my children with a television in the house.  What would a child learn from watching that episode of television?  As an adult, I wrinkled my nose and shut my eyes to degradation unfolding before me. As a child, I would have stared in wide-open horror and then later been tortured by these confusing and devastating concepts.   And if I did watch it, I would have taken away that women, especially young and pretty women, are disposable.  On television, young pretty girls are the props and toys of serial killers and mad men.

 Long story short, I will not be watching Hannibal again.  And when we are blessed us with children, we are going to be on those parental controls like white on rice.  I like Mad Men as much as the next girl, but I prefer mine with a glass of scotch and a killer 50's suit instead of a Chianti and a side of lungs.

 I'll sign off with this quote which I love, and in this case, I feel like it applies well:





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