Saturday, January 29, 2011

I Can't Believe My Lying Eyes

John Ramsey Miller

We have all seen movies on television where key scenes are deleted or language altered--often comically when they try to make the word fit the actor's lip movements, or change "you Mother F*cker!" to "you silly nut" --that we are accustomed to it. The other night I was watching one of the new shows (Harry's Law maybe)and one character called another an asshole. Did the censors stop working at the networks and go to work on Disney cartoons?

You know I like realism and I've got a cast-iron gut, but I was stunned last night watching BONES. This "Gravedigger", a red-headed female serial killer, ex-prosecuting attorney in an orange jump suit stepped from a paddy wagon and was walking to the courthouse door when her head vaporized in a red wet cloud. Most realistic head blowing up I've ever seen and it was so seamless that, had I not known how illegal it is, I would have sworn they killed an actress (you know who was about to die of some dread disease anyway) for the shot. Then they showed closeups of people being washed with gore. It friggin looked like the special effects guy tossed a giant slurpee glass full of blood and brain tissue into the actor's face and shirt. I was so startled I laughed. That was followed by the slow panning of the corpse, whose head was just not there, a cluttered pool of blood. This wasn't HBO, this was Fox (I think). I've always thought of BONES as a light-weight drama. Those days are over.

I think some things are best shown ...well, maybe less graphically. The parts of the exploded head were given a close up as the lab team prepared to reconstruct the skull on a lazy susan. Why the hell put it together? Identification to check what amount of her head actually evaporated? The shot made what was left look like a meat-lovers pizza special where the a drunk chef used half a side of beef on it. I'm talking chunks the size of toddler fists with teeth, with features and some with tufts of red hair. Man-o-man. Actually, woman-o-woman. Then they showed a corpse in a tub of lye. Everything below the waterline was bone sticking through mushy tissue... And then they had a scene with that corpse on a table in the lab. Ugggghhh!

Did I mention that my four-year-old grandson saw it? I'm sure his mind will never be the same. He was at the table behind me, and when I laughed he looked up from his coloring book. "Dotz, I want to see it again." I changed the channel to Sponge Bob, after pressing the record button, and I had to explain special effects just like I have explained to him that Jurassic Park doesn't have actual dinosaurs, or that there are no Transformers demolishing buildings and so forth.

So here's my point. Do you think audiences have become so desensitized as to accept these radical changes involving what is on the tube. Where do we go from here? When is reality too real? Have I finally become as old fuddy duddy? Well, I didn't think I was. Truth is I know the next steps and how close we are to leaving NOTHING to the imagination. That, I find truly sad.

I feel for kids. We had Roy Rogers and six guns that shot dozens of rounds if the cowboys were in a running fight. Our kids have bullets exploding heads. I'm going to start wearing a raincoat when I watch TV, just in case blood splashes through the screen.


  1. You know, I really miss those cleaned up for TV movies they used to do. I wish they still did the censoring bit for movies so I could watch the cool movies and tv shows with my kids without worrying about all the language, nudity, violence etc. Heck you can't even watch cartoon network at night without being ambushed by an old favourite cartoon character who's recast a closet homosexual crossdresser or worse (they did that to Johnny Quest's dad, Dr Quest...can you believe it? And what they've done to Space Ghost! Sacrilege!)

    I guess that means just one thing....we're doomed....hopelessly doomed. The sunset of the empire is upon us.


  2. John, it's all about ratings, pushing the envelope, and $$$.

  3. I think they are doing some of this stuff because the technology that allows it is the newest toy. As for audiences, I don't know about everyone else, but I quickly grew tired of shows that show this stuff and I choose not to watch them. Once the shock value goes away, I'm sure the producers will be forced to return to better shows if they wish to hold an audience.

  4. John, I call it "violence porn." I recently watched an episode of Criminal Minds, and had to turn away. The episode wasn't excessively gory, but the level of twisted violence (it's about a young couple blowing people away for thrills) emphasized killing and little else. The show is supposed to be about criminal profilers, but the profilers came off as clueless.

  5. You know there is an easy solution to this. Read more and watch TV way less.

  6. Hate to tell ya, but some of the most asked questions by people on writing boards these days seems to be in regards to how to properly write gore in fight scenes and what not. You see, there's a new movement afoot and it has been born in the heart of Graphic Novels. Many of the younger readers (hell, I used to read them in college, now pushing 40) have sought this medium for their reading/fantasy medium. Frank Miller's Sin City gives us the live graphic novel on the big screen and the movie 300 did for blood spatter what The Matrix did for decelerated bullets. Heck, even Buffy with the spin-off Angel helped push excessive/realistic cartoon violence to the front. Don't even get started on video gaming, the real competition for reading and movie dollars these days (yes I play Call of Duty where head explosions from sniper rifles have become a bore) I could go on and on about SAW sequels and what not, but I think you're catching the drift. Newer consumers of commercial products (all commercial fiction included) are not only familliar with, but EXPECT levels of graphic reveal that past generations thought better left to the imagination factory which the special fx factory couldn't pull off. The gore-hound gods are summoning their minions. Rome is rising with blood and circus as cross generations of warriors return from battle with the barbarians in sand swept lands festooned with improvised explosive devices. Cage fighting where application of REAL choke holds or arm bars win the day are backdrop to BBQ's these days. Hate to tell ya, this ain't Kansas anymore.

