Over the last few years, we’ve seen some incredible series on our television screens. Some we watch for their pure entertainment value as an escape from what sometimes feels like an unrelenting feed of bad news. Others we watch to provide commentary and insights that are relatable, sobering, and thought-provoking.

Whether through humour, satire or through darker elements, these stories often complement, shape or change our viewpoints on both life and pop culture. 

But what happens when stories take it too far?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Currently this show is so relevant because it touches on a dark dystopian society that hinges on the rights of men and reduces women to the status of being nothing but broodmares or fit only for domestic work. 

It’s a brutal show, which makes for uncomfortable television consumption, because it reflects many aspects of our present day where women are still not equal, and often whose primary roles are seen as mothers or caregivers before anything else. 

However, the problem is that the show is sometimes so graphic that I feel it goes beyond actually getting the message across. 

We live in a violent society – one where women pay for their lives every day under shocking circumstances, so do we really need a show that resorts to using triggering content and graphically depicts scenes of rape and beatings?

Are more subtle forms of telling stories no longer effective and creating awareness? It certainly feels that way to me. 

In the Handmaid’s Tale we see everything from bloody beatings to public hanging and rape. And it’s relentless in it's depiction of those scenes.

And it’s not the only show that has a problem with being gratuitous. 

Game of Thrones, for all its accolades is not only graphic in depicting violence and bloodshed, but it’s also been guilty of using rape as a plot device to carry a story where it wasn’t actually necessary (Sansa Stark comes to mind).

The levels of gore in the show border on sadism and torture – think of Joffrey’s cruelty (there are far too many instances to mention), Sansa’s rape scene and even back in the beginning when Khal Drogo kills Viserys by pouring hot gold all over his face.

Granted, Viserys is a nightmare of a human, but torturing someone for being an awful human being is extreme.

There are limits. And for me, Game of Thrones has erased that line from the very beginning. 

Some might argue that the time period for this fantasy show – or any show that wants to really say something - means that the level of torture depicted is appropriate to that time frame.

But does that excuse it? I don’t think so. And of course you will get those who argue that you simply don’t have to watch these shows (which is actually why I’ve stopped), but that doesn’t erase the problem that pop culture seems to have embraced torture as a form of entertainment value.

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Hannibal is another show that I found I simply couldn’t stomach. 

Yes, yes, the show is about a cannibalistic murderer so I should have been prepared for the horror, but the stark and stylistic beauty of the show (which actually appealed to me) couldn’t mask the level of horror I had endure.

And really, what’s the point of watching a show when you spend most of your time covering your eyes or turning away from it because watching it leaves you feeling sick?

By all means, let’s watch programmes that are intense and that showcase systems that need rooting out, but perhaps we could find a way to present the content of the show without compromising its message with distressing shock tactics.

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