It’s Just Television: A Few Brief Thoughts on Pop Culture Violence and on its All-Too-Real-Life Counterpart, on How the First May Tend to Desensitize Us to the Second, and on Other Potential Relationships Between The Two
By Ken K. Gourdin
Last July, Salt Lake Tribune television critic Scott Pierce did a story on the television show Stalker. The piece is available here (last accessed January 30, 2015): http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment/1396797-155/williamson-didn-fun-sort-stalker-television How does its producer describe the show? Quoting series producer Kevin Williamson, Pierce writes:
“We just sort of get into all the various ways that people stalk and fixate,” Williamson said. “And that’s sort of the fun for me.”
The exchange between Williamson and some members of the Television Critics Association became rather testy at times. He didn’t have a great answer when asked — where is the entertainment value in watching women (and some men) be terrorized by stalkers?
“Why is this interesting?” Williamson was asked. “Why is this fun or entertaining?”
His rather glib response? “Change the channel.”
Near the end of the piece, Pierce further quotes Williamson as saying, “It was meant to be a page-turner like reading a book where you just fly through twists and turns and fun and just sort of a thrill ride,” Willimson said. “And it had sort of that violent stabby-stab stab element to it.”
In the comments, I invited Mr. Williamson to continue to have “fun” with all of his stab-stab-stabby-stab-stab-stab-stabby-stab-stab stabbings (I might’ve even thrown a few more instances of the words stab, stabby, and stabbing in for emphasis); said that if murder is his idea of “fun,” he ought to accompany a few homicide detectives to crime scenes before the coroner gets there; and added (in case it wasn’t already crystal clear) that I wouldn’t be watching.
I hesitate to draw a straight line between pop culture violence and it’s all-too-tragic, real-life counterpart. I think attempting to lay primary or principal blame for the latter on the former is too simple a potential solution to a far-too-complex problem. That said, I do think it’s revealing and chilling that one of two twelve-year-old girls who are suspects in the stabbing of a third reportedly used very nearly Williamson’s exact words in describing the crime. See, e.g., the following address, last accessed January 30, 2015: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-wisconsin-stabbing-story.html.
Not only do at least some television producers tend to minimize the violence they portray because it is “fictional,” but at least some others in the entertainment industry tend to downplay genuine violence, as well. In a similar vein, Pierce also did a feature on The Jinx, a documentary by Andrew Jarecki which is now screening at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah about Robert Durst, scion of a wealthy family that owns much of Manhattan. Durst is suspected in three murders and has admitted to hacking up an elderly neighbor, but has never been convicted of any crime. Pierce’s piece can be found here, last accessed January 30, 2015: http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment/2076095-155/strange-but-true-robert-durst-profiled. In Pierce’s piece, he quotes Jarecki as follows:
“This is not a story about some guy in Chicago who killed a wife because he was cheating on her with his mistress. That’s a trivial story,” Jarecki said. “This is a story that has significance because it begins in the context of enormous wealth and privilege … and I learned that the man that was at the center of it was totally extraordinary.” [Ellipses in original.]
In on line comments, I responded:
And people wonder why so many people think Hollow-weird (aka Hollywood) is so screwed up? Anything that Jarecki deems not worthy of making a documentary about is “trivial”? Please! As for Jarecki’s (supposedly) “trivial” example, first, it’s not just a story (while I’m as fascinated as anyone by people and their “stories,” that’s a far cry from implying, as Jarecki seems to do, that they EXIST merely for my fascination); and second, it certainly isn’t “trivial” to the people who are most affected by it.
I once heard someone describe how the process of legal education tends to dehumanize the people who go through it: Before one’s legal education, he said, when one hears about an accident, his first thought is likely to be, “Gee, I hope everybody’s OK.” During and after one’s legal education, when he hears about the same accident, his first thought is likely to be, “Hmm … I wonder who’s liable?” Jarecki seems to provide proof that a similar thing must happen to film school graduates (or to those who otherwise enter the industry). Man shoots his wife’s lover: Rich? Famous? Eccentric? No? Then it’s a “trivial” murder. Yes? Then it’s, BOY, THIS WOULD BE GREAT ON FILM!!!!!!!!!