Today has been full of mundane tasks. I have a new mobile phone which constantly downloads emails from an account which has got out of hand. I have deleted over 3000 junk mail items and am gradually unsubscribing from the accounts that send them. Lunch is on the go and I have just resurrected an old savings account with the help of a nice guy called Dave. All very normal, I am a very boring and normal sort of person. Yet today I witnessed a murder scene where an old woman had been decapitated. Her hands had been removed and nailed to a door. Yesterday I witnessed the results of torture on two other old women. There was also a woman forced to have intercourse by a psychotic murderer.
Yes it was all in a book. It happens in films and T.V. too. Most people don’t go round killing others, committing rape or witnessing horrific torture as a normal part of life but literature and fiction are full of such things.
It is slightly worrying that murder and violence are on the increase but thankfully most of us only see real life violence etc. on the news. I know most murderers turn out to be fairly quiet people. You would never guess they were capable of the acts they commit but in general Murder is still rare.
All this being so, why do we find the idea of murder and violence perfectly acceptable in our reading and viewing material? It does happen in real life too. A particular murder or violent attack grabs the public attention and it becomes a nine day wonder. I suppose the Jack the Ripper case is the best example of this. One hundred and twenty seven years later and it is still the subject of lively debate and theorizing. The Moors murders and The Cromwell street murders were keenly followed. Harold Shipman was another. Generally we love a good murder as long as it doesn’t impinge on our lives directly.
So it seems that a lot of people have a darker side to their character, one that is deeply buried. One that revels in the idea of the human capacity for violence. Not that they wish to actually take part in such things. It may be that it appeals to us as the chase and kill did to our ancestors or the sports such as bear baiting and cock fighting to a medieval peasant.
In the early 1900’s film and fictional murders were not as graphic as now. the murder may have been described and the resultant body examined by the Detective but it was rarely a graphic description. In film or T.V. it may have been a quick shot of a body or the Pathologist may reveal the injuries by lifting a blanket. For many years the T.V. series ‘Midsomer Murders ‘ actually became something of a joke. It was set in a fictional British county in which the murder rate would rival that of the whole of London combined. Over the many series of Midsomer the body count must have been in the thousands. That means at least one, usually more, graphic and violent (And very inventive!) murders per episode.
With the desensitisation that this and other programs have caused it has become necessary for the modern writer/producer to make the violence more graphic in order to make his mark. Lots of blood and gore with some very nasty injuries are the order of the day. How can we calmly read or watch all this? I am as guilty as anyone. I was reading about violence and torture while calmly laying in bed with my wife.
I know that these books and films have a mystery element and that is important. Part of the appeal for me is the detective or the person taking the part of the investigator solving the case or reaching the goal. The murders are usually clues to that goal. It is an intellectual exercise and the smarter the writer, the more I enjoy it. I hate a book or film where the identity of the criminal or the goal to be reached by the protagonist is revealed far too easily. So Yes, the mystery element of a murder/mystery is as important as the violence/murders.
But the truth is that the writer, sometimes the most normal of people, imagines death by violence at least once in any book/film and the darker side of our psyche, aided by years of reading and viewing such material, just accepts it. Sometimes I even admire the way these scenes are written. It is very rare that such scenes, no matter how violent and bloody, make me feel queasy. I am not sure if I should worry about that!
Tom Barnaby, the Detective Inspector in Midsomer Mysteries. The busiest copper in the business.