Let me set the mood for you.
A man wakes up. He’s in pain. Everything hurts. He can’t see. The room is dark, but his eyes are beginning to adjust. He can’t move like he wants to. His arms are stuck and his legs are fixed in place.
Finally he sees. He sees and he wishes he didn’t.
There are dead bodies all around him naked and posed.
He screams. He tries to get up and run. He can’t because he’s stuck. Literally. His arms are sewn onto his body, his legs are sewn together, and his back is sewn onto the dead body behind him. The screaming doesn’t stop. It’s the one thing he can do.
He has to escape. He has to get away. He’s been left here to die. He’s supposed to be a piece of this dead, macabre tapestry. But he’s alive and he has to get out.
He yanks at his arm and the threads don’t give. The threads don’t, but his skin does… He screams again. He knows what he has to do, but it’s horrific. He can’t, he just can’t…
He lifts his arm and the threads dig into his skin carefully treated with a resin meant to seal him into this cornucopia of death. His skin splits and tears. Blood runs. The pain is exquisite. A black flap of sticky flesh comes free and so does his arm. He screams.
He pulls at his legs and feels the thick threads sting him. This is easier. The pain has come and abated. He can do it. He flexes and the threads pull and his legs come apart. A sloppy stretch of sinew dangles from the threads and now he feels warm. It’s the blood running down his arm and all over his legs.
One more. He leans forward and catches on the threads linking him to the dead man behind him. His back sings with agony. This is the worst. The threads are sewn into his back muscles. But he’s so close. He has to escape. He can’t become part of the morbid puzzle. He leans and pulls and screams. The threads slice through his skin and eat through his muscle. They catch and he moves and he is free. Blood spills down his back and a slab of oozing flesh is left.
He scrambles over the bodies naked and bathed in darkness. His ass and genitals are obscured, in the dark, out of view. His dead, nude companions are all sewn together and carefully posed to hide their private parts. He finds the door and flees into the night…
This was how the episode of Hannibal opened on March 7th, 2014. It’s easily the most horrific, graphic depiction of gore I’ve ever seen on a TV show. Frankly, only the Saw films rival the raw brutality of that scene. It’s was squirm-inducing TV and I’m no shrinking violet.
But something stood out to me—and no, it wasn’t the long, lingering shots of blood, flesh, and sinew on NBC—the camera went out of its way to avoid seeing the tortured man’s ass. The naked tapestry of bodies surrounding the man were all carefully posed, bathed in shadow, and blurred to hide their private parts.
We just watched the most violent, bloody depiction of gore on network TV since… well, since ever and yet the camera does everything in its power to avoid showing nudity. Now, I wasn’t aching to see the poor guy’s behind or the naked parts of his dead brethren, but it was jarring to see just how hard the camera worked to look anywhere but at a nude body part when only moments before we watched a man rip himself to shreds in graphic detail.
I don’t get it. This country is schizophrenic when it comes to sex and violence in its media. We embrace violence with a disturbing vigor, but shy from the nude human form and expressions of sexuality with indignant rejection.
How could they show that?
Was that a nipple?
Did an ass come into view?
Are they girating??!
Go Jack Bauer! Torture that terrorist! Go Hannibal Lecter! Eat that guy’s leg!
A human being’s natural state is naked. We are born naked. Under our clothes we are naked. In our intimate moments shared with a lover we are naked. Every person can be naked, is naked, will be naked, and understands nakedness. It’s not a foreign concept.
Being shot or stabbed is not natural. Those things are violations, penetrative acts. Tearing one’s flesh off is not a natural act. It’s vile and terrible.
NBC depicts the vile and avoids the natural. Which is preferable? Why is it okay to watch a man tear himself apart, but not okay to see his ass? Dare I say that I was more negatively affected by the man’s mutilation than I would have been by his nudity. A hypothetical guess, I realize, but I cannot imagine it would have been worse.
Contrast that with another graphic depiction on another show that’s aired recently. True Detective premiered to critical acclaim on HBO. Its second episode featured a scene between one of the protagonists, Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart, and his mistress, Alexandra Daddario’s Lisa, where Ms. Daddario got well and truly naked. It’s HBO, so we see all of this. She is a gorgeous woman with an amazing body. I was far from disturbed.
What’s fascinating is that True Detective never depicted violence or gore anywhere close to what Hannibal did in that episode (and many other episodes). HBO can do whatever it wants (a fact which Game of Thrones takes advantage of frequently). In fact, even the gore on that violent, graphic show pales compared to what Hannibal does regularly.
Why is the graphic violence okay to show on network television, but not the sex or nudity? Does that harm us less than nudity would? That can’t be right.
Truly, I don’t know. If I had the answer, I’d tell you. But I’ll tell you what, it’ll be a long time before I forget that shocking, violent sequence of a man tearing his own flesh off to escape a killer who sewed a tapestry of dead bodies together.
Thank God I didn’t see their naked parts. Phew!
I’m going to go watch the Alexandra Daddario scene on a loop to wash my mind out.