For the squeamish

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Hiltbrand (a mystery novelist in his own right) wonders if society isn’t getting desensitized to gratutious violence and if there’s anything to do to change this:

You may believe that you’ve already gotten a bellyful of Hollywood violence, from Psycho to Pulp Fiction. But many pop culture experts agree that the lavish intensity of today’s carnage makes previous eras look dainty.

"In the last few years, there’s been a steady increase in the
amplitude," said Stephen Prince, a professor of communication studies
at Virginia Tech and the president of the international Society for
Cinema and Media Studies. "Characters were beheaded in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance in 1916, but it was shown quickly and in long shot.

"Today you might see it in slow motion, with close-ups from multiple
camera setups. It’ll have an aggressive sound component to make it
texturized and sensual. You’ll hear the arterial blood splatter. The
whole treatment is much more detailed and loving."

Novels are going down the same visceral path.

"I have noticed an increase in gratuitous violence, a desensitizing
of violence," wrote Oline Cogdill, the longtime mysteries columnist for
the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, in an e-mail. "… Some writers feel
because films and television have gone so far, that they need to do
that to attract an audience."

"In the old days of the thriller/mystery, murder was the ultimate
crime but it was usually just murder," concurred Margaret Cannon, a
critic for the Toronto Globe and Mail, by e-mail. "Now we have…
sexual crimes, torture, really nasty stuff, along with the murder."

The ratcheting up of violence is most evident in this season’s network TV series.

"With competition from cable, I think networks have had to go
further in graphic representations of violence," said Cynthia Felando,
a film-studies lecturer at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
"I’ve had squeamish reactions watching CSI."

Granted, I don’t watch nearly as much television as many, but I do think the tolerance for extreme violence and bloodshed has gone up. But books? I’m not so sure. Maybe because (metaphorically, of course) I put a paper bag over my head and run around shouting "THE SERIAL KILLER THRILLER IS SO OVER!" and am just waiting for everyone to catch up with my thinking.

All seriousness, though, if it works in the context of the story, any level of violence should stay. If it doesn’t, no sense in killing off a character in gruesome fashion just for kicks.