Sunday, 10 January 2016

the trap of "narrative necessity": when we might need to exhume the author

I originally began this post in response to the death of Beverly Katz in season 2 of NBC's Hannibal; however, it remains as relevant as it did in 2014, and before, and, I assume, will remain relevant in years to come-- mine is not a specific criticism but a general one.
We all know the line, whether we acknowledge it or not-- and some of us, me included, have touted it ourselves-- "there was no prejudice involved because in order for the story to work this character had to die" (or whatever horrible thing). While I am generally in favor of letting stories stand for themselves, ignoring the author's personal biases etc except where they directly come through in the story, here is an instance I think worth further consideration.
Yes, there are many cases where the only way the story could work is through the death (etc) of this or that character (often a woman, or a person of color, or both), and I will not deny that. For instance, with Beverly Katz the most (narratively) satisfying conclusion to her story was her murder-- she sought Hannibal, she met Hannibal, she lost to Hannibal (as we would expect).
This argument bears more weight in cases where more variety of characters are given more options for active involvement from the get-go. It has been a while since I watched season 2 of Hannibal (or, mind you, any of it-- see my previous post on my reasons for this), but, as I recall, the storyline Beverly had during season 2 was her first major involvement, narratively speaking-- while prior to that she was, of course, not a "nothing" character, she was not a major player.
It's a difficult topic and I make no claims to exhaust it. It mirrors other cases regarding queer or mentally ill characters as villains-- it would sting much less were there more queer characters and more mentally ill characters in general, making it less hurtful when these characters are villains (that is to say, if it didn't feel like the exclusive presentation of queer or mentally ill characters were as villains, reception in these groups [I belong to both, by the way] might be better).
My original point, when I started this post nearly two whole years ago, was that, while it was the most satisfactory conclusion of her current narrative arc, Beverly Katz should not have had to die.
My other point there, upon starting, was that when we encounter a situation like Ms. Katz's, it is not unuseful to consider biases which the author of the story may have-- after all, while we can often approach the story on its own, it is still written by a living and breathing (or, well, in most cases) human being.
We must remember that, for all the author is dead, he (to be assumptive but not necessarily inaccurate) is also very much alive-- he is after all the one writing the story and determining what does and does not qualify as "narrative necessity".
What I am asking for, more than any condemnation of a specific media creator (though the list of individual cases is quite long), is a further consideration of the story. To again deal directly with Hannibal, would it have sat better with viewers if Beverly Katz's first major involvement in the story had been far prior to the involvement that ended with her murder? Would it have stung less if it felt like there were more active female characters in the story to that point?
I ask as always a further consideration of the media we consume (and don't think I don't include myself in this request !), even when it's uncomfortable. While it is possible to consume media uncritically (and believe me, I have and do!), if we intend to consume media critically we must be consistent and not accept excuses where they arise (such as "narrative necessity", which, as stated, is so often used as an excuse and a guard against killing [etc] characters in marginalised groups).

I am hesitant to do so, but considering the depth and breadth of the topic, I am concluding this post asking for the contribution of further thoughts on the topics above in the comments. I am very interested in hearing your opinions-- not only because I'm sure they can spark further thoughts of my own, or strengthen them through challenge.

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