Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tom Goes to the Chair: Meditations on Violence, Bacon and 'The Following'

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 12:33 PM

After the latest massacre (the one right before Christmas), the public outcry was so intense that the guys at the NRA were actually forced to peek out from their bunker and (ahem) go on the offensive. Chief phlegm-wad Wayne LaPierre has basically been on the how-can-I-top-my-previous-stupidity tour ever since. His message is simple: Gun violence has nothing to do with guns; it's just that liberals put the word "gun" in there to mess with people's minds.

No, the blame lies elsewhere...and everywhere. LaPierre pointed the finger in all sorts of directions. A poor mental-health system. The breakdown of the American family. Gangs. Drugs, illegal and prescribed. Rock and roll. Gun-free zones. And violent video games, television shows, and movies.

It would be easy to dismiss everything that LaPierre says because he's a narrow-minded moron. But that last thing kinda nags at me.

I grew up in an incredibly violent neighborhood. We had 42 kids in my sixth-grade classroom (yes, 42; it was the height of the Baby Boom, plus everybody was moving to Southern California). By the time we got out of high school, 12 of those 42 kids were dead, including two girls. I've never been a big fan of violence on the screen. I like a good action movie (like Die Hard), but I never fancied myself the action hero. I like it when good triumphs over evil, but I don't get a particular visceral jolt when the villain takes an ass-whuppin'.

However, many people do get such a jolt and, in most cases, it's all in good, relatively clean fun. Then, there are those for which it is not just fun, but some kind of juice. (I'm not going to discuss video games here. I don't like them, I don't understand them. I haven't played a video game since Tetris and the only thing that died then was my belief that I had an infallible ability to recognize spatial configurations.)

If violent images are creating little monsters, what responsibility do we have as a society to rectify the situation? If we are asking responsible gun owners to give up certain weapons because a handful of knuckleheads use them to shoot up schools and shopping malls, should we also ask responsible TV viewers to forego certain types of programs because those shows have an adverse effect of a small portion of society? Maybe we do.

This will amount to walking a tightrope between hypocrisy and self-awareness. I generally don't like gore. You couldn't pay me to watch one of those Saw movies. I saw the original Night of the Living Dead when I was a kid and found it interesting, but not entertaining in any way (except that the black dude wasn't the first one killed). I also saw the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and was just grossed out.

When it comes to TV, I almost always avoid that kind of stuff. I watched about 10 minutes of one episode of Criminal Minds and had to go take a shower. I hate Bones (mostly because of the title character, but also because they have this fetish-like obsession with showing blood and guts and viscera and God knows what else). They do the same thing on NCIS, but I'm not old enough to watch NCIS on a regular basis.

(The hypocrisy comes in because I love The Walking Dead. There's no way to explain it other than it's just a cool show, so over the top that's it's basically harmless.)

Here's the question: If we want less violence in America, would we be doing our part by not patronizing really-violent shows? Or, just as with guns, are the vast majority of people who partake in such things just level-headed people who can watch something violent and just shrug it off? "Hey, after Criminal Minds, let's watch Modern Family."

I thought about that when I watched the pilot of The Following on Monday. This show should be better than it is. It's a product of the creative mind of Kevin Williamson, who did the Scream movie series. Those things were scary, bloody, funny, and entertaining. It also stars Kevin Bacon in his first TV role and Kevin Bacon is money.

Bacon stars as a broken-down ex-FBI agent who gained fame by tracking down and capturing a notorious serial killer (and then writing a book about it), but lost his job and his sobriety after getting caught doin' the nasty with the serial killer's wife. Now, the killer has escaped and has apparent used his charisma (and the internet) to recruit an army of followers (thus the show's title). One of them walks up on the feds, takes off her clothes to reveal a body covered with tattoos, and then kills herself with an icepick. That's an awful lot of charisma, if you ask me.

Bacon catches the killer again at the end of the first episode, but only because the killer wanted to get caught so he could go back into prison where he can control his minions. Yeah, that makes sense. There's also a running subplot about Edgar Allan Poe, who is my favorite writer, but it's just waaaaay too obvious. Besides, Clint Eastwood, in his pre-chair-talking days, did it much better in Play Misty For Me.

After the show got over, I asked my wife what she thought. She said that while she understood the need for a good villain (like Holmes' Moriarty), she didn't want to watch a show where the bad guy wins on a consistent basis. And no, she doesn't watch Dexter.

I think I'll also pass on The Following. Just consider it my doing my part for The Force.

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