  7. Well people can call me a fuddy duddy all they want but that's exactly the reason I walked away from TV in 1992 and never looked back. Even then the language, sexual situations and gore, were beginning to get out of hand.

    I realize that for adults, we are given a brain to make (hopefully) sound judgements, but whether others believe it or not, I believe everything we absorb into our mind by sound or sight has an impact--for good or ill.

    I find it ironic that in the writing community, we are told not to spell everything out for the reader--let them discover things on their own. Don't be so blatantly obvious. Yet that's what they do on film and screen.

    When Marshall Dillon drew his gun and fired, I had enough sense, without seeing blood and gore, to know the bad guy was dead meat. They didn't have to make it blatantly obvious.

    I'm perfectly content to stick with my fuddy duddy ways.

  8. at 63, i also watched tv shows where you knew they counted to 10 and got back up again. so movies and t.v. are hard for me. i agree with taylor...i've given up nighttime t.v. for books. tho' loving demille's john corey for his marvelous sense of warped humor [you know, "ok, i didn't really say that"], i skipped over so many scenes where i could tell it would make me want to hurl. i just don't like graphic or violence. and believe both books and can be done. to tell a story without shocking anyone. just check out ty and sr. mv....

  9. I remember seeing Red Dragon in the theater. Not for the faint of heart. A young couple brought their 6 year old daughter to it. She was all chirpy and happy with her popcorn (in the row in front of me). Then the movie happened. I waited outside the doors to catch a look at the girl. She was ashen faced, almost catatonic, carried by her so-called father. I wanted to get in that guy's grill and tell him what I thought of his parenting skills. But that wouldn't have done the girl much good, so I held back.

    I had witnessed an act of child abuse.

    I did get a letter in the Times about it, and on a talk show hosted by a former child actor, who got in my grill, saying, if you thought it was child abuse, why didn't you call the police?

    Dork, because this kind of abuse isn't illegal! An idiot father can take his kid to a movie like this, and no one says boo.

    It still gets to me, thinking about that poor little girl.

  10. Jim, I had the same experience when my wife and I went to see SILENCE OF THE LAMBS years ago and a number of parents brought their kids, some were pre-schoolers. It made me nervous just knowing they were there.

  11. Save the children...

    Today's headline from Tampa (a mere 50 miles from my house), 50 y/o mother kills both children. Think Red Dragon or Silence had something to do with it???

    Today, gore is normal just like porn stardom has become mainstream.

    (all this concern on a blog with Killzone as its name...just saying)

  12. Decadence prevailed at the end of the Roman Empire...I fear it is upon us.

    Gratuitous violence, vulgar sexual references and a subtle but strong message that "there are no boundaries" permeate our children's media and entertainment exposure. Ain't no good can come from it!

    I am not in favor of rigid censorship but have lost hope that any consideration of class and/or responsibility will prevail.

    Check out most of what passes for humor on Comedy Central or BET. Ouch! Crude, scatological and demeaning with an absence of anything clever.

    I fear Basil is right and additionally share the disgust for parenting ignorance referenced by John, Jim and others.

  13. Re: The sunset of the empire is upon us.

    I made that statement not in my typical comedic sense, but sadly believe it so to an increasingly obvious degree. The more our people look inward to self-indulgence and personal pleasure, the more blind we become to the encroachment of evil. And the shadow approaches unchecked, and the darkness deepens and the rumble of death grows louder but falls upon deaf ears.

    Wish i had a punch line, but it just isn't there today.

    My best plan is to train my sons to be honorable men of virtue who will hold firm to the Christian values they've been taught. Some folks may not like the idea of holding on to an ideal, but when the raging storm winds subside and the smoke clears after the future changes only those who held on to something stronger than their own selfish desires will be left standing.

    Here's to training up the next generation of leaders to be strong hearts, full of wisdom and hungry for righteousness.

  14. With all respect, I've seen child abuse up close. Taking a kid to an ugly movie ain't it. Not even close. Lazy parenting? Probably. But most definitely not child abuse.

    I remember those good old days when television couples were sleeping in separate beds and when bullets hit without consequence. Those were, as I recall, the same days when beaten wives and truly abused children had the decency not to make people uncomfortable by speaking of it--as if by not talking about it, we could believe that the Cleaver family was rule and not the exception.

    At the very time when Rob and Laura Petrie were raising their cute son Ritchie in New Rochelle, New York, and Matt Dillon was wreaking bloodless violence on the streets of the Old West, the good God-fearing and peace-loving folks of Mississippi were disposing of the freshly-lynched bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. So devoted were those properly-raised moral folks to the cause of righteousness that they banded together to protect the murderers.

