Horror on Television ; When is it too Much?

broken tv‘The Following’ Fox Television’s new drama darling headed by Kevin Bacon, has appeared since it’s premiere to be on a mission to bring something new to the procedural crime drama ; genuine terror. It puts forward the concept that an enigmatic serial killer has, during his time in incarceration managed to indoctrinate many vulnerable and disturbed people into doing his bidding. They are seen to joyously murder in his name and integrate themselves into ordinary society.

I begin this article on the question of when violence on television becomes too disturbing to be classed as entertainment (which is a very current debate that has as many supporters as it does detractors) by discussing The Following because it is the first television show that has made me truly consider the question. I have always fallen on the side of the freedom of expression and the needlessness of censorship. When the question of whether violence being streamed into our homes through the medium of television could affect us in the daily running of our lives, I always imagined that the negative effect that was feared was an ability to incite ordinary people into awful acts of violence. But now I have begun to consider a much more innocuous side effect. That viewing casual and frequent acts of violence could create a strong sense of fear in people that exists long after the programme has been switched off, a fear that stays with certain people throughout their daily interactions with others. Seven weeks of viewing the Following appears to have created this fear within me.

Judging by the fact that I am the author of a horror blog, it would of course come as no surprise to anyone that I have seen many horrific things within both the medium of television and film. I have been shocked, scared and surprised by many frightening scenario’s . A turning point for me within my experiences in horror on television came when I first began watching the ‘American Horror Story’ series. The first season dealt with a house with a murderous history and the second an insane asylum with an equally dark history. Each episode showcased bloody gruesome violence and wildly dark concepts. I found myself unable to watch an episode while alone in the house, I felt jumpy and frightened after each viewing as if I had just left the theatre after a particularly terrifying horror film. When I first began recognising these feelings I took a moment to ask myself whether I enjoyed experiencing them and whether I wanted to continue watching the show. The answer that I reached was yes, I did want to keep watching the show, and the reason, I realised was because I very much enjoyed it. Perhaps it is because the title includes the phrase ‘Horror story’ or because it sets itself within a boundary less world of ghosts and the imaginary that I felt I could see it as entertainment and not let it’s content effect my daily thoughts, whatever the reason I found myself from that point on capable of viewing it just as entertainment no matter how bloody it got.

But when I recently questioned the state my mood was left in after viewing an episode of The Following, I could not push my fears for my mind so easily aside. After viewing the seventh episode of the series which was entitled ‘Let Me Go’ and dealt with Joe Carroll the show’s manipulative serial killer/ cult leader enacting a plan to escape from prison, I found myself feeling disturbed and caught on thoughts of the inevitability of death and my extreme sadness at the reality that so many people’s lives are taken violently and painfully from them – not exactly the stuff a relaxing night in front of the T.V is made of. The episode portrayed several onscreen murders (not unusual for the show) one which involved a character being savagely choked to death while begging and screaming in terror for their life. Another death portrayed, that almost seemed more disturbing for the fact that it was casually low key, had one of Joe Carroll’s followers brush seemingly innocently past a security guard, the guard is then seen to observe his stomach which he realises has been slit open by a sharp blade, The camera then proceeds to capture his slow and horrified realisation that he is dying. At the episodes end I realised that I no longer cared about the programme’s over all arc or open storylines, all that I could think about was painful grisly death. It was then that I realised the portrayal of human misery shown in parallel to characters who are positively aroused by committing murder, is where Horror on television becomes too much for me and leaves the realm of entertainment.

I have the eighth episode of The Following recorded but I can not bring myself to watch it, The plain reason seems to be because I can not bear to watch anymore death. I had my finger poised over the play button and as I hesitated I told myself that I needed to buck up and learn to not let it affect me, but it was then that I decided that I would rather remain (perhaps overly) sensitive then adjust my feelings to what a television network decides is enough for me to cope with.