'The Following,' 'Hannibal,' 'Dracula' And Others Made 2013 The Year Of Broadcast Bloodbaths
Writing earlier this week about AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and NBC’s “The Blacklist” I got to thinking about violence on television. How much is too much, or is it even an issue anymore? Is supernatural violence somehow more palatable than the kind that characterizes so many procedural crime dramas? Should we even acknowledge content differences between broadcast and basic cable, given the way younger generations have grown up consuming television without regard for how it is delivered or for whom it may have been intended?
As I was watching FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” the other night I realized that I couldn’t keep count of the number of guns fired, the number of bullets that exploded into human flesh, or the number of fatalities in the episode’s epic gun battle, which was more a slaughter than a fight. This was nothing unusual for “Sons of Anarchy,” a show I find more consistently entertaining and involving than almost any other series on television. I’m glad “Sons” and so many other adult series on cable and broadcast are available to me. Collectively, these shows continue to remind me that television watching is so much more rewarding than moviegoing. This is largely due to the fact that the show-runners of so many series aren’t afraid to treat adult viewers like grown-ups.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that consistent exposure to all of this violence on television (and in other media) does have a cumulative impact of some kind. Consider these words from spiritual teacher and author Eknath Easwaran:
“We have become so used to this kind of fare that we seldom even question it … The terribly unkind attitudes people display toward each other on the screen, on stage and on the printed page, which they vent in harsh words and harmful acts ... All this goes into our minds and gets absorbed; it cannot help but resurface in our behavior. It is not that we want to live in a germ-free world, which is impossible, but we need to remember that mental states are affected by what we see, hear and read every day.”
Easwaran was talking about “junk thoughts” and unfortunate behavior as reflected in media and entertainment when he wrote those words, but it seems to me that they apply to concerns about television violence as well.
Just consider what broadcast television -- supposedly a “safer” place than cable and other media -- offered during the last twelve months. The year began with the arrival of Fox’s serial killer thriller “The Following,” arguably the most unsettling broadcast drama ever, at least until NBC’s “Hannibal” came along. Some of the imagery in the latter seemed more suited to HBO or Showtime, but it worked, critics adored it, the audience slowly found it and NBC gave it a second season renewal. Then NBC charged up the fall season with two new entries in the genre of Blood Bath TV: “Dracula” and “The Blacklist.”
There has been increasingly disturbing content in many procedural crime dramas since the arrivals of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” on CBS in 2000 and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” on NBC in 1999. But with the exception of a handful of episodes from each, both of those shows have kept images of graphic violence to a minimum. CBS’ “Criminal Minds” has trafficked in extreme violence and depravity for nine years, although I’m not comfortable commenting on its content because I stopped watching that show years ago. It was simply too explicit and too full of things I could not un-see.
Procedural crime dramas remain the most popular and profitable genre of television programming, in this country and dozens of others. Humanity has voted -- and it clearly cannot get enough blood, gore and violence in its entertainment. Who am I to suggest there is something wrong with all of those people? Many of my loved ones can’t get enough of it, and they are nice enough folks.
On the horror front, The CW’s “Supernatural” has been one of the most brutally violent shows on television throughout its nine-season run, dating back to its days on the late WB network. Young viewers continue to support it. (The stars of this show are among the many Gods of Comic-Con.)
There is little point in arguing that kids, tweens and young teens must be shielded from such stuff. They’re seeing and interacting with much worse material in video games and massive multiplayer online systems. Also, they’re canny enough to get their fix of violent entertainment on basic or pay cable or from any number of Web sites in which they can access such content, legitimately or otherwise -- without their parents knowing what they are up to. (We were all kids once, right?)
Still, for those of us old enough to remember when watching favorite television programs wasn’t an emotional workout, shows like “The Blacklist” and “The Following” can take some getting used to. Or, perhaps, the thing we have to get used to is that we have already gotten used to actions and images from which we used to recoil. As Easwaran advised: “We need to remember that mental states are affected by what we see, hear and read every day.”