Violence In Context


I’ve been really into the street level superheroes: Daredevil, Black Canary, Green Arrow, etc. Watching the television shows built around them has me thinking a lot about violence as a storytelling device, how it permeates pop culture, when it’s an effective storytelling device, and when it’s not.

Violence is so very different on the page. Seeing a scene in a Charlaine Harris novel brought to life on True Blood could make a bloody moment unbearable for me to watch. Unnecessary gore can detract, particularly when it arises out of context. The street level heroes are working the same way, especially Netflix’s take on Daredevil.

The fight choreography is brilliant, definitely a driving point for why I kept watching. The excessive violence was the counter: it made it hard to stick with the series. The question I kept asking myself, as my writer brain kicked in (like it always does, pesky obsession), is whether or not the violence is essential to the story?

In some cases, I’d say no, but for Daredevil, I squeaked out a yes, even as I recoiled from the gore. Daredevil’s world is a violent one. He deals with street level crime and high level corruption. His villains range from stereotypical thugs to suited racketeers willing to get their hands dirty or worse, flip from calm to murderous, which makes them terrifying. The series infused each character with violence, with one or two noted exceptions, and where it touched a “good guy” that character is changed by their actions. Even romantic scenes keep you on the edge, awaiting the terror.

So much violence in fiction washes away the consequences, the physical and emotional impacts it leaves on the characters. Daredevil did an excellent job of letting the wounds linger, both in the form of bandages and stitches, but also in the characters’ psyches. Inflicting violence is portrayed as being as weighty as suffering it.

6 thoughts on “Violence In Context

  1. Liz M. says:

    “Inflicting violence is portrayed as being as weighty as suffering it.” Deep. I realized there isn’t a ton of blood spraying in your writing, yet the tension remains high. You do a good job not having unnecessary violence, and the fact that you’re a good writer takes care of the rest – instead of relying on gore to give your story shock and awe.

    • says:

      Thank you. I never want the characters to become desensitized to their actions. To take a life, to injure another, these should be weighty things. I think brutal scenes can actually help realize this: that warfare, medieval, modern, or magical, are all brutal.

  2. Jodi says:

    I know this post isn’t about tv violence as much as story telling. But since your an author I thought I’d give you my two cents. The violence is expected in the comic book spinoffs and about all drama. In honesty we probably don’t need it as a society. Mind you I’m a comic book nerd and adore Gotham, The Walking Dead, Attack on Titan, and most of the darker stuff on TV. I also use to teach, I have been kicked and bitten by kids. I question all the time, if the stuff I enjoy should really be there available to everyone on regular TV. From teaching I’ve learned all little kids love superheroes all product derived from them. Most are watching programs there parents don’t know they are watching. Ten minutes after watching Iron Man knock a alien stupid. The show ends and the make believe begins. Now this might seem cute at first but the little guys kick, hit, and bite and chuck stuff at you. If they are make believing. You can tell them fighting is not acceptable. Hitting people with sticks will get them put in the corner. They should ever hit. They look at you with big doe eyes and blank stares like you just said something to them in French. What irritates me the most about this is I don’t believe in media censorship. I remember watching Kipper Gore getting her ass handed to her in the 80’s when she suggested we should eliminate violent video games and rock music. I cheered when she got her ass handed to her. Now that I’m older and watch the kids around me , I’m telling you strait out a preschooler can not tell the diffidence between make believe fighting being OK on TV. Not ok in school. After all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit people with numb-chucks and never get in trouble for it so why should they. Honestly as a person I don’t know how you can fix the violent play that comes with it. I’m interested as a fellow nerd and story teller if you have any ideas as media creators how we can be social responsible and still tell great stories that adults will like too.

    • Jodi says:

      Sorry for the spelling errors but there was no edit button after I submitted.

    • David R Slayton says:

      You have a great point Jodi. There’s something to saying violence is wrong but also glorifying it. One thing I can appreciate about the graphic depiction is the side effects: the damage done on display. How many shows use swords but show no blood? As much as I loved Xena, that always bugged me. If you’re going to depict violence, make it clear that it’s not some painless, heartless gesture. I feel like violence is a storytelling tool, but that it should be used in the right dosage and never without showing the consequences. And I would never want my kids to see Daredevil until they reached an appropriate age. It still shocked me and I’m middle aged. Like you, I want to be socially responsible in how I depict it. I appreciate the comments. It’s got me thinking.

      PS – WordPress didn’t tell me your comment was floating out there. Sorry it took so long to publish.

  3. As a someone who has lived though violence, I find it difficult to watch. In my own work, violence often occurs, but I attempt to subdue it with beauty. I don’t believe the play by play is often necessary. I am more interested in seeing how the characters react after the horror has come to its conclusion. When I think back on physical violence committed against me, time stretches and the smallest details tend to come into focus. It’s almost impossible to remember the event as a scene. I have to read the police reports in order to capture the entirety. Does that make sense? In other words, I think you are spot on. Violence in literature and in film raises a series of provocative questions. I look forward to seeing how you tackle them in your own work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *