Pedagogical publicity, or: Why I’m reading less Hannibal advance press rather than more

Richard Armitage becoming the Red Dragon, from the preview trailer for season 3 of Hannibal. Source: Fangoria

Richard Armitage becoming the Red Dragon, from the preview trailer for season 3 of Hannibal. Source: Fangoria

It’s funny, because usually I am extremely eager to pick up every trace of Richard Armitage’s work and media presence, and having read the book, it’s not like there are really any meaningful spoilers I could run across. But I finally realized tonight what’s been bugging me — reading one of these Bryan Fuller interviews that broke today — the one in TV Insider was where the lightbulb went on:

“We’re not going to make it easy on you,” Fuller warns. “This man who falls for a blind woman and wants to take her to the zoo to enjoy the animals, who has arranged for her to actually touch them because she can’t see them—that is one of the most beautiful gestures I’ve seen in a romantic story. Yet it happens to be buried in the horror of a terrible, terrible killer of families. You see that this man is a contradiction; he is capable of beautiful and terrible things. And you can root against the monster, but you also need to root for the man, and hope he defeats the monster.” Fuller is careful, though, to point out that the fictional nature of the story makes this cognitive dissonance a little easier to handle. [my emphasis]

Actually, as a long-time fan of Armitage, I think it would be interesting to see a role in which my favorite actor didn’t try to make a bad guy seem more human, or try to get me to identify or sympathize with him. That would be a real departure for him, seen artistically.

It’s the pedagogical approach to watching that Fuller’s pushing in these interviews, I guess. Is he really that worried we won’t get the point? Maybe Armitage’s performance of Dolarhyde is more repellent, and less sympathetic, than we’ve been led to believe, if Fuller has to sell it this hard. He’s been saying similar versions of these things in the interviews I’ve read, for example, in Tattle-Crime.com:

There were times that we were sitting in the editing room going over a scene and both the editor and I had to wipe a tear out of the corner of our eyes because you’re rooting for this man to find some peace because he is so tortured, and yes, he is a terrible killer of families but Richard imbues him with great power and also tremendous vulnerability and it’s incredibly appealing.

Maybe Fuller has a different sense of the meaning of the word “appealing” than I do, but it’s hard for me to imagine anything less appealing than “a terrible killer of families.” Compelling, maybe. Moving, perhaps — or simply affecting, in the sense that conflicted narratives can often affect us deeply on numerous levels, not all of them positive. In one sense, sure, it’s good that people who are editing something they’ve shot are so much in love with it that they can edit out the moral level of their reactions and focus on their love for their characters. I don’t expect anything less of a good novelist (for instance). On the other hand, it’s truly disturbing that that would become the main message that the creator would want to spread about the creation. A vulnerable character can be appealing, it’s true — but isn’t one of the axes this show is supposed to draw its power from is the fact that the gore and violence and the horrible harm that they wreak mean we can never sympathize fully with these killers? Of course, to the extent that Fuller et al. love precisely the gory, violent pieces of the show, perhaps they’ve abandoned that stance; gore, violence and mayhem are not barriers for them. There’s a kind of glee in Fuller’s remarks about the show generally that is reflected in the filming style that generally turns me off.

Maybe, too, it’s that after seeing episodes 10-12 of season 2 of Hannibal, I’ve begun to suspect that I wouldn’t much like Fuller if I met him. Someone who can be involved in the writing of this show generally and a plot line like that one in particular might well consider refraining from telling people how to think morally. Or maybe it’s that I’m a day or two older, raised with moralistic narratives, and exhausted at being told what to think about television by television writers. Whatever the reason for it, I find myself asking, Really, Mr. Fuller? Do I have to root for the man? Why do I have to take your point of view on at all? Isn’t it up to the show to convince me to assume its point of view? Do I really need you to give me additional lessons in the exercise of moral imagination?

It’s weird, because I know after five years of doing this fan thing that one point of pre-event publicity is for the artists to sell you on their vision of what they’ve done. In Armitage’s case, it’s often the opportunity for him to reveal bits of his own personal backstory for his character that probably didn’t make it into the script or onto the screen — perhaps in hopes that you will factor that stuff in when you’re watching and it will enhance your perception of his performance. In any case, I liked what I read today of Armitage’s remarks a lot better — they acknowledged the problems that one is up against when observing his character — and importantly, they accept that there may not be any resolution: “I look at the potential of the child that was taken down this path. I always felt that there was a kind of possibility of redemption through his love for Reba. But then that’s the point where I have to step outside the character and really see him as a figure of menace and discord, and let him be that. I fluctuated between loving him and condemning him.”

