When is something too much?

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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!

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85 thoughts on “When is something too much?

  1. The Past Due Book Review says:

    I think that pain is a real and unfortunate part of life and to censor it when it is integral to the story or development of a character is to belittle storytelling as a art form. That being said, gratuitous violence or violence for its own sake is thereby unnecessary and there is sort of an agreement that the viewer of a show or the reader of a book takes on that they are willing to go for the ride, regardless of how dark or light it becomes. I agree that nothing is too much if it is done for a purpose, but there has to be a reason, otherwise it might as well not even be present. Also, since I’m a first time reader of your blog, high five if your blog is a reference to the Librarian from the Discworld series.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes, one hundred percent agree with you there. I do think, however, that violence in real life is often meaningless and therefore gratuitous violence can sometimes reflect this- it can be a necessary form of cathartic release (because, paradoxically, even then it is serving a purpose)- but we can agree to disagree on this. Ahh thank you so much- I get really excited whenever someone spots that- *high five*!

      Liked by 2 people

      • The Past Due Book Review says:

        I see your point about using gratuitous violence in art/literature to mirror the meaninglessness of violence in real life. I think it really is an issue of subjectivity on the part of the consumer of the entertainment. Take the scene in Kill Bill where Lucy Liu’s character cuts off a man’s head and blood spurts out in a fountain. To someone familiar with Tarantino’s appreciation of anime and his attempt to use that type of style in the film as an homage to it, there is meaning. However, to the uninformed observer (or at least someone who isn’t as familiar with his work) it seems gratuitous and ridiculous; while being gratuitous and ridiculous, it also serves a purpose. As long as the violence fits the tone of the medium or story being told, I really have no issue with its presence (though I may cringe a bit).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Briana says:

    I think that fiction can go too far for you (general you) as a writer/viewer, but that’s about it. It may even go too far for most of the people in a given society, in which case the art might flop because no one ‘s going to see the movie, buy the book, etc. In that case, the market will decide whether it’s too much for mass entertainment. But I think that’s different from saying the art should not be produced. There is a lot of very disturbing art in the world, but I have to defend the right of the artist to create it, even if I personally dislike it.

    I’ve seen a lot of comments in the book community essentially arguing for the erasure of negativity from books and other media (not saying your post or anyone here is doing that), but that’s censorship. Demanding a book not be published, that no one buy it, that no libraries stock it, etc. because it has a theme or a character we dislike is censorship. We have to keep in mind that censorship isn’t necessarily what some crazy person somewhere else is doing (trying to ban Harry Potter in a rural US Southern town or whatever). If I started demanding shows be taken off TV because I found them too violent or distasteful, I would also be advocating for censorship.

    Liked by 3 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      YES a million times to this!!! I do think that people can personally choose not to read things, but it’s never ok to censor something or say it shouldn’t be produced. I too have seen these kinds of arguments around the book community- and I really disagree with them. I actually wrote a whole post a while ago about this, but to summarise, people should have the freedom to read whatever they want and if someone disagrees with it they should engage in civil debate, not censorship. Regardless of whether I personally enjoy a book, I would like to think I would always advocate for that freedom.
      I will admit that after writing such a negative review yesterday, I worried that I sounded like so many of the politeness-police I often rail against, and wanted there to be no misunderstanding that I in any way think that the book should be banned (and I hope no one misconstrues this or my review that way). That’s why I wanted to turn it into a positive discussion of why violence in books is necessary (even if we don’t always like it or agree with how it’s done). I hope that makes sense- it’s pretty late!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Briana says:

        Right. If someone writes about something you disagree with, I think in many cases that one of the best responses is to write something in response. Write a book with a different viewpoint. Write an article about the issue. Or a negative review. But writing that you disagree with something and explaining why you disagree is just so very different from demanding that no books with “negative content” be produced or carried by stories and libraries. I wouldn’t interpret a negative review as censorship at all; but there are a surprising amount of people saying quite explicitly that certain books or other media should not exist at all. And, yes, people saying that books with “negative things” should not exist. I’m afraid to say that would primarily leave us with books with no plot beyond the type you get in early readers (i.e. a list of events): “Yesterday my mom and I went to the zoo. We saw some tigers. And penguins. There were also otters. The elephants were my favorite!”

        Liked by 2 people

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          One hundred percent agree with that!! Yes exactly!! Yeah I find the same thing- especially on certain topics. A lot of criticism basically comes down to “I don’t think x should be in a book at all”. It’s very frustrating, because obviously it should be allowed to be in books and if the subject matter doesn’t appeal, then the individual has a responsibility to just avoid it or put it down. Hahahaa that’s so true!!

          Liked by 2 people

  3. thesarahdoughty says:

    I think, when something is accurate and told as such, it should be handled with extreme care, especially when dealing with topics like rape or anything involving children. So many people experience these types of things, but writers don’t have to go into deliberate details. Take Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson series as an example. In it, the heroine is under a spell, of sorts, and is forced to do things (including sex, i.e. rape) against her will. While reading, you know what’s happening as she experiences it, but it’s not detailed. You get the full impact of her emotions. I remember listening to the audio book in my car. I was forced to pull over because I was sobbing, both during the act, and what happened afterward. Compare that with a book that goes into horrid details, and you’ll notice there’s a huge disconnect. You’re not really experiencing it with the character. You’re a bystander. That’s where I think the lines are blurred or even crossed. If you can’t place yourself in the situation with the character, it feels wrong to experience it. That said, if it’s not an integral part of the overall story, which will irrevocably change a person, then I don’t know why it would be included outside of the shock factor. Even when writing my books, I didn’t delve into the full descriptions of what occurs in flashbacks, because getting a taste of it through the eyes of the heroine is taste enough without dragging readers through that kind of hell. There are actual cases of random, gratuitous violence in life, so it is somewhat realistic to have that happen in any storytelling medium. The issue is where to draw the line on details. When it comes to film, Tarantino, as someone suggested, is a good example. If you’re watching a Tarantino film, you know it’s going to be both historically accurate with the language (as gratuitous as it is in today’s standards) and the blood will flow. A lot. But there’s always a reason for the violence to occur, always a story beneath the over-the-top blood and gore. For the most part, I think people know what to expect with Tarantino. But going into a movie or a book with triggers you have no knowledge or expectations to experience, it can throw you through a loop once you arrive. Which brings us full circle. The line between giving people a taste through the eyes of someone experiencing it, and the full assault against the senses.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much for your very thoughtful comment! That’s true for sure- I definitely think there should be accuracy- even if I don’t think these subjects should be off limits. And yes I agree that sometimes ambiguity is more powerful than actually showing all the graphic details (it was one of my criticisms of Outlander- that they showed more than was necessary and it detracted from the emotions) Sometimes showing the graphic details can be effective (in certain genres, like horror) but a lot of the time, it’s better to use different techniques. And yes, one of the reasons why shocking or gratuitous violence can be necessary is because it’s unfortunately a fact of life sometimes. But like you said, there has to be a reason for it. And it’s also important to note that it’s genre specific. Absolutely! Very well put!

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  4. Zezee says:

    I think it all depends on people’s limits. I can handle violence and such in books and movies or whatever, though it makes me angry and uncomfortable whenever personal violation is involved (rape), but I don’t mind it being included in stories if it’s “done well and for a purpose.” Many bloggers have said they dislike the Game of Thrones books because of all the violence and rape, but I think including them is true for the historical period and condition of the Westeros (at war) so I think it works for the story.
    However, in books, violence and such doesn’t work for me if it’s there just to shock us. For some reason, I don’t mind blood and guts spurting everywhere in movies (action, thriller, horror) to shock me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes definitely agree- and I’m the same about these things. To clarify, when I say “I’m fine with it”, I don’t mean it doesn’t bother me, but that I know that the intended affect (ie horror, distress, disgust etc) is there for a reason. And yes, I think that the context is so important. I do agree with that- although for all my “I’m totally cool” with violence schtick at the beginning of this post, it’s not like I watch things like Saw or any horror for that matter. I do think that the occasional shocking moment can work well- again Game of Thrones is a good example- but if the viewer is just bombarded with images intended to shock over and over again, it eventually loses its power. I reckon if I watched a lot of it I’

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Emily | Rose Read says:

    What a great post! I agree that there shouldn’t be any limit to what artists create, so long as it is not literally harmful to a person or group of people. I love the list you provided and agree with all of those reasons. There is definitely a level of personal preference for such things. I enjoyed the first GoT book, but I never got into the show because after the first 2 episodes, I realized I didn’t need to see it all on screen (for whatever reason, I’m more ok reading about it than watching it). But I know that’s just a personal preference, and I do not think the showrunners need to shy away from the “realities” of the plot. I like how the commenter above noted that everything should have a purpose.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much!! I’m glad you liked it. Definitely- people have different tastes and limits, and it’s upto the individual to decide what those are. Ah I understand that about GOT- my sister is very squeamish and couldn’t get through the first episode. Exactly- and thanks!!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. JJAzar says:

    Thank you for the feature! I’m flattered that you thought of my post from a long ways back. This is a great analysis! I particularly like your point about how pain creates heroes and villains. Sometimes readers need the nitty gritty to comprehend what a character is going through. Spot on! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. collegeramblingsblog says:

    I think telling people what is and isn’t okay in fiction crosses the line of censorship. Certainly some media is far too graphic for my stomach but as Jordan Peterson says, we all have the capacity for evil, or in other words the ability to perform terrible acts without cause or purpose. Take the concentration camps, the Nazi’s forced prisoners to carry rocks from one side of the camp to the other and back again indefinitely. Torture without purpose, but something every person has the ability to do. There can’t be a boundary for fiction since there is theoretically no boundary for what people can do in real life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Absolutely agree with that! I’d like to make it clear, cos this has come up in a few comments, that I in no way promote censorship and have discussed that subject at length on my blog before- here’s a post about it if you’re interested:
      https://theorangutanlibrarian.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/the-freedom-to-read-whatever-you-want/
      Given how often discussions cross over into censorship whenever the subject of violence comes up, I figured it was worth having a discussion about this- especially after having written such a scathing review of a portrayal of rape yesterday. I wanted to make it clear in this post that I don’t actually think that there is a limit to what you can write in literature and start a conversation about that (regardless of what I thought of that individual case) (Hope all that makes sense!)
      Anyhoo, I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed the wonderful Jordan B Peterson before- I one hundred percent agree with your analysis there. As you can probably tell my line of argument is heavily influenced by his teaching- from the “life is suffering” quote to the creation of heroes to the symbolic resonance of literature- mixed in with my own understanding of catharsis and literature.

      Liked by 1 person

      • collegeramblingsblog says:

        Totally with you on this, both of your posts on the matter are excellent. Censorship has been a really hot topic lately with students trying to stop speakers on campuses or labelling all speech as hate speech. As a strong advocate for free speech it’s definitely concerning to see.

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Thank you very much!! It really has and I feel the same way about it. It’s very troubling to see!! It really bothers me that people see it as a good thing to shut down debate with people they disagree with rather than attempting to engage in a civilised discussion!

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Krysta says:

    I wouldn’t say that there should be limits because that rather sounds like I’m dictating what can and cannot be done in art, which isn’t really a precedent I want to set. I will say, however, that I think that violence can often be effective and not as gratuitous. For instanced, I don’t NEED to see a head being chopped off with blood flying everywhere. If the screen fades to black, I get the idea. If the action happens offstage and I see the effects, I get the idea. If we only hear sound effects, I get the idea. I think sometimes people think more is better and that’s not always the case. Guts don’t have to be flying everywhere.

    I would also consider, if I were filming a violent scene, whether I could reach more people by fading to black instead of showing everything since some people are very uncomfortable with blood and might not watch my film at all if they hear it’s something they might not be able to stomach. I could potentially reach more people by being less graphic–but still keep in the content and not pretend the pain or violence is less. If a woman stumbles out from an alley disheveled and crying, we know what happened. We don’t need to exploit that on camera.

    I’d also worry about whether showing frequent graphic violence could desensitize viewers and take away the very effect I was hoping for. If everyone is showing the blood spattering on the camera, it’s no longer shocking.

    So, there are issues I’d personally consider if I were creating a piece of art. But I’m not going to sit in my armchair and pontificate on what other people should do in their art. I don’t think a blanket statement works. What you want or need to show will depend on your personal project and vision.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much for your comment- it was thoughtful!! Yeah I definitely agree with that- I really don’t believe in censorship of art. I agree that it can be effective without being gratuitous- although I think it’s upto the individual if they want to see more violence. Though in my personal opinion, I think that often less is more- I remember being horrified by just the sound of an execution and a look of the crowd, and rather less so by the grisly act itself. Like you said- I get the idea.

      Yes, that’s true about it reaching more people- but I do think that depends on the genre. I’m not personally a fan of horror, and I don’t watch movies like Saw, but I can’t deny that there is a market for it. I do agree that people get desensitized to viewing violence on screen over time for sure- but I think that a lot of people choose to watch these until they are desensitized, a bit like building up a tolerance for alcohol.

      And I think that’s important to consider all of these things when creating art for sure. But like you said, it’s upto other people what they decide to create. And yes it’s definitely upto the individual what vision they want to create.

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      • Krysta says:

        Haha, yes, I don’t like violence so I’d rather not see too much blood, but an effective fade to black can often traumatize me pretty effectively, too.

        Yes, there is a market for Saw. Do I understand the market? No. Feel free to find me in the corner reading happy MG fantasies and collecting cats. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  9. By Hook Or By Book ~ Book Reviews, News, & Other Stuff says:

    This is such a thought-provoking post. Like others have already commented, I have a problem with abuse of any kind directed at children. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be written about or be the subject of a movie. Just that I personally have a difficult time with it. I actually just read/reviewed a book, The Roanoke Girls that dealt with the subject of sexual abuse and incest. What I did like about it was that although you knew what was happening, it wasn’t overly graphic. As far as overall violence, if it’s part of the story and helps to further the plot, I have no problem with it. If it’s simply thrown in for shock value though, well, the book or movie isn’t for me.💁🏻

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much!! I can understand that- I also have trouble with that and will often avoid it to be honest. But I think that, like you said, it’s something that I would never object to being written or portrayed. Oh I’m very interested in that- I will check out your review. I get that- sometimes I think less is more and being ambiguous about violence can be more effective. I understand that for sure. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

      Like

  10. Eve Messenger says:

    Interesting question. I’m a lightweight when it comes to blood and guts. I won’t watch slasher type movies at all. At all. But in shows like Game of Thrones, when things get too gruesome I’ve gotten pretty adept at shielding all or part of a screen so I can get through them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. luvtoread says:

    Great post! I am not a big fan of tons of blood and gore when watching movies & TV. I can handle it more in books, but sometimes something just goes a bit too far for me. But that is, like you say, a personal limit for me, and I either shut my eyes and look away from the screen, or flip past the pages and move on. Everyone has different limits.
    My issues with violence and such is that it many times can feel gratuitous, and just put in there to shock and cause a reaction. Case in point: Sansa and Ramsey in GOT. There was zero reason for them to be put together in the show other than the reason that the showrunners wanted them together. They are not anywhere near each other in the books, and the merging of their storylines in the show felt forced and all for shock value.
    Many of the GOT scenes (on the show) with Ramsey felt over-the-top for me, just too much. In the book it is shown to the reader in a different way (flashback, or you see the effects of what he’s done, or the chapter ends and the book moves on). Theon’s arc was also greatly changed – who can forget reading Dance with Dragons and realizing all the horrors Theon had gone through? We didn’t need to see it, it was far more powerful the way it was presented in the books (but that’s my opinion). But – would that approach have worked on TV? Perhaps not. (Would viewers have even remembered who Theon was if he had disappeared for seasons?)
    So, to answer your question on whether or not fiction can cross a line, I would say that yes, it can. But that line is a personal line, and is different for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you! I get that!! Everyone has their limits for sure. I definitely have things I knowingly avoid.
      Ah I actually was ok with that because I felt like it was a bold move considering the fact that someone was going to be in that position. For me, whether it was the fake Sansa or the real Sansa the effect would be just as horrifying- to have an emotional connection with the character made it more poignant. I also felt that to draw these characters together took the story in a more interesting direction than in the books. It made her have more of a personal reason to end up at Winterfell- which I think is where the book is heading. But that’s just my opinion- I know it’s a contentious issue for a lot of fans.

      I can understand that- his scenes are pretty horrific. Yeah it is very powerful in the book to have so much ambiguity and have Theon’s flashbacks. But like you said, they had to change it for a visual medium. And like you said, people have a shorter memory when it comes to tv- I remember when they brought the Hound back after he’d been gone half a season and it felt like he’d popped up out of nowhere.

      Thanks for your very candid response- I do agree that everyone has a personal line.

      Liked by 1 person

      • luvtoread says:

        Yeah, the Sansa / Ramsey plotline on the show is definitely a contentious issue! 🙂 At least that is over and done now. I’m hoping they don’t make her pregnant w/ his baby…
        It’s so strange how that feeling of “popping up out of nowhere” comes from television, but we don’t get that same feel in books. It must be that in books the author can sprinkle in references here and there, but you can’t quite do that in a show as easily.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. littlebookynook says:

    This is a great post! I remember seeing Diana Gabaldon say that the rape scene in Outlander is necessary, with the relationship between Jamie and Blackjack. Why they don’t put warning at the beginning of these episodes, I’ll never know. Sometimes it just feels like there is rape and torture…just so that there is rape and torture. But I think when it came to Jamie, you see his journey following the assault and how he changes as a person and how it affects his relationship with Claire…and pretty much the course of his life. The episode was terribly confronting however, and to see such horrible things happen to a character you love is horrible.

    At the end of the day, the world has horrible things in it. So to me, not having horrible things in it isn’t realistic…even though it’s fiction. Someone is always going to find something problematic because we all have different life experiences, but it’s important to keep the dirty and gritty stuff in because that’s life.

    Once again, awesome post!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Oh I can understand that- I have to clarify, my previous post was a comparison of the book and the show. What I said in my post was that the rape was handled well in the book, but very, very badly in the show. I don’t think it was necessarily that I wanted a warning, but that I thought it muddled up the emotions, made it too artsy and didn’t have the same effective closure that the book had- and many other things besides. My problem was less with the fact it was shown or how graphic it was- and more that it failed to get the right emotions across- but that’s just my opinion. I do agree that the world is a horrible place though- and that it’s realistic to portray this. A hundred percent agree that we should keep the gritty stuff in- very well put!! And thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • littlebookynook says:

        Ahhhh I didn’t see the other post 🙂 I didn’t really like the tv version of the rape scene either, I agree that it didn’t convey the right emotions. I wish that there had been more closure…more recovery for Jamie rather than just sucking it up and moving on to the next place. Once again, really great post and very thought-provoking!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          No problem- just thought I’d better clarify! And yes that’s exactly what I felt about it. I thought it was especially bad because Gabaldon got the emotions right. And yes, it was done way too fast- it was given more space in the book (1/10 of the book as opposed to 1/16 of the show) Plus in the book more of the space was given to the emotions and recovery rather than the actual rape. Thank you!!!

          Liked by 1 person

  13. talkchatter says:

    The world has as much horror in it as beauty so both should certainly be depicted. If a subject that is emotive is handled with thought and care, then there should be no issue. I have no issue with violence as long as it is proportional to the plot. Violence for the sake of it or as filler gets on my nerves.

    Thank you for a thought provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Chris C Barnett says:

    I think you’re exactly right. As long as something isn’t horrific just for the sake of being offensive and cynically trying to court attention through controversy, I think it’s valid. I’m dead against censorship in literature – we’re all adults and can make our own decisions about what we want to read.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Donna says:

    This is a brilliant post but it was a shitty idea from me to read it before my second cup of tea, haha! I used to wonder where was the limit and what was “too much”.Then I kept on watching the news and I now know there is no limit so why should fiction has one if it depicts life? It is a scary thing, and I have stopped watching or reading things because I couldn’t bear it (remember by experience with Lolita? :p Also stopped GoT after they killed *spoiler*, but I’m a wimp). If it suits a purpose and isn’t done for the sake of shocking, I think it is valid.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alex Sarll says:

      I think shocking is ok, if there is a reason for the shocking, or a point to why the director is trying to get under your skin and pull you out of your comfort zone.. if it is purely gratuitous then yes I agree, it’s in bad taste.

