Violence on Screen and In Books (AKA I Didn’t Need to See That)

I’ve got a vivid imagination. Always have, and I suspect I always will. Lately, however, it seems that some authors and screenwriters are doing my job for me – they describe and show everything, leaving little for me to piece together on my own.

For example, the Following, which premiered last fall on Fox, was a gory hour-long show about a serial killer. It held nothing back, and was criticized for being so intensely graphic. Hannibal is another (an NBC creation based on Hannibal Lector before the Silence of the Lambs) with a shocking number of gory, creepy scenes.

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In terms of books, an excellent example is the Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R. R. Martin. It is rife with descriptive imagery of human brutality. No rape scene is off-limits, no murder too shocking for Mr. Martin.

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I stopped watching both the Following and Hannibal after a few episodes, and I stopped reading the Song of Ice and Fire partway through the third book. My imagination doesn’t need help – all graphic descriptions of violence, murder, and rape do is turn me off.

Now, I understand that TV shows and movies have been on a trend toward showing more and more basically since the beginning of TV shows and movies. But how much is too much to show? I pose this question not in terms of keeping things appropriate (there are plenty of discussions about that), but from a perspective of making our imaginations lazy. Sometimes the scariest things in the world exist only in our minds – and they are different for each person.

Isn’t part of the joy of immersing oneself in a fantasy world the ability to control our experience? When some of the little details are left to the imagination, we can make that story our own. We decide how much violence to focus on, how deep into the mind of the killer to go. When we aren’t given that option, I feel like some of the magic is gone.

Well, that and I have nightmares.

But, in all seriousness, I think about the issue of showing too much all the time as I write, read, and watch TV. I’m not sure I’ll ever know where the line is between too much description and just enough, but I do know that there is one. So, come on, let’s give readers and viewers a little credit: our imaginations aren’t dead – they are just waiting to be put to use.

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