Dramatized Violence’s Sexual Divide

Dame Helen Mirren has condemned British TV drama for the growing number of murder victims who are young women:

….Mirren told the Observer that she agreed with the playwright David Hare’s recent complaints about the bloodthirsty nature of most drama on British TV, saying there was a clear sexual divide when it came to the corpses. “Most of those bodies are young women,” she said.

Hare had spoken out against the number of murder victims on television at the launch of the second of his Worricker trilogy of films last week. “I can’t personally stand the body count in contemporary drama. I just think it’s ridiculous,” he said.

The British playwright had added that the Nordic thriller series The Bridge was one of the biggest offenders, although he enjoyed it. Fresh corpses also appear in many British-made dramas and series, such as Silent Witness, Lewis, Whitechapel, Ripper Street, What Remains and The Fall, the BBC2 drama serial starring Gillian Anderson, in which a rapist and serial killer preys on a string of attractive young women….

American TV police dramas also lean heavily on storylines that revolve around killing young women. And not just killing, mind you, but ritualized, sexual brutality while killing. I recall an episode of Hawaii 5-0 a year or so ago in which I was stunned at the graphic and gruesome portrayal of a serial killer’s torture and murder of a young woman…. before the opening credits.

What about novels? We know there is a cultural overlap between modern drama in books and on TV. Are there criticisms that could be leveled about similar violence in books?


Almost certainly. Yet most novels do not permeate the public consciousness at a level akin to what appears on TV. (An exception being perhaps when one is made into a film or TV.) Most modern novels are read by only a fraction of the number of people who might sit through a single episode of, say, Lewis, or Hawaii 5-0.

If you write, I’m sure you have your own view of what level and type of violence is appropriate to your genre and writing preferences. Passports, and its coming sequel, are not crime-based thrillers; however, I do have an important character who is a successful crime novelist, and there is discussion in the book at times of what Uncle Bill produces. At one point, he exclaims:

“The French seem to love American crime thrillers, which makes me happy. Sells books!”

One wonders, though, how much drama, be it in books or on TV, is now written deliberately to be both not just thrilling and violent, but also sexually provocative and even pseudo-p*rnographic? It does seem tension and a “mere” murder…. in the drawing room with a candlestick…. is no longer nearly enough. It does too often appear now that dramatized murder has to be after a graphically described, slow, sadistic and sexualized, torture session.

In another scene in my book, “James” shakes his head at his crime novelist uncle’s writing style. Uncle Bill twenty years ago pens nothing on the violence and depravity level we encounter regularly today. Still, James remarks, “I couldn’t write what he does.”

Those are my feelings as well. I also don’t have any answers. I suppose none of us do, really.

We know that this issue is as old as the hills: what sells is what will be produced. We also know big sellers lead to imitators and more of the same. It seems there is simply a large appetite out there for increasingly graphic violence in which young women are its victims.