WARNING! THERE WILL BE The Walking Dead (season 4), House of Cards (season 2,) AND Frozen SPOILERS BELOW. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
It’s an obvious and oft’ repeated truth that media is becoming more violent. Whether you want to blame HBO or God of War is irrelevant, because it’s happening. We’re not on Gilligan’s Island anymore.
As a lover of TV and an aspiring (if poor) writer, I’m not necessarily interested in creating less violent content, though I’m perfectly willing to if that’s what the story requires. No, what I’m captivates me is the idea of creating better violence.
Let me explain myself.
I don’t like blood for the sake of blood. Things like Saw disgust me, and I avoid the horror genre in general. But I have to admit, shock is a wonderful emotion to evoke when story telling. True, full, tangible disbelief is one of the most difficult and most satisfying things a writer can pull from their reader. I clearly remember the sucking silence of the movie theater when Hans revealed his scheme to let Anna die and take over the kingdom in Frozen. Walking out of theater later, if the movie-goers weren’t singing the songs to themselves, they were talking about that moment. More recently (and in my opinion, even more shocking) was the season opener of Netflix’s House of Cards, which included the death of series main Zoe Barns. In a moment so quick we’d miss it by blinking, Zoe is turned around and shoved in front of an oncoming train. A splash of blood and rumbling musical score are the only markers for the end of what many probably thought would be a continued regular on the show.
This moment would not have had the same amount of impact if, say, Zoe had decided to move away or had become ill and died slowly over the course of the season. The sudden and drastic violence shocks. It doesn’t disgust or glorify, it simply shocks. Truly, it’s not even the blood or grisly nature of the death that is so disturbing as it is simply the speed. Like so often in reality, life will be ripped away suddenly. And that’s really the hard part.
In a different vein, we have AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has just returned from its midseason break. Episode 2 opened with Hershal’s decapitated head lying in the bloodied grass, zombiefied, groaning and biting weakly at the air. Unlike the speedy pulling-a-band-aid-off style of Cards, this scene is slow. Again, the violence isn’t the truly horrifying part. Watchers of the show know the character of Hershal to have been the stalwart, kind, moral compass. The only thing to think at the sight is, “he deserved better than this.” The long, lingering shot forces the viewers to contemplate everything that the character had been through, only to end up here. It’s depressing, and sucks the hope right out of the soul.
Which is actually the ‘moral’ of the episode. So the violence does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
All that to say, don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the violence of our culture’s media. Shock, awe, and horror are viable story telling devices, but never forget that they are born from genuine feeling. Don’t let blood and guts be a passable replacement for good story telling twists. Instead of shelling out $10 for Paranormal Activity 15, doing a little research and find something with substance.
The results may just shock you.