Focusing on the themes of doubling and the monstrous human, my previous post discussed how the Graham-Lecter relationship of Red Dragon relates to the Graham-Lecter relationship presented in NBC’s Hannibal. While there are correlations, the final question to discuss is: What does any of this give us in 2014? Or, rephrased, why resurrect Hannibal Lecter in 2013-14?
Hannibal could have imagined Lecter’s exploits after he escapes from FBI custody and built off of Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal. Instead the show returns to the beginning of our knowledge of Lecter as