In their substance, I think, Fuller’s and Armitage’s viewpoints are the same — that Dolarhyde is an ambivalent figure about whom one’s feelings are divided. Armitage’s remarks here, however, rely implicitly to what he said about how to build a character — you have to know what other people (might) say of him. Intelligently, in today’s interview Armitage doesn’t tell me any way I need to feel about what he’s doing as Dolarhyde and he admits that his own feelings were torn. It’s another piece of “show don’t tell” that is worth remembering.

~ by Servetus on May 28, 2015.

24 Responses to “Pedagogical publicity, or: Why I’m reading less Hannibal advance press rather than more”

  1. Loving your posts lately; your The Crucible posts had me spoiled. I am really looking forward to what you will be writing once the episodes air.

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    • thanks — trying to get back in that nightly text-producing mood (and taking steps in real life to facilitate that, too).

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  2. I see what you mean… I hadn’t really noticed how he sort of prescribes what we’re supposed to feel. I suppose I didn’t notice that because from my own reading and watching of The Red Dragon book/movie, what he said was what I already expect will happen. I did feel that empathy and find myself wishing that redemption was possible for the character even though I knew he was too far gone and his crimes too egregious. What I’m looking forward to most is the scare factor. I don’t mean the gore, though maybe that will be part of it. Just whatever RA pulls out of the bag that will be creepy and make my skin crawl… whatever it was that they referenced that caused the crew to gasp… I’ve never had that from RA so it will be an entirely new experience.

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    • I don’t think Fuller is unique in this — just especially penetrating and since he’s talking about something that is likely objectionable, it is noticeable.

      I was thinking after I pushed publish on this that it’s actually almost better evidence for the “virtuous Armitage” trope than a lot of the stuff people cite that he is the one who keeps bringing his viewers back to moral issues — reminding us in the Crucible interviews that Proctor is an adulterer / sinner, for instance, pointing out that Guy needed to be punished for his crimes, nothing that he’s troubled by Thorin’s behavior, and so on. He’s at least thinking about these things.

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  3. Thank you,Servetus 🙂 Great post!
    I really hope Dolarhyde will be repulsive from his first ..move. I mean he can be beautiful on picture (well, it’s Richard ) but in motion he should be creepy. I want to be scared to death by one glance of his steely (hihi .. sorry 🙂 ) eyes . I’m sure he can do it.. just like Gary Oldman or Jack Nicholson does it.

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  4. “’…but you also need to root for the man, and hope he defeats the monster.’ Fuller is careful, though, to point out that the fictional nature of the story makes this cognitive dissonance a little easier to handle.”

    Thank you for this. Here you spell out precisely why I’m so ambivalent about this Hannibal-thing. It hasn’t got anything to do with RA playing a monster, but my ambivalence has to do with the potential manipulation of my feelings to the point that I may “root” for FD.

    I believe that Bryan Fuller and others behind this show are acutely aware of the following that RA has, i.e. new ‘clients’ to this show that nearly got cancelled. It’s a means to make Hannibal edible (sorry about the pun) and appealing to this particular audience.

    And, frankly, I don’t like the attempt at manipulation. I do not agree that by making FD more vulnerable, sympathetic, lovable or beautiful that the story becomes easier to handle. To me the genre will still be horror. The story will still be horrific, and FD’s actions will still be inexcusable and unjustifiable.

    The morality aspect is interesting. We’ve got a show with some very beautiful, artistic pictures/footage to show the horror, and we’ve got this manipulation into rooting for the bad guy. Are the people behind Hannibal becoming morally callous because they transform all this gore to entertainment while they apparently are having a good time doing it?

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    • Oh, and the book does a pretty decent job with its characters. I don’t think we need anymore “explaining”. There, I know I’m direct – just needed to get it off my chest.

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    • I have been reading a lot of things regarding not wanting to or being capable of sympathizing or rooting for FD which of course is understable. But it has made me think about the issue of crimes, sometimes horrendous crimes, and the mentally ill, or while taking bath salts, etc. What is to be done about people like that? Lock them away away of course…but then what if they are rehabilitated, or cured. Reading the FD character discussions and the discussions re morality etc of RA taking a role such as that and making the character sympathetic etc. I have been thinking FD is more than just about right vs wrong. He doesn’t gleefully go about his horrible crimes because he wants to, but because he is compelled to. And when he finds love, he attempts to slay the dragon for love. So I can’t really say that I feel I am being manipulated into accepting or rooting for RA as FD but rather it has made me think of more than just black or white, right or wrong.

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      • but then again I may just be justifying in my head because RA is going to sexy as hell as FD and I don’t want to feel guilty about it. lol

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      • If it made you think, good. I’m anti-death-penalty (about 90% anyway), so I guess the possibility of a killer we pity isn’t that surprising to me — from a political standpoint anyway. As far as culpability goes, Armitage keeps calling Dolarhyde a psychopath where as I am guessing it is more likely he was something like a paranoid schizophrenic. Which raises the problem of intent. I had a long discussion about this with a Canadian friend — apparently the rules for finding someone unfit to stand trial in Canada are different than they are in the US.

