Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sex and violence: KSL and NBC

In a column for the Salt Lake Tribune on April 22, 2013, television columnist Scott D. Pierce gave his opinion on a TV show:
“Have you checked out the NBC series, ‘Hannibal’? Here ae a few things you might have missed:
» The naked body of a woman impaled on antlers.
» Bodies carved up so that their backs are splayed like grotesque angel wings.
» Characters dining on human body parts.
» People buried alive, covered in compost and fed sugar water so they grow fungus all over their bodies.
» Victims with their eyes gouged out.
» Victims being shot as blood splatters in slow motion.
» A victim whose throat is slashed and blood gushes from her wound.
Just to name a few.
In the 23 years I’ve been a TV critic, “Hannibal” is the single most violent, gory series that’s aired on network television.”
Pierce goes on to say that the show is not as gruesome as “The Walking Dead,” but that show is on cable. He also goes on to ask, “. . . have you heard of protests by the parents groups that want to cleanse TV? . . . Janet Jackson has a momentary wardrobe malfunction and these groups go nuts, but prolonged, horrific violence? No problem!”

He also mentions that KSL-TV, the local NBC affiliate, wholly owned by the LDS Church, removed shows like “The Playboy Club” and “The New Normal” as not being “consistent with the KSL brand, but that brand is consistent with ‘Hannibal’?”

Pierce also mentions other violent TV shows like “Criminal Minds,” “Supernatural,” and “The Following,” and says, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations that went like this:
Parent: Is such-and-such show OK for my kids to watch?

Me: Well, 11 people are shot to death, there are two stabbings, a guy’s head is chopped off and there’s blood everywhere.

Parent: But are there sex scenes?

Pierce has articulated in a funny but powerful way a phenomenon I’ve noticed over the past few years. The public tolerance for violence, the old blood-and-guts, is much higher than it is for sex. I’m not a psychologist, so I have no answer for why that is, but if I were to make a stab (ho-ho, stab) at it I’d say it’s because we are a very violent species. We seem to be less hung up on doing violence to one another (check out the current debate over guns, “stand your ground,” etc.) than we are about having sex, which is much more a threat to parents than having their kids exposed to violence.

In that backwards way humans sometimes think, sex is more dangerous than violent death.

My son, Dave, and I watched a couple of violent movies recently, Cabin in the Woods and Safe, and my observation is that the human mind is able to sort out fantasy from reality. Maybe it’s just me. When I watch some of this stuff my mind is telling me it’s all make-believe and special effects. Sometimes we try to trick ourselves with words, like using “action” for bloody violence rather than, well, “bloody violence” to explain a shoot-em-up like Safe, which is front to back martial arts and guns. The bullets are spraying out like water out of fire hoses. But as usual, only the bad guys get killed. (Part of the fantasy  good guys always prevail.)

I could dismiss Safe as part of that fantasy world of violence, where the mind tells us it’s exciting, but not realistic.

A bit more problematic was Cabin in the Woods, which has the horror movie elements of young people meeting violent deaths in an isolated spot, but with the added plot contrivance of it being all set up by external forces watching it on television monitors from a world below ours. In both movies violent death and body mutilation are part of the story, but one movie is categorized as “action,” and the other movie “horror.” At least a parent can hopefully figure “horror” may be more gruesome than “action,” although with today’s entertainment the lines are blurred. What I remember about the critics view of Cabin was that it is “fun” because it uses standard horror movie elements but with a twist. The blood and gore, well, that was expected and as usual, glossed over by critics. They expect those who like blood and gore will go see the movie, those who don’t won’t.

Back to Pierce and his comments about sex and violence on local broadcast television. In a surprising follow-up column appearing on May 3, Pierce said that KSL had pulled “Hannibal” from its schedule. He asked “Why did KSL air four episodes of ‘Hannibal’ before yanking it?” He answered himself. “Not a clue. The blood was flying from the opening moments of Episode 1. The only plausible explanation is that nobody at KSL watched it. Which they deny.”

A self-directed question by the columnist: “Is it Scott D. Pierce’s fault KSL yanked ‘Hannibal’?” Pierce answers himself. “Well, [Tami] Ostmark [VP of KSL’s marketing, research and promotion] said my column questioning how Channel 5 could refuse to air “New Normal” and yet air “Hannibal” alerted them to content issues.
“‘It started with your article,’ she said.

“I did not call for KSL to pull the show. I questioned the inconsistency of KSL’s decisions and questioned parents who worry about sex in the media but not violence. I would have preferred that Channel 5 get over its homophobia and air “The New Normal.” Station execs insist it’s not about homophobia. But I’m not buying it.”
It’s not always easy to keep up with these things, why people would prefer their children watch violence than sex. It probably has more to do with their own prejudices.  Sex is much more a part of everyday life than violence. In real-life the violence in Aurora, Newtown, Boston, to name a few, show real-life consequences to people and their families. In violent movies and television the victims of violence are props, not much more than paper targets. If cops get killed in movies the audience knows they aren’t real cops, that they are stuntmen or actors who will get up after the scene is filmed and go home to their families. I believe that most people who watch violent, “action” movies know that, if not consciously, at least unconsciously. On the other hand, if you watch pornography the sex is real, and if you see it simulated on television it also looks pretty close to real, and that creates a whole other reality and threat in the minds of some.

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