When I’m watching television, I sometimes scroll through the more tension inducing scenes. For example, if it’s a drama with which I’m not familiar, and the fate of a child is in jeopardy, I’ll fast-forward through it, rather than feel my tension ratchet up. A lot of British dramas don’t mind killing off lead characters, so if they’re in danger, I find myself fast forwarding through those scenes, too.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy dramatic pacing. I understand the need for tension in drama, whether it’s a book or movie or television show. But it seems to me that there’s too much tension in the shows I watch lately. I find there are some shows I can’t watch before I go to sleep. I think the adrenaline is probably still pumping through me.
I also think that some tension, especially the kind that puts an innocent or something sweet in jeopardy, is written to tug on the heartstrings. In other words, you want to show how bad someone is, have him kill a neighborhood dog. Not only is that lazy writing but it’s manipulative.
No thank you.
The best tension for me, I discovered, is when most of the anxiety is off screen. And when the tension is directed inward, rather than having the ultimate result of death if the protagonist fails.
For example, if a detective doesn’t catch the serial killer, he will prove to himself that he’s not good enough to be a detective or in Homicide. He will disappoint himself and prove his ex-wife correct. That, to me, is better tension than if he fails, the serial killer is going to kill another four-year-old child.
One isn’t better than the other. It’s just that my appetite for cringe inducing scenes, whether in a book or in visual media, is not as great as some people’s. The other day I was at a friend’s house and he convinced me to play a popular videogame. He gave me a controller shaped like a gun and my goal was to kill as many insurgents as I could.
I’ve said this before, and please forgive me for being redundant, but as a real live victim of violence, I know that violence is not funny or cute or even something I want to replicate in my game playing. I tried, for a few minutes, to pretend that I was a soldier and I was killing all these insurgents, but every time I pulled the trigger and saw someone fall to the ground, blood spurting out, I was a little horrified.
How many years of that does it take until you are desensitized to any kind of anxiety or tension?
- Which makes me wonder if television writers and movie writers don’t have to increase the violence or ratchet up the anxiety level simply to offset the desensitization some of us have experienced?
- Which also makes me wonder if writers of urban fantasy in which the gore level is really, really, really high are among the group that has been desensitized to violence.
Questions to which I don’t have the answers. What do you think?