    How was television handling crime in good old 1964? They were obsessed with the days of Capone, and distracted by the sterile worldview of Jack Webb. Gore fests on film hadn't yet reached their stride when the Naitonal Guard shot down unarmed students at Kent State, after which there was a spirited national debate over whether or not the protestors hadn't in fact gotten what they deserved.

    I lived the "good old days," ladies and gentlemen, and as far as I'm concerned, they sucked. I would blow a time machine to pieces before I would return to a single moment of the sixties, or to most of the seventies.

    The way I see it, art reflects the times--it does not influence them. Those good old days of sterile entertainment reflected the desire of the masses to be permitted to look away and shoulder no responsibility.

    Good taste notwithstanding, I could argue that society is served better by graphic depictions of bullet wounds as they actually occur. I'm not sure that I would agree with my own argument, but I could make the case. Once made, I would still avoid the shows.

    If, in fact, the "sunset of the empire is upon us"--and I for one don't believe that to be true--then the movies are just reporting what is already done.

    For sure, the purveyors of the art that depicts the collapse will bear no responsibility for causing it.

    John Gilstrap

  15. Kathryn, I saw that episode of Criminal Minds, too, and felt the same way. It seems to me that each season they feel the need to create more horrible kinds of serial killers than the last. It used to be my favorite show.

    I see writers doing that as well. The last few Matthew Scudder books by Lawrence Block were much more graphic and violent than past books. So much so that I just put the last one down and never went back to it.

    Contrast that with Robert Parker's most recent "Painted Ladies" that dealt with art forgery and an old school routine murder.

    Are we as audiences and readers demanding this stuff?

  16. John, I hear what you're saying. This was not the systematic or ongoing abuse of a child. But there is a range of abuse, as there is in any other kind of violence or infliction of distress. It's not all of a piece. This was one such act, but it was an act, and abuse that comes out of negligence or recklessness or stupidity doesn't soften the blow or excuse it. Or take the scars off the soul off the child.

    I stand by my comment.

  17. I agree John, while I do have a pessimistic view of the future I don't believe artistically displayed violence caused it. It was/is a reflection of the thoughts of the people. Nor do I believe there was ever a good old days. For most periods of time in any civilization the general populace tend to despise evil acts, in spite of the fact that they may or may not be able to stop it (ie, lynching, protests, crime, child abuse). But when the general consensus becomes apathy, or even worse celebrates debauchery that is the signal that prophesies the coming shift. From the Egyptians, to the Romans to the British, Russians and Americans history repeats itself almost verbatim.

    In the meantime though, before things fall apart, I plan to sell a lot of books, many of which may well tell variations of this very story. Thereby paying off any and all debts I have and enabling me to buy the coolest guns and ammo and tastiest food storage supplies so that when the apocalypse comes I'll be as ready as can be.

    Oh, and a nice red and yellow Hawaiian shirt. I always wanted to do the apocalypse in a bright Hawaiian print with blue flip-flops on.

    of course, if I die in the first salvo all that stored stuff will go to someone elses use...I need to figure out how to booby trap it so it only works for good guys and blows up for the bad this one

  18. John G. I must respectfully disagree with you on a few points. Art, if including media and modern entertainment, does more than reflect our culture and values. It influences and occasionally leads. Particularly with increased and earlier exposure to children. The electronic exposure is everywhere and presents behavior, language and attitudes as reflective of the 'real' world. It impacts the perception of norms.

    A simple and admittedly benign example is that of language. The grade school usage of profanity has increased multifold. I think it is significantly (but by no means exclusively) influenced by the increased exposure in media and entertainment. IMO in a fashion similar to that whereby patterns of language usage change so goes,to some degree, attitudes and behavior.

    I hope you are correct that our society is not sliding down a greased pole to decadence. It may be that while the negative impact of mass exposure has increased there has also been increased exposure to righteous ideals, ethics and respect for our fellow man. Media and entertainment sources can have positive impact as well.
    Hoping for increased responsibility and class rather than $$ as influences on what out media and entertainment future holds. Particularly for children.

  19. You hit a nerve with me on this one. Violence has always existed but years ago our children didn't participate in the gore of it via TV, movies, video games and iPhone replays on YouTube as so many do today.

    We're increasingly exposed to violence and nauseating gore and yes, I think we've become consciously desensitized, but unconsciously affected. I'm one who believes that what we fill our minds with will affect how we think and act. As we sow, so shall we reap. Like Timothy and Taylor, I no longer watch programs that include graphic violence. I'd rather read a good book, and I'm pleased to see my children and grandchildren are increasingly doing the same.

  20. I am an optimist in that I believe even of this country is on the down slide (and I do), I believe our people will deal with whatever comes our way and "endeavor to persevere" as a group. We may never have another Golden Age, but we had a good one. But I agree that our art is a reflection of what we think and feel. Violence as a cautionary tale is permissible and even important, but violence as a way of resolving problems that do not call for it, is pornography. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily mind porn now and an art form....

  21. That's why I prefer to watch the BBC. British shows, like Sherlock, are still about the story and the acting, and a mystery is solved by thinking rather than examining mutilated corpses.