I’m a fannibal. NBC’s series about the infamous cannibal/serial killer/ assistant to the FBI has struck a fandom to rival the Supernatural/Dr. Who/Sherlock trifecta of fandoms.
When we look at who Hannibal is, what he has done, and his overall approach to life, we aren’t supposed to like him. The man is evil, flat out. Yet he’s the most intriguing persona available on television right now. what is our fascination with such an obviously evil character?
Here’s my theory.
There’s a crash on the road and the traffic has slowed almost to a standstill. It’s not because of the reduced lanes of traffic, but because we all have to see. We like seeing twisted wreckage, ambulances speeding through highway congestion, and that ominous white shroud that makes the imagination pulse with horror. It’s an emotional high, especially when we’ve got a desk job or a job that sucks any emotional stimulus like a black hole.
Hannibal produces this through not only murdering a wealth of fictional people, but managing to pull it off in ways that we haven’t seen before. Ever. From the serial killers Dr. Lecter helps catch to those he does himself. We get a full tasting of the ingenuity and creativity that exist even in the spectrum of evil. Bees nests grown inside of people, bodies frozen then sliced like a body works exhibit, lungs and airway solidified so they could produce resonance from stringed instruments are just some of the horrific details we want to stop and look at while cringing in disgust.
2. We want to experience something deadly.
Shows like NCIS, CSI in all its varieties, Law & Order, The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, and Castle all produce the simple theme of people being murdered and the crime being solved. They all have their little differences but they generally produce the same thing. Hannibal creates a whole new spectrum of death, and one that we will happily flirt with.
Our fascination with death is nothing new. In fact, it’s one of the most ancient thrill rides recorded in literature.
Consider the Odyssey, by Homer. Odysseus’s ship is coming through the realm of the Sirens, and they’ve been warned that they will lure men to their deaths. The singular job of the sirens is drown people. To prevent this from happening to his ship, everyone on board stuffs their ears with wax.
Except for Odysseus. He just asks to get tied to the mast.
This is because it was the ultimate adrenaline rush. He could get so close to death that it would drive him insane and scream at his crewmen to release him so that he could join the sirens and give in to their advances. But, none of the crew can hear him.
Our love of death and getting close enough to touch it has produced a myriad of extreme sports, physical and mental challenges, and Hannibal. The host of writers that bring this show to life focus not only on the characters solving the crime, but equal focus on death itself from the decorative animal skulls Dr. Lecter uses on his table to the grim art of the arranged corpses.
3. Hannibal Lecter is the best portrayal of ultimate evil
Whatever your religions preference is (minus a few), we all believe in an ultimately evil force. So much of the Judeo-Christian world portray the devil or Satan as an ugly gargoyle of a thing with a pitchfork and a forked tail. CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters says those are simply clever tactics of our enemy below. Such comical images really limit the influences we think we see from evil entities.
Actual scriptures says that Satan can manifest himself as an angel of light, and can quote scripture for his purposes. Both the portrayals of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and the TV show Hannibal paint Dr. Lecter in exactly this same light. He’s charming, he’s charismatic, lovable and trustworthy in every way. That adoration becomes revile through the second season of the show, however. We as viewers become privy to evil that trumps any good quality we see in him. Then we grow more horrified as we see the characters still acting in trust, friendship, and even romantic love towards this being we now loathe.
When The Silence of the Lambs first arrived in movie theaters it was the culmination of our new understanding of the criminal mind. Our original view of the serial killer and murderer were of savage beasts barely men, wielding axes and knives with maniacal gusto. But after Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, Fish, Gein, and Kuklinsky, we’ve had to change how we understand crime scenes, the victims, and the killers themselves. Criminal profiling became necessary, not simply a magic to rely on when traditional methods couldn’t produce a desired outcome. NBC’s series brings that idea even further into the light.
As an aspiring author, this is intriguing and wonderful. It’s pretty much law that a hero has to have his faults and flaws and a touch of darkness in his soul or he can’t be considered a hero. Then we see Hannibal, and viewers almost have to see the scales of good and evil just to make sure that the evil outweighs the good qualities we see in him. So much screen time is dedicated to seeing him create things of beauty, from the food, to his drawings, to his compositions on the harpsichord, even to teaching another how to play the theremin.
Season two ended in such a dramatic way that season 3 has to exist sometime in the future, and I shall be among those awaiting its return.