So I’ve always thought of myself as having a strong constitution when it comes to violence of all colours and creeds in TV and literature. I mean, my favourite TV show is Game of Thrones, I enjoy a good Tarantino movie and have watched legs get sawn off in House (ok the last one did make me wince). And when it comes to books- I’m a diehard Hardy fan and can recognise that Lolita is a great work of fiction (even if I did throw that book at the wall multiple times while reading it). Yet as you may have seen in my post yesterday, even I have my limits. Sometimes there are stories and portrayals of things that just make me goddamn livid.
After watching the rape episode in Outlander, pretty much all I could think was “what the actual fuck”. And that’s a somewhat toned down version of my thoughts. I was seriously pissed off by it- which is even more surprising as I am not the kind of person to criticise a show for raping and torturing a character (hello- GOT fangirl here…)
So it got me to thinking- are there limits to what is acceptable? Can fiction ever be too much?
JJ Azar did a great piece a while back on the subject, which I highly recommend you read, but I wanted to give my reasons why violence is both good and necessary in literature:
- “Life is suffering”– even if it’s gratuitous (sometimes even because it’s gratuitous) it’s cathartic and gives some alleviation from very real suffering
- Furthermore, it’s often contextually relevant and realistic
- It serves a purpose in the plot– not just for the catharsis, but sometimes it can be integral for a characters journey- which leads me onto…
- Pain creates heroes and villains– without it these are just ordinary people- and we need extraordinary people in our fiction in order for it to deliver its message and make us feel the impossible
- In this way it often serves a mythological and symbolic purpose in the story– images of suffering, such as those of Christ on the cross, serve as an immutable force in fiction. They carry all the weight of stories that have been remembered from the dawn of human consciousness. There is a power in that which cannot be explained by mere words.
So even though Outlander missed the mark for me- and I can see that it didn’t come close to hitting a lot of these targets- I cannot argue that there is a time when fiction ever goes “too far”. We may very well have our individual limits, but ultimately nothing is too much if it is done well and for a purpose.
What do you think? Can fiction ever cross a line of what is and is not acceptable? I know this is definitely a more contentious issue- but I’d love to hear your thoughts!