Sunday, August 28, 2022

On violence in the media.

Apparently I've been inadvertently assigned to the George R.R. Martin beat. Earlier this year, I blogged about his appearance at the inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival. This weekend, I attended Bubonicon, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Albuquerque, where Martin was given an 80-minute slot for connecting with his fans. A lot of authors will use such time slots to do a reading of their work, particularly if they have a new book out or one is coming out shortly. Eighty minutes is super generous -- usually an author gets maybe a half-hour or an hour. Only one other author got that much one-on-one time this year: Stephen R. Donaldson, who is my all-time favorite fantasy author. Donaldson did a reading from The Killing God, the final book in The Great God's War trilogy that will be out this fall, and answered questions. Of course, I very much enjoyed it.

Martin did neither of those things. He hasn't had a new book out in several years, although he assured us that he's continuing to work on The Winds of Winter, the long-awaited sixth novel in the series on which the TV show Game of Thrones is based. And he didn't take questions (probably because a lot of the questions would have been about The Winds of Winter). Instead, he spent a few minutes bringing us up-to-date on his various TV and film projects, including House of the Dragon, a GoT prequel that has just begun airing on HBO, and he mentioned that he'd caught COVID and had to skip the premiere as well as some other promotional events because he was quarantining. Then he spent the rest of the time talking about violence.

Andrew Martin | Pixabay

He started off talking about how violence was portrayed on TV in the '50s and '60s, when he was a kid. In kiddie Westerns, the gunfight always ended with the hero shooting the gun out of the bad guy's hand, a trick shot that in real life would be unlikely at best. In prime-time Westerns, the hero shoots the bad guy once and, bloodlessly, he falls down dead -- which never happens in real life.

From there, he went on to his early career in TV writing, which included the show Beauty and the Beast. I admit that I was a fan of the show, and had in fact blocked out any memory of the final season, when Laura Hamilton quit (Martin didn't say why she left; Wikipedia says she was pregnant). Martin told us the censors gave them a hard time -- Vincent (played by Ron Perlman) was a noble lion-man who went berserk when angry, but the censors wouldn't let him tear anyone apart. So he was only allowed to throw bad guys across the room. (I'm tempted to find out if the show is streaming somewhere to rewatch it and see if that looks as goofy as it sounds.)

Anyway, it's quite a jump from Vincent growling and tossing bad guys around to the red wedding in GoT. Decades passed between them. And besides, you can get a lot more of everything on cable -- more sex, more drugs, more cursing, and more violence.

Martin acknowleged that he's gotten a lot of flak for the violence in GoT. And he knows there have been studies about how many violent scenes kids view these days. But he reasons it this way: If you want to watch what he calls comfort TV, which contains nothing that disturbs you, that's a valid choice. And it's a valid choice for content producers who only want to make comfort TV. But he says if you're going to choose to include violence, it needs to be realistic -- not the bloodless Old West shootings of the '50s and '60s.

I have Opinions.

I haven't watched GoT -- or rather, I watched the first episode and never went back. The degrading sex scenes grossed me out, but the thing that really did it for me was when Jamie Lannister nonchalantly pushed little Bran off a wall a couple of stories off the ground. I'd read all the Song of Ice and Fire books and I knew it was coming, but seeing it was too visceral for me. And because I'd read the books, I knew it would only get worse. So I bailed.

I'm not trying to be a paragon of virtue or a snob, mind you -- I'm only speaking for myself and my own taste. There are so many movies and TV shows that are supposed to be great that I haven't watched. Taxi Driver. The Sopranos. Breaking Bad. Graphic sex and violence just don't interest me. And I don't think either one is necessary to tell an intriguing, complex story.

This kind of reminds me of the time years ago when we began to discover that entertainment stars had feet of clay. Back in the heyday of the movies, the big studios had publicity departments that were in charge of the stars' images. They'd encourage the idea that a starlet and a leading man were dating, for instance, or quash any rumors about an actor's drinking or sexuality. When the publicity machines went by the wayside in the '60s, we began to learn that our favorite actors and musicians got drunk, got high, and did all sorts of scandalous stuff. The entertainers always say they're entitled to live their lives however they want. They aren't up there to be a role model for anybody. They certainly aren't responsible for teenagers who try to walk on the wild side -- that's the parents' job.

To be clear, Martin didn't explicitly say he had a right to produce anything he wants, the opinion of society be damned. But he didn't really address it, either; he mentioned the abundance of violent programming available for people to watch today and just kind of shook his head. Never mind that numerous studies have shown that viewing violent media content can increase aggressiveness in both children and adults and desensitize viewers to violence.

I'm not saying Martin should dial it back; he's free to make whatever programming he likes. But in a society where gun violence was the leading cause of death for children in 2018, maybe a little less realism on TV wouldn't be a bad thing.


These moments of visceral blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!


Anonymous said...

I find Hollywood's pearl clutching over gun violence to be disingenuous at the very least, hypocritical at worst. Movie violence is off the charts, and while sex gets an R rating, violence gets a PG-13. I'm okay with action and adventure, but the glorification of gore in movies and video games is kind of grotesque.

Anonymous said...

While not wanting to seem dismissive of your well-thought-out post, What did SRD say??

Lynne Cantwell said...

To Anonymous 1: Agreed. And I'd watch a lot more horror films if so many of them weren't gorefests. I think maybe content creators are using "realism!" as an excuse to splatter the screen with viscera.

Lynne Cantwell said...

To Anonymous 2: Oh, all right, lol. He did say a few interesting things.

1) The Killing God will be out in November (it's up for preorder -- hint, hint).

2) He says he's in the midst of a life block, which is similar to writer's block except that it's real life, not some sense of unworthiness as a writer, that's in his way. I suspect that you know that he's primary caretaker for his wife, who has a couple of serious illnesses. He said he does want to get back to writing, if only short stories, but he's not working on anything right now.

3) One thing he talked about was a paper some young woman had presented at the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts convention (that's the scholarly one that's in Orlando every year). This woman wrote a paper claiming to prove that Teresa was a puppet all through Mirror of Her Dreams and that the author cleverly set it all up to disguise the fact that Geraden was pulling the strings all along. He was clearly flabbergasted by her conclusion and seemed to think this retconning of stuff written years ago has gone too far. Rigel and I went up afterward to tell SRD that we thought that woman was nuts.

4) Not sure where you fall on the THOOLAH/LA divide (is that you, Savor Dam?). But totally umprompted, SRD mentioned THOOLAH to us after the talk (before we told him that we were Watchers) and said it didn't bother him because "it means I got to 'em." I loved that! And not just because I'm in Linden's Army...

Illume Eltanin said...

I'm pretty much 100% in agreement with your assessment of violence in the media. I have not yet, and have no plans to, read The Gap merely because of the violence I have heard it contains. As for violence in television and movies, I also do my best to avoid it.

Illume Eltanin said...

Oh, and...

Lynne Cantwell said...

SRD's right -- he got to y'all. :D

The Gap was tough going. I know a lot of Watchers love it even more than the Chrons, but as for me, I read it once and I'm good.