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        • I don’t know all that much about the U.S. laws either. It’s a tough issue for me to decide on. We had a terrible case a few years ago where a man off his meds had a psychotic break and decapitated the young man sleeping next to him on a bus. With a sword. When he was released (under supervision) only a couple years later it was somewhat shocking but then, what to do? He was back on his medication and doing well. If you commit a crime when you are theoretically not you should you be incarcerated for the rest of your life. Or if you did a reckless stupid act when young and impressionable how long to you pay if you truly wish to redeem yourself: I confess I wouldn’t sleep well if he were my neighbour though! This is what I have been thinking of since reading RA’s recent interview that you quoted. Even though I had read the book I didn’t think of Francis as anything more than I sick killer of families and that is how I think it was presented in the two movie portrayals. It seems to me, after reading RA’s interview, there will be more of how and why Francis is becoming the Dragon and how maybe the humanity still in him is fighting to exist and overcome the becoming. My ramblings….I am getting more and more interested in seeing these 8 or so episodes and how RA is going physicalize the role and manifest the war in FD’s own mind.

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    • I really don’t have any need to condemn evil (I tend to find it condemns itself) and I can handle it if I end up finding the villain to be not so villainous, i just want to decide for myself.

      I do wonder if they get inured to what they are doing, except of course that what they are doing is so over the top that it doesn’t really seem realistic, i.e., they are probably getting inured to seeing stage blood, not inured to actual violence.

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      • And to me that is the difference between Hanibal and Francis…Hanibal is evil, and enjoys it without remorse. While Francis does evil things, I don’t think he enjoys it. The killings by Francis are serve the Red Dragon and FD has to do it correctly (hence the filming – to critique his ritual and achieve perfection and then become one with the dragon?). So, although the horror genre sickens me and frightens me, this part RA has taken on has begun to really fascinate me in ways that a romantic, or period piece or action role never could. I do love him any those roles too of course.

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        • This is a very interesting observation. That Hannibal shows no remorse while FD’s enjoyment is actually questionable. Good point.

          Personally, the genre is terrifying to me, because it lies just under the surface that something similar to these horrendous actions/killings potentially could take place in real life. Also the explicit nature of the gore – the picture of the person turned into a cello is an example of this – disgusts me, quite frankly.

          Although I hold the opinion that no matter how ill a criminal is, it doesn’t excuse the action(s), I do sincerely hope that these criminals are offered treatment and their conditions are regularly evaluated. I do not support capital punishment. It’s been abolished in my country since 1930 with the exception of the aftermath of WWII.

          Nevertheless, returning to topic, I resent the kind of publicity where my throat is stuffed with how I should feel about certain things. LIberate me from manipulation. Most of these interviews show an eager attempt to manipulate – most likely for the sake of marketing – (new?) viewers into seeing the show through certain spectacles.

          I’ll give Mr Fuller the benefit of doubt though and consider that maybe the wording was originally different and then processed through a journalist.

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          • I admit that I hadn’t been thinking of “us” Armitage fans as the target of a lot of this publicity, but I suppose it makes sense — we are probably the biggest noticeable market segment to come into view.

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  5. this is certainly a great post, serv, and i wish i was going to add an insightful opinion about it. However, that picture is causing my brain to short circuit. I’m not a tattoo fan, but that one is seriously sexy

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  6. I feel i am very badly placed to talk about this because i don’t like the horror genre. Something that is build on violence and fright just doesn’t agree with me and i don’t agree with it. So i’m afraid everything i say will be biased that way. So i fully accept if people will say to this: you don’t understand it or what it is about or why it is special or good. I am conscious of my own prejudice, i’m sort of just commenting as a non-horror fan if you will who will end up watching RA in this.

    Hm, i never thought about that aspect of Fuller’s interviews. Mainly because what he said was totally congruous with my understanding of the show, or rather its success from the get go. I thought their success story, their originality was all based on the idea of making the unspeakable and the horrific ‘beautiful’, on enticing/convincing the audience into liking the killers by showing some of their ‘weaknesses’ or more human traits. I read somewhere today a review saying ‘all this show is about love and it has always been about love’. That i feel is what Fuller has also always said: people can like Hannibal because he has a human side, he ‘loves’ Will, sees him as his close friend. Will also has a weak spot for Hannibal, in spite of all evidence, in spite of the attempts on his own life he still indulges him and ‘forgives’ him, there is a friendship there. Dolarhyde is just another one like that in their view, he tries to break free from his killing compulsion.
    Fuller and the creators take obvious pride and their concept and the positive reviews this has elicited. S3 if current articles are any indication will only add to this praise. Without going into detail, i bumped into a few articles the the vibe seems to be, if you thought it was crazy and spectacular and horrific until now, it is only increasing from there.
    I’m sorry to say that reading that this show is about love simply horrified me and gave me an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach… And i am frightened at the idea of being even more frightened in what is to come.

