The Christian Examiner ran an article recently on the gore of the AMC TV show, The Walking Dead, and how its fascination with death and the gore associated with it depicted in the show runs counter to a Christian viewpoint. Franklin Graham is quoted from January’s edition of Decision magazine:
That program is just one of numerous televisions programs that have garnered tremendous followings by fixating on gore and death. . . . At least half a dozen prime time shows are strangely enamored and captivated by it. . . . These shows, when combined with hugely popular video games like Mortal Kombat, demonstrate how obsessed with death our culture has become.
There is no question The Walking Dead is a gore-fest. Rolling Stones columnist Rob Sheffield, in November 2012, called it “the grossest show in TV history.” A quick search on YouTube offers up gruesome death scenes that remind me of the film I saw when I was 5 or 6, The Gruesome Twosome, that gave me a lifelong aversion to that sub-genre. I only watched about a minute of a ten minute depiction of death scenes in the TV series before bowing out. I got the picture.
While I sympathize with Mr. Graham’s concerns about our society’s fascination with gore and death, I respectfully submit that his reaction, like many Christians on this subject, is equally in error. It is not enough to condemn it, wash our hands of it, and move on.
I don’t think it is an obsession with death that is the problem, but an over-focus on death for entertainment as opposed to strengthening spiritual character.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from death. It even depicts a few gruesome deaths. It states we will all die. Jesus also talks about His own death extensively with His disciples. One of the central events depicted in the New Testament is the death of Jesus on the cross, by which He defeats death through death. Paul depicts baptism as a form of death and resurrection; the dying of the Old Man and the renewing of him by the Giver of Life, Jesus Christ. Death and life are central themes to the Gospel.
Jesus warns, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mat 10:28 ASV)
But what do we tend to do? We view death as gruesome and gory, and do our best to hide it out of sight. We avoid the reality in favor of keeping it a fantasy trope. Like the Roman citizen’s enjoying an evening out at the Colosseum to watch lions devour a victim, who is deemed to have deserved it, we’d rather face the gore of death on the screen and treat it as mere entertainment.
When I lived in Bethany, Oklahoma in the 80s, people began to complain about the dead-cat truck. The city regularly had an employee collecting dead cats and piling them into the open bed of a truck to haul off and dispose. That meant people who pulled up behind this truck at stop lights had a front row seat to piles of dead cats. The city eventually had to cover the truck bed to halt the complaints.
Yet, many of those same people probably went home that evening and watched a violent TV show where people died. We hide from the reality by experiencing it as entertainment. Fr. Stephen Freeman drives home this point:
I have often asked the question, “How many of you have seen a baby be born?” and “How many of you have actually witnessed a person’s death?” I am still surprised when the answer comes out to be but a small minority. There are two things people have to do: be born and die. However, it appears that a majority of modern populations have seen neither (women obviously have an advantage over men in witnessing the birth of a child).
I bet if he had then asked how many had viewed someone dying in a movie or TV show, a majority of the hands would have shot up.
A key characteristic of Christian fiction is how it handles death.
Does the story hide from the reality of death? Is death mere entertainment? Are the “bad guys” consistently ending up dead while the “good guys” always avoiding it? Is death seen mainly as a punishment or defeat?
Or is death, in all its reality, faced head on? Is death infused with meaning rather than something to avoid? Is physical death not depicted as the end and ultimate evil, but rather the second death at the Great Judgment? Is there victory in death? Has death lost its sting?
While I understand the marketing concerns to a CBA audience, the reality is the absence of sex, gore, cussing, and violence doesn’t make a book Christian-compatible. How it handles death, however, determines how in sync with the Gospel a book is.
Do Christians need to focus on the reality of death more completely? How can Christian fiction aid that instead of being a diversion from it?