When TV urges us to root for the killer
While an emotionally disturbed young man was on a murderous rampage on the grounds of the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus, NBC was showing a man being disemboweled by a serial killer, and a woman’s throat being graphically slit open for “entertainment.”
Haven’t we seen enough real-life bloodshed and senseless violence? Why, just months after Newtown, did the broadcast networks see fit to debut not one, not two, but three new dramas with serial killers as the protagonist?
Dr. Park Elliott Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist and criminologist who has consulted or testified in many of the highest profile US criminal cases, including Jeffrey Dahmer, the Unabomber, and the Beltway sniper, has said “We’ve had 20 years of mass murderers throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don’t want to propagate more mass murderers… Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero.”
But that’s exactly what the networks are doing. They’re making psychopaths out to be heroes. Evil is good and black is white. And while we’re not trying to draw a direct connection between what happened at UCSB and Hannibal – there is, to be sure, no direct documented connection that we are aware of — the social science on the connection between media violence and real world violence is overwhelming.
NBC recently announced that they are renewing Hannibal for another season, despite consistently low ratings. Already the show has been moved to Friday nights, where the networks put low-performing shows. And although Hannibal debuted with respectable ratings – 4.36 million viewers – it finished its second season with only 2.35 million.
Over the next few months, advertisers will be making millions of dollars in ad commitments to the networks. It’s time for those advertisers to consider whether the content on Hannibal is consistent with the image they are trying to project.
If they endorse gruesome violence, bloodshed as entertainment, and ruthless killers as heroes then that’s the message they will be sending when they buy ad time on Hannibal.
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Melissa Henson is the director of grassroots education and activism for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment.