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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

8 Comments

  1. Matthew Parsons
    September 24, 2015 @ 2:13 pm

    “A fictional character, after all, ultimately only exists as an empathic construction in someone else’s head.”

    Indeed, and it’s worth noting how empathic Harris claims to be with respect to his characters. His basic writing technique seems to be just always knowing what his characters would do.

    There’s a passage in his introduction to “Red Dragon,” that I love: “I was enjoying my usual immunity while working, my invisibility to Chilton and Graham and the staff, but I was not comfortable in the presence of Dr. Lecter, not sure at all that the doctor could not see me.”

    That intro is worth a read for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that Harris’s characterisation of himself seems to anticipate Fuller’s Will Graham, in the sense that both of them are horrified at the extent to which they understand Hannibal.

    Reply

  2. wanderingarmageddonpeddler
    September 24, 2015 @ 3:29 pm

    Eeeeccchhhh. I quite like Hannibal, but deeper examination of it tends to leave me kind of cold. You talk about how the series comes close to being “murder propoganda”. And while I certainly find the idea of actually leveling that charge at it silly, the show consistently elides the material suffering inflicted by Hannibal (and to a lesser extent other murderers) in a way that really bothers me. So many of Hannibal’s victims are shown only as mutilated bodies, never even hinting at any kind of life lived. A typical procedural show (which Hannibal isn’t, but it extensively borrows the structures of one) tends in part to be about exploring the hole left by the victim of the week in order to find the killer. But because Hannibal revolves around serial killers who, by and large, are not acquainted with their victims, this element of the narrative is largely elided.

    Where this gets particularly galling is in the way that Will’s empathy powers don’t really work the way they are claimed to work. Will is said to uncontrollably empathize with anyone and everyone, but I ain’t never seen him get all overwhelmed by the sheer horror of what has been done to the victims. This jumped out for me especially when Will is imagining being Dr. Gideon gouging out the nurse’s eyes. In part because eye-gouging is an especial squick of mine, it jumped out to me that what disturbs him is not imagining the experience of that happening to himself, but rather imagining doing that to someone.

    A show like Game of Thrones (which also includes an infamous thumb-eye-gouging scene) seems to embody Will Graham’s supposed empathy powers way better than Will Graham ever does. You can root for Tyrion or Robb or Daenerys if you feel like, but the show goes out of its way to remind you of the material suffering their actions cause, even if it is ultimately on their side. Whereas with Hannibal its extremely easy to not really care about the impact Hannibal has on others. (And yes, Game of Thrones is far from without fault on this front, but that isn’t the topic of conversation is it?)

    And while Hannibal is clearly not really a show about ethics, that doesn’t mean I don’t find the underlying aesthetic kind of evil. Will Graham’s “I empathize with everyone, but mostly just horrible people and not really victims” characterization seems like a second cousin to the old lie that allows people, to, for instance, ignore the experiences of rape victims in favor of sympathizing with and mitigating the actions of their rapist because “I just care too much about justice” (or whatever). And Hannibal’s Ubermensch-psychiatrist characterization is pretty much exactly the old lie that “I understand other well enough to know I’m better and can dismiss them”. It isn’t in any meaningful sense a show about empathy. It’s mostly a show about how sexy it is that Will spends all his time thinking about killing people. And about how sexy it is that Hannibal spends all his time actually killing people. A show about another misunderstood white male loner’s journey toward sexy darkness. It is not only a show about monstrous consumption, but about monstrous self-obsession. It just doesn’t really seem to realize it

    Reply

  3. Lance Parkin
    September 24, 2015 @ 4:42 pm

    The people who criticise True Detective for being ‘too masculine’ do seem to miss the point that it’s almost invariably about how masculinity is a problem. And it’s only ever a problem. Across both seasons, particularly the second, masculinity is a no-win scenario. Is Ani really ‘strong’ because she ‘acts like one of the guys’?. Woodrugh struggles with the role he’s meant to have, the expectations. And are ‘masculinity’ and ‘violence’ really synonyms? If so, why? The second series is a bunch of characters taking on the roles men are meant to – father, soldier, businessman, husband – and actually being OK at it. Ray’s certainly doing his best at being a father, and he’s not objectively terrible at it, there’s some selflessness there, a sincere attempt to do things right (compare and contrast with Woody Harrelson’s character in the first series, who’s just bad at it). At heart, it seems to be about how odd and slippery and easy to pervert the word ‘masculine’ is. Which I think is far more ambitious and worthy of study than most TV.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      September 24, 2015 @ 5:18 pm

