Bronwyn O'Neill considers the impact of violence on TV.

The zombie thriller, The Walking Dead, returned to our television screens recently with a bang and a controversy. The season premier was slammed as being too graphic and violent. With shows like Game of Thrones and American Horror Story being hugely successful, violence and gore seem to be a staple of recent popular TV shows. With extreme violence being acceptable and almost expected in film, why is it so shocking when it’s seen on our television screen?


When did TV get so violent?


The divide between film and TV shows is becoming smaller and smaller each year, as compelling dramas and production once reserved for film seeps into the world of television. Television is now competing with films, meaning that television shows themes have become more and more in line with what we see in cinema. Television shows now have a bigger budget which allows the writers to extend their storylines and have bigger productions. Between 2012 and 2015, the average budget per episode of Game of Thrones increased from $6 million to ‘at least’ $8 million. The sixth-season budget was over $10 million per episode, for a season total of over $100 million.


It’s not surprising that violence has seeped from one medium to the other. It may not necessarily be a bad thing, either. The idea that television has only gotten violent in the past few years is laughable. One of the most violent TV shows is undoubtedly Oz, a show that premiered in 1997 on HBO. The show followed a group of prison inmates as well as the brutality of prison, including poisoning, lynching, burning, shooting, beating, eye-gouging and crucifixion.This was such a huge change in what was acceptable for television.


Over the next twenty years, television has changed drastically. We now have television shows like Hannibal, following the cannibal Hannibal Lector, Orange is the New Black, a groundbreaking series about a women’s prison and of course, The Sopranos. In recent years, Irish television has begun to produce gritty dramas such as Love/Hate and The Fall, which both caused some shockwaves throughout the country. Both depict violence and murder throughout the run of the series.


Love/Hate followed gangland crimes in Ireland’s capital and was hugely popular around the country. The Fall follows a murderer as he kidnaps and kills women and the police force trying to catch him. Yes, these shows were graphic and did not shy away from violence, would they have been as impactful if they did not? Is violence necessary in every television show? No, of course not. However, sometimes there is no way around the violence.


It’s ridiculous to watch a television show about zombies or medieval times and not expect some violence. You cannot avoid that theme in certain shows like you would expect to find comedy in a sitcom. Drama and violence go hand in hand. The Parents Television Council filed complaints about the violence in The Walking Dead, but there is a responsibility that lies on the parents to monitor what their children watch. We simply cannot censor certain aspects of television and film because it might frighten children. Honestly, just don’t let your children watch a show or a film that is age rated above their age.


The violence towards women is a sensitive subject but it is of course a part of life and there is a correct way to handle it. Poldark, the 18th century drama, was also the centre of recent controversy because of the way a rape scene was handled. Some people complained that it was not portrayed as rape clearly. “By modern standards, that is a rape, clear and simple,” a screenwriter for the show said. “I just think in the current climate it’s not really acceptable... it was still uncomfortable, because you weren’t supposed to think any less of Ross Poldark at the end of that scene.” The portrayal of rape is often problematic in cinema and on TV. It either is glossed over or there is no effect on the woman. Although violence towards women and sexual assault are a huge part of everyday life, it is rarely portrayed correctly in the media on many platforms. Although I don’t think that dramas should ignore this crucial part of life, they just need to write the scenes and the aftermath realistically and sensitively.


Violence is everywhere in real life and on our screens, does this mean we are being desensitised? Or do the outcries and complaints to the television networks highlight that society is going in the complete opposite direction? Violence and gore is not going anywhere as screenwriters push to become more edgy and daring than their last season or the newest TV show. So it’s time to like it or lump it.