It's not surprising that a lot of wildly different reactions and opinions and theories have appeared in the aftermath of last week's tragedy in Newtown. But one in particular did surprise me: a small chorus of TV reporters and critics are calling for FOX to cancel its upcoming drama The Following, which is set to premiere on January 21. For those who haven't heard about it: It's a show about a serial killer (James Purefoy) forming a cult of serial killers, and the FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) trying to stop him. Yes, by all accounts, it is very violent and includes lots of murder, for obvious reasons. But it's worth noting that it focuses neither on guns nor on killing children, and it will be premiering over a month after the events in Newtown.
First, a small issue: Some of the people saying this have seen at least one episode of the show, but others (by their own accounts) have not. (For the record, I have not seen it yet. I've heard wildly differing opinions, but people whose taste I trust have loved it, so I'm looking forward to trying it. But until I do so, I HAVE NO OPINION. That's how this works.) Publicly condemning a show without actually watching it strikes me as completely irresponsible. It frustrates me when people - especially people who viewers look to for advice on what to watch - give uninformed opinions. Saying you don't find the trailers for a show appealing so you don't want to watch it? Sure, that's fine. Saying, based on trailers and buzz, that you think a show should not be on the air? That's problematic.
And really, that gets at the larger issue. There are absolutely things in this country that should change in the wake of Newtown. But I really don't think banning violence from TV is one of them. To be fair, people are saying that FOX themselves should pull the show, not that the government should force them to do it, so it's not quite censorship. But saying "This awful thing happened in real life, so this unrelated violent show being on the air is insensitive" seems like a very dangerous path to go down. If individuals decide not to watch The Following because they don't want to voluntarily put more violence (even fictional) into their lives or worlds, that's COMPLETELY understandable and fine. But saying that no one should have the option of watching it puts them in the company of parents who want books pulled out of libraries so that NO children (not just their own) can read about gay characters or sex or eating disorders.
Both my personal inclinations and my library training lead me to firmly believe that no one should decide what media anyone else should consume (with the exception of things whose production harms people who cannot consent to participation, such as child pornography). As Ranganathan's second and third laws of library science state, "Every reader his book. Every book its reader." I believe the same goes for TV shows. Those who object to the violence shouldn't watch. But this is a business. If enough people feel that a show is outside the bounds of taste, or just not what they want to watch, the show will fail. Does this mean that many things I personally have no interest in seeing wind up on the air? Of course. But I don't want any person or group deciding what content I'm allowed to consume, and so I wouldn't want to impose my beliefs or tastes on others.
Is The Following any good? Does it glorify murder? Is it in poor taste? Is actually brilliant? Is it more violent or scary than I'll be able to handle, watching alone in my apartment? I have no idea! But I want the chance to find out.