    But, truth be told it is clear that there is a big audience out there who agrees with Fuller and feels exactly what he hoped for: liked Hannibal, loves the look of the show and so on. I just think it is something i have to accept, that i will just not get it because i physically and mentally can’t. But that many others can. There is no way or nothing in this world that will make me accept what happens in this show in the name of love and excuse it that way or become sympathetic to it. Maybe i’m stuck up or set in my ways but it is just the way it is. Which is also why i don’t really fear i could be attracted to Dolarhyde and be conflicted about it. Actually there is more backstory and human abuse in Dolarhyde’s background to allow for reasonable pity, that doesn’t need to be forced or sold particularly by the show (if one has read the book). I didn’t feel an ounce of attraction reading the book or any fuzzy feeling whatsoever other than pity and horror at the human prejudice that made for a cruel childhood. All i felt was constant and unrelenting fear for what he would do to Reba.

    As for the redemption aspect and rehabilitation i’m trying hard to stay calm on that subject where the show is concerned. While killers such as depicted need to be caught and contained what the show presents in terms of prison and rehabilitation is not only not progressive or innovative it is insulting, backwards and questionable and in no way human or really acceptable ( i am sure mental hospitals like the one depicted exist and plenty but it is certainly anything but progressive). For me it is one of the important aspects where the show actually fails to push boundaries and be really innovative.

    Fact is for me the innovation is down to the more technical aspects of cinematography, the way it is cut and filmed, the images, the combination with the soundtracks. And yes maybe in terms of horror genre it is also innovative in characterisation, in that it doesn’t present the villains as the absolute evil and effectively blurs boundaries of acceptability of the act of murder.
    As sitting outside the genre i can’t accept this as being progressive outside the technical aspect. And i feel disappointed about the actual boundaries of story telling it pushes against vs what i would consider risky, innovative in an attitude changing kind of way.
    But i don’t think it actually means to do anything else than entertain, so very like i am in the wrong from the start, holding it to standards it never meant to be measured against ( even if the glorifying reviews may indicate that).

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  7. ups, sorry got worked up again! i should really give thinking about the show a break and relax! I realised that i forgot the say the most important thing! I really liked the RA interview, the details about his process (i had to smile as his excuse/complaint about 10 days not being enough to get a body builder’s body!). I was also very happy to read about how much input he was able to bring to the show. Regardless of how much the show conflicts me, or maybe even because of it it makes me happier that for him it was such a creative and inspiring experience 🙂
    I’ll admit i was a bit relieved when he indicated he might have been ever so slightly disturbed for a moment watching the filmed scene and also interested and how he then described the feeling of estrangement the character would have. I couldn’t put my finger to it but you are spot on, that sense of objectivity with which he talks about it was reassuring. And the idea that there can’t always be love for all characters regardless and that sometimes it is ok for them to be scary and horrific.
    It is all in my head, but i feel reassured that i shouldn’t feel guilty if i am too scared and just too horrified to like Dolarhyde; that it is actually ok to not be attracted to him just because RA plays him.

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  8. […] to be in a room with the man when he was angry, and hopefully we will see of that, not undercut by Fuller’s pedagogical impulses, on […]

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  9. “after seeing episodes 10-12 of season 2 of Hannibal, I’ve begun to suspect that I wouldn’t much like Fuller if I met him. Someone who can be involved in the writing of this show generally and a plot line like that one in particular might well consider refraining from telling people how to think morally.”

    While I understand that not everyone enjoys watching or reading gory horror/dark/gothic/scary stuff, this comment is RIDICULOUS. They’re writers; it’s FICTION. All sorts of kind, friendly, gentle, wonderful people have written stories with horrifying plots or characters – that’s what writers and artists and so forth do. It’s fine if you don’t like what you perceive as someone telling you how to feel about a fictional man who does very very terrible fictional things, but ‘people who write emotionally and physically eviscerating plotlines have no business talking about morals!!!’ is absurd.

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    • Actually, I didn’t say he had no business talking about morals, I said he might consider whether he wanted to speak to that topic: “might well consider.” You quoted it yourself.

      I personally don’t know Fuller. However, it is not ridiculous for me to say that I don’t think I would like him if I met him on any basis. I don’t think I would. This is not an isolated opinion, incidentally, if my email is any gauge of what some Armitage fans think about Fuller after reading his interviews.

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  10. […] (and Fuller) were at pains, in different ways, to stress how we should view this character — as the participant in a love story, as someone whom we might sympathize or empathize with […]

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