      Liked by 2 people

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        And yes I do agree that sometimes shocking can be effective and serve a purpose. Personally I find it more effective if shock tactics are used more sparingly, but there’s no reason why it has to be off limits all the time. I think you put it very well!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Alex Sarll says:

          Thanks very much, was interesting to think about. I think it depends on the tone/style of the book or movie, and what is actually being explored. I agree that using violence sparingly is definitely more tasteful, but then for some subjects that’s not appropriate. I think a case by case decision is the only way to judge 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • theorangutanlibrarian says:

            Oh awesome- I’m glad to hear that! Definitely! And yes, there are times when sometimes a complete onslaught is necessary- I may have mentioned GOT to many times in this already, but there was a battle scene in the last season that was like this, but it was done in such a way that it made you feel like you were in the battle- in short, it was very graphic, but very, very powerful. Absolutely! 🙂

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    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you!! Haha!! Ah yes, I one hundred percent agree with you there- there’s no limit in real life unfortunately, so there shouldn’t be a limit in books. haha yes- and I get that totally- everyone has points when they can’t continue with books- sometimes being confronted with something is too much for the individual. (haha there were a lot of spoiler deaths- but I get what you mean- my sister’s got a phobia of blood and didn’t get through the first episode). Yes, for sure.

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  16. Elou Carroll says:

    I don’t think anything should be off-limits in fiction if something’s off-limits that turns it into a taboo and may make people who have experienced these things not want to talk about it. Internalising trauma is never recommended. I think there needs to be an outlet for disturbing things – if people don’t like them, they can avoid them. It’s easy to do.

    What’s important, though, is that authors treat these things with respect and not just include them for the shock factor. I think that’s the only time I have a problem with difficult subjects. If they’re only there to shock you, they’re serving no purpose and that’s not respectful to people who may have gone through something like it in their real life.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Alex Sarll says:

      Hi, interesting reply. I think that sometimes just shocking someone can be ok? I know what you mean, if a person has gone through something in real life then it is disrespectful on a level to emphasis that horror in a film, but then on the other side, there will always be someone who has gone through a bad experience in your audience, and you have no idea what that is or who moved they will be. I think fiction is a world where anything goes, tbh.. some people will always conclude that something was a meaningless shock fest, and others will state that it is emphasising the mad world we live in, and the horror of that. Sometimes shocking a person will lead them to consider things they might not have done if they had remained in their comfort zone. Although I guess I believe that gratuitous violence etc is probably not good- I believe that there has to be a point that the director/writer is trying to make, they have to be trying to shock you FOR A REASON, and to encourage thought or a certain subject. Take care!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Elou Carroll says:

        Exactly, I just meant that if they’re shocking you for no reason, if they’re just like “let’s throw a rape in there” without actually considering the implications of that decision, it’s bad. If they’re shocking you for a reason, fair game. It’s when it’s included on a whim, and that’s made obvious that I see that as problematic.

        Liked by 2 people

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        I really agree with this- I think the important thing is to know that everyone is different and no one can speak for everyone else (whether they have experienced said trauma or not) Definitely agree that anything goes in fiction. I think your point about suffering sometimes being meaningless is very important. And yes, there’s a lot to be said about pushing people outside their comfort zones! Definitely agree with that! And sometimes the reason can be, paradoxically, that there is no reason for it at all.

        Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Definitely agree with you there! One of the things that concerns me is people being scared off talking about bad experiences or not portraying them, if it becomes taboo. I think that’s such an important point- thanks so much for pointing it out!!
      I do agree with you there- though shock tactics can be effective at times, I think that sensitivity also goes a long way.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Alex Sarll says:

    Great post! Really interesting, and something i don’t think I’ve ever thought about specifically. I agree with you, that violence does serve a purpose, for all of the reasons you have highlighted above. The world can be a violent place, god the emotions and feelings we experience inside ourselves can be violent, as can be our reactions to those feelings. You cannot get away from that fact, and therefore I embrace violence in fiction as a way of making something real and complex in a way that real life it. Also, as you say, it can be a catalyst for development; the way a character reacts to hard experiences can lead into character development and growth, in good and bad ways. I think instinctively I would say no, fiction can never go too far; because what is too far for one person will be acceptable for another. It is entirely subjective. I would always hope that a writer or a director would use violence to make a point, and if not.. well then the meaing just changes again i guess.. Though- I recently watched Split, M. Night Shyamalan’s new film; and there were a couple of scenes in that which had me feeling very uncomfortable, and chilled me for the next few days- and I was uncertain whether or not he needed to go to such a dark place to make the point that he was making. I won’t spoil it for you- but that has been one of the few instances where I have actually though “maybe that was too far,” I don’t know he needed to bum out his audience that severely…. but then again, it did feed into the general tone of the film, and it did make it heavy in the most serious and tragic way. I’m terrible for answering questions like this because I can never come to final decisions.. But thanks for a great post and provoking thought!

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much!! Yes- so true. Agree with you about character development- it’s so important. And yes, art is always subjective- so when someone says something didn’t work for them, it’s always important to bear in mind that it didn’t work for them. And yeah, I think we all have a point when we wonder “did that go too far?” That was my experience of the rape in Outlander (the show, not the book). For that though I had to examine whether it was portrayed well (which I don’t think it was) rather than taking issue with the presence of violence (cos it worked in the book) Haha no worries- I’m rambling away, but you made a lot of sense!! Thank you so much for commenting and for joining the debate- you contributed so much to this!!

      Like

  18. daleydowning says:

    Yeah, it is all about personal limits, cultural taste, and very similar other standards. Mostly it comes down to culture. And, like you said, if people don’t like something, they should be able to just say, “Well, I’m just not going to watch/read it.” That’s how I feel about anything R-rated anymore. It’s a personal limit, I recognize and accept it, and even though I will admit to saying out loud about some directors/authors, “They need to quit their job and stop torturing the world,” I also totally own that this is simply my opinion.

    My view of such things when I’m writing is: Does the violence matter to the story? How much violence/sexual reference is appropriate for my target audience? (That will definitely influence how much I describe something like blood spatter, or how politely I address that two adult characters had consensual sex and the woman got pregnant.) And my own triggers will certainly be a deciding factor. If I’m not comfortable with writing an R-rating equivalent of a fight scene, then PG/PG-13 will be what the readers get.

    But, because censorship is such a slippery slope, I agree that trying to ban anything the critique-elite feels “makes people sad” is a very, very dangerous idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      For sure- I agree with that so much- I don’t think anyone should have a right to tell someone what they should and should not be comfortable watching. Haha yes- we’ve all been there- and I can definitely be prone to saying extreme blanket statements I don’t literally mean! It is just an opinion really. And yes- it definitely comes down to what the individual writer is comfortable with and there are (appropriate) audiences for both.

      And yes, I very much agree with you there- I definitely am very anti-censorship, so the idea of people saying that because people are uncomfortable with things does not justify people banning it. I have to say I get very frustrated when people think they are standing up for victims when they suggest that something should be banned- have to say, I don’t usually use personal arguments, but I’ve had experience of people saying “we need to protect x group of people from these harmful words”- and knowing that I’ve personally experienced it, I want to scream “I don’t need your protection!” It’s actually very patronising to people that have gone through traumatic or bad experiences. Phew- sorry, that got a little deep- it’s just something I’m very passionate about.

      Liked by 1 person

      • daleydowning says:

        It’s one of my biggest concerns about society as well, actually – the idea that people who know absolutely nothing about a topic or experience are deciding how people who are dealing with it should be handling it. Doesn’t it occur to anybody to ask the autistic kids what would help them in school? Instead of just saying, “They need this and this and this.” And then people are shocked if it doesn’t work. Just my example, but I think the concept applies to lots of things.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. vinnieh says:

    I can definitely understand what you are getting at. My personal view is that if something is there to bring forward an issue, then I can understand it being shown graphically to get the point across. But if you’re just throwing it in there for entertainment, that’s when it crosses the line.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    Hmm, that’s a really good question – at first I was surprised that you said no fiction could ever go too far, since that scene so clearly made you livid, but when you distinguish between personal limits and general ones it makes sense. I do wonder if things that are basically torture porn or gratuitous violence are really necessary in stories… but it’s always a difficult thing to draw a line in the sand saying what should or shouldn’t be accepted/allowed. For example, I have not and seen the Saw films as I know that is not something I ever need to see, but if other people want to go watch them, hey, it’s no concern of mine.

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha yes I get that it may be a surprising conclusion to reach, but like you said, I think it’s important to distinguish between personal taste and general rules. Yeah I can see your point- and personally, as you can tell, I’m not always a fan- but that said I think it comes down to how it’s done. I think sometimes gratuitous violence can be good to point out the pointlessness of suffering- but it all depends how it’s done, the context and the genre. Like you said, it’s hard to draw a line in the sand and make definitive statements- which is why I keep sticking addendums on the end of everything I’m saying 😉 And like you said, it comes down to personal taste (I’m with you on never seeing Saw- that is *not* for me!)
      Aww thank you for commenting!!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Kat Impossible says:

    I remember that Outlander scene as clearly as if I had watched it yesterday and that means I also remember exactly how I felt. I am one of the first people to admit that I fast forward when scenes are getting too violent for my liking. I do that less in books (hello, I adore Red Rising despite the violence and gore … but unfortunately not because of it), but when I watch stuff, I either let the torture and so on run in the background while I don’t watch or I skip it altogether. Somehow, I did not do that with the Outlander scene, but it really, really rattled me. I remember crying, because it felt oddly real? Those episodes truly blew me away, because they seemed like such an intense character study and work through trauma. I can see how it is too much, but at the same time, I think they did something bold and it paid off. Does that make any sense?
    Anyway, I do believe that everyone has their personal limits. In film class, we had to watch this Austrian movie and we didn’t even see the whole thing, but the teacher wanted to show us particular scenes. It was shot with a hand camera, so it looked like a home video and there was this one scene, I just wanted to run out of the classroom and vomit at the bathroom. I was the only one appalled though, so I sat in darkness until the break bell rang and then I locked myself away before anyone could see my face. I hate that movie so much now, it makes me sick, even though it will seem far less of a big deal to others.
    Sorry for the long comment hahaha

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Well I can’t say I feel the same way, what with having written two posts about it, but I respect your opinion. I also felt like it was important to watch (although I don’t normally fast-forward anything, it just doesn’t occur to me)… I felt like this had the opposite effect on me. I remember it for all the wrong reasons- as I said it made me kind of angry. But like I said, you’re entitled to feel differently about it, cos as you said, everyone has different limits and are affected differently by different things. I can watch some things without blinking and others things have a seriously bad effect. With regard to this, I do try to distinguish between things that just horrify me, but that were effective in producing the right effect (I’m overusing this example- but hello GOT) and things that horrified me partly because I didn’t agree with the direction they took (I’m afraid for me this is where I’d put Outlander). I hope that makes sense and also want to reiterate that it’s totally fair that you felt differently- I’m glad it worked for you even if it didn’t work for me. Haha no worries!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kat Impossible says:

        It definitely made my stomach turn and I get those knots that make me feel nauseous. That scene DID have that effect on me, but so did the last Colleen Hoover book I read, so this isn’t really one of my limitations. But I should probably mention that I did not watch that scene in detail, I am pretty sure I did something else besides watching it, so that might also have something to do with it.
        But yeah, we all have different personal limits.

        Liked by 1 person

  22. Lashaan and Trang (Bookidote) says:

    Pretty cool you’ve given the shoutout to that post by JJ! Totally agree with your points as well! I don’t think I’ve ever thought violence was too much in fiction, unless the violence was gratuitous and is only there cause they can put it in + to please people in their need for gore. I haven’t read or seen any really bad book/movie that really proved that the use of violence was just too much. I mean… I recently watched John Wick Chapter 2 and I absolutely loved everything about it. And violence? Oh man was there PLENTY of that in there (but violence in that movie can probably be explained by: cathartic reasons and character’s background hahah).

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 2 people

  23. oldpoet56 says:

    I believe that ‘to much’ is an individual concept, I know from reading your article that you will watch or read articles/movies past the point where I change the channel. In our capitalist system here in the States the good point is that if an article, book, or movie doesn’t sell, it will disappear from the market.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yeah I definitely agree that it’s upto the individual- it’s one of the reason’s I concluded that nothing is too much- even if we all have our individual limits. That’s true- and if there’s a market for something we don’t like, it really doesn’t effect us. I know it doesn’t bother me that there are film genres, for example, that I’m not interested in.

      Like

  24. frazzledfictions says:

    My main gripes are usually in the treatment of it during and after. I get livid when it’s used as a plot device to move the narrative on and then shrugged off as if it didn’t happen and is never dealt with. I’m with you if it’s gratuitous and feels unnecessary it can put me off the whole story. It’s a very fine line that needs to be treated with consideration for real victims in the real world. I luckily haven’t really encountered anything in books that I couldn’t cope with, watch the next one be awful now I’ve said that!

    Liked by 1 person

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