      I think that’s all true, and I agree with what Phil says about it as well… though I do think there’s a streak of male self-pity in the show. Yes, masculinity is an increasingly weak, difficult, unconvincing, problematic performance… and poor men for having to keep doing it, or feeling that they do, and constantly facing the problems it forces on them, etc. I think this was very evident in the first episode of Season 2, though they did a pretty good job of putting another later of self-awareness on it as the series went on.

      Reply

      • Carey
        September 25, 2015 @ 6:58 pm

        Not just masculine self pity, but very much middle class white male self pity.

        I find it fascinating that whenever the new golden age of US drama being the Great American Novel is spoken of it seems to revolve around the same groups of programmes written by, starring and appealing to the same audience.

        Orange is the New Black and Nurse Jackie are equally powerful critiques of modern day America but seem to be less appealing to cultural debate despite revolving around a wider mix of both gender and race.

        I’ve only made it to the penultimate episode from series one of Hannibal so far and feel that it is surprisingly formulaic police procedural (are there really that many serial killers operating at the same time in the US?). It gains much cudos in my estimation by being, to all intents and purposes a disguised love story between two men while simultaneously losing that cudos by pushing aside the culturally important Clarice Starling. The show is actively insulting her with her stand in trainee FBI character to the point that Hannibal doesn’t seem to realise what the message of Silence of the Lambs is. Having said that, there’s a debate to be had about how she is undermined by her creator in Hannibal the novel, although even here Thomas Harris maintains the important gender politics of Silence by Hannibal setting out to create a monster and succeeding so well that even he is scared of what Clarice could do by the novels end.

        It’s understandable that part of the peoblem I have with Hannibal (the TV show) is rights related, with Clarice Starking not being an option for the three series that were made, but that doesn’t stop the bad taste of Hannibal not coming up with a similar female protagonist and instead giving her character arc to a man.

        While not discussed here, Mr Robot is similar. I made it to the end of episode three, and while admiring its visual and narrative style stopped watching because I couldn’t find a single reason why Elliot was not played by woman instead of a man.

        (Please excuse any and all typos: autocorrect is starting to get out of hand)

        Reply

  4. Anthony Herrera
    September 25, 2015 @ 11:39 pm

    I like what you say about the previous eschatology being about a solitary madman and couldn’t help but think about the rise of the slasher film in the 70’s and 80’s which is entirely about that concept and the ongoing endless fad of the zombie apocalypse fits in nicely with the new one. Shallow analysis I know but I’m not good at it so that’s why I come to this awesome site. Basically I just wanted to stop by and say I love what you guys are doing here!

    Reply

  5. Daru
    October 2, 2015 @ 3:28 am

    This may be a simplistic reading, but whilst watching some of season 2 last night I was struck by something – and I am loving the show and its occult and shamanistic imagery, so thanks for the recommendation!

    Whilst watching I was struck by the apparent wealth of Lecter, not just his amazing home, but elements such as being able to display on e of the bodies extravagantly in separate glass panels. This is to me obviously a man with many resources that are easy for him to apply and no ordinary killer. He feels like an very clear representation of the wealthy elite to me.

    The 1% creaming off of the 99%, but also eating us. the “rude” underclasses.

    Chiming in with your piece on Cameron and the pig story, we would then likely be seen by such a man as little more than pigs, but pigs to be savoured with an exquisite sauce.

    Again, this might be so obvious, but it’s a framing that just seemed to work for me.

    *** Oh and on a side note – is there any way to sign up for notifications to comments threads as before? I found it a good way to keep a track of conversations I was involved in. Thanks and enjoying the new site!

    Reply

    • Daru
      October 23, 2015 @ 11:07 am

      Of course there is so much more to the show than what I cheekily shared above. I did kind of put those comments out as a wee prod. The show is radical, magical, visionary, dizzying and way more revolutionary than any other show on TV right now. Though it was not for me easy to watch, probably for all of the reasons in the last sentence.

      Reply

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