TV’s journey to the dark side: ‘Watching people in pain brings us together in weird ways’
If you enjoyed Squid Game’s endurance test, here’s good news: More of the same visceral violence is on the way.
ot just announced that Netflix has commissioned a second season of the show, titled “Korean Hunger Games,” its director Hwang Dong-hyuk is developing a new project that he promises will be even more violent.
While Netflix often keeps its viewership figures under wraps, it’s estimated that over 111 million viewers worldwide have watched the dystopian drama since it debuted on the platform last year. Even Steven Spielberg has endorsed the show, reportedly telling Hwang, “I saw your whole show in three days and now I want to steal your brains.”
If television hunger is cyclical, it could be that television audiences are moving into a phase of enjoying ultra-violent, dark, or sexually graphic material. Lately we’ve been enjoying a plethora of heartwarming, non-confrontational fare: think Schott’s Creek, Teddy Lasso or The good place and, closer to home, Derry girls and Mrs. Brown’s boys.
Still, there are signs pointing to a shift toward bloodier, more confrontational courts. Think euphoriawith its themes of addiction, self-destruction and brutal violence, or The story of the maidwith its chilling dystopian storylines.
It also appeals to the appetites of the current audience Cleveland kidnappingDubbed by Netflix viewers as the “most disturbing” thing Netflix viewers have ever seen, it has enjoyed a second wind since its admission to the streaming platform, though it was originally released to a muted reception in 2015. Based on real life abductions between 2002 and 2004. Cleveland kidnapping has horrified viewers with scenes of cannibalism, abuse and torture.
Elsewhere on Netflix, the horror Choose or die, which released earlier this month, focuses on a cursed video game. It pulls off a stylistic cap to the like black mirror and stranger things, but the gore quotient quickly gives viewers a violent shock. In it, Asa Butterfield plays a computer game obsessive who discovers an ancient game called CURS>R in which players will soon be making life-and-death decisions in order to win a $125,000 prize.
Soon, players are eating their own arms, and in another memorable scene, glass. In an episode of Choose or die, a male character walks into a kitchen and finds that his wife has cut out her son’s tongue; in another, a man stabs himself with multiple syringes in a kitchen sink. Suffice it to say that it’s a classic gorefest.
“The details of the plot make little to no real sense even at the moment, but that won’t matter much to overnight guests, who will be overly distracted by the nasty noise,” he notes The guard in his review.
And that’s probably the appeal of shows like this: the opportunity to see and experience the visceral, bone-hard content as a community experience. According to Jorie Lagerwey, Associate Professor of Television Studies and Head of Film Studies at UCD, timing has a lot to do with this apparent surge.
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“The conditions in the world are pretty dark right now,” she says. “We get a lot of dystopian projects and a lot of the language used in those projects is the language of crisis.
“There’s a deep darkness and sadness and fear, especially in American culture right now, that’s being produced on screen. Korean projects like snowpiercer and Squid Game are truly class-based cultural critiques that are often absent from American pop culture. Often the darkness is a Trojan horse of some sort to get people talking about these things.”
Traditional TV stations were once bound by fairly conservative restrictions, particularly in the US. HBO, a pay-per-view channel, notoriously didn’t have to abide by mainstream television’s code of conduct and, among other things, paved the way for some truly groundbreaking and dark projects The sopranos, The cable, deadwood and game of Thrones.
Streaming is even less bound by televisual conventions, and at a time when competition for pastimes is fiercer than ever, meaning seems like the holy grail. Controversies start widespread conversations, create Twitter hashtags, and eventually get the clicks.
Connell Vaughan, Associate Researcher at the Graduate School of Creative Arts and Media at TU Dublin says: “Netflix doesn’t have to worry about watersheds and there’s definitely a lot more freedom with that. The streaming services are obviously looking at the numbers Squid Game and think: “We have to get even darker”.
“What I’m seeing on Netflix right now is a certain trend, ‘these are the bad men you can meet online and these are the bad things that can happen to you.’ They are grounded in a certain reality and can almost serve as a lesson. There’s something informative about it. At one point you have to ask yourself, why do we like to see people suffer? Aristotle would call it the “paradox of tragic pleasure”. Oddly enough, watching people in pain brings us together in weird ways.”
Simon McCarthy-Jones, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology at Trinity College Dublin, has found why viewers are drawn to violence on television.
“Watching violence from the safety of our couch can be a way to prepare for a violent and dangerous world. So violence appeals for good reason,” he says.
“Recent research drawn from studies of horror films suggests that there may be three categories of people who enjoy watching violence, each with their own reasons. One group has been dubbed “adrenaline junkies.” These sensation-seekers want new and intense experiences, and are more likely to get a high from watching violence.
“Another group enjoys watching violence because they feel they can learn something from it. They tolerate it because they feel it helps them learn about surviving. It’s a bit like benign masochism, enjoying aversive, painful experiences in a safe context.
“If we can take some pain, we can gain something. A final group enjoys the sensations generated by witnessing violence and feels they are learning something. In the horror genre, people like that are called ‘Dark Copers’.”
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tvs-journey-to-the-dark-side-watching-people-in-pain-brings-us-together-in-a-strange-way-41618791.html TV’s journey to the dark side: ‘Watching people in pain brings us together in weird ways’