Now, before I get underway, I need to come clean and confess I have committed Cardinal Sin #1 with Outlander: I haven’t read the books, merely watched the television series. (By the way, I’ve neither read nor watched Game of Thrones, which I’m told also has a generous share of sex and violence.) But Diana Gabaldon, the books’ author, has been something of an inspiration to me, because I’ve always thought, if a research professor can find huge success as an author of historical fiction/romance/fantasy, there’s no reason why I can’t --- all else being equal, of course (like assuming I can string sentences together in an engaging way). But the television incarnation of Outlander is where my problem is centered: close to the end of the first season --- and, I’m led to believe, the first novel --- the male protagonist is captured by one of the most evil, sadistic villains I’ve encountered in film or literature in a very long time. And when I say ‘sadistic’ I’m not kidding. After unceremoniously dumping the female protagonist alive down a waste chute into a charnel pit of corpses for her to clamber out of as best she can (pretty intense imagery right there), the villain proceeds to graphically torture and sexually abuse the male protagonist in seemingly endless fashion. Just after the point where the villain nails the protagonist’s hand to a table to prevent him from going anywhere while the villain deals with the female protagonist, I shut down the Blu-Ray. I was past angry; I felt assaulted by what seemed totally gratuitous sexual and physical violence --- ‘torture porn’ is a phrase I believe I used to describe it. And I also felt betrayed, because up until that point, the show --- while occasionally more violent than it probably really needed to be --- was quite well done and engaging. And I had admired Ronald Moore’s work on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Battlestar Galactica. I was also rather surprised by the depth of my visceral reaction.
A week or so later, when I had calmed down, I realized that to get an understanding of what the show’s creative staff were trying to do, I really should finish watching the season, and so I sat down with no sense of pleasure and grimly resumed playback, watching to the end. When I was done, I set myself to percolate the whole thing, asking why the creative staff felt it necessary to put us through what we’d seen. Hmm. Well, obviously, they wanted to convey that the male protagonist had been totally broken as a human being; check. They wanted to drive home the point (no pun intended) that all of us can be broken; check. Likewise, they obviously wanted to convey the deep devotion and love the female protagonist still had for him, a love that could transcend just about anything, no matter how horrific; check. And they obviously wanted to convey what a truly despicable excuse for a human being the villain was; check. There are probably other things, but that’s enough to start with.
But did they really need to show it in such graphic detail? Or is it just that I lead a very sheltered life? (Well, evidently I do, but that doesn’t answer the first question.)
Look, I know that really terrible, monstrous things go on in our world today, and have done since day one: I’m both a news junkie and a student of history. Bad stuff --- really bad stuff, the stuff of hellish nightmares --- happens all the time. Has done ever since the snake whispered in Eve’s ear in the Garden. I get it. We humans are frequently --- all too often, as a matter of fact --- broken, deeply flawed, cruel-beyond-imagining, psychotic creatures.
But do we need to see such behaviours in every bloody, psychopathic detail when we watch film and television? Do we need to have every last excruciating detail recounted in minute specifics when we read a book?
I realize that I’ve asked a whole slew of questions in this post, and not really answered any of them... but I’m going to let the issue percolate some more before I tackle that task. In the meantime, if you have any constructive musings on the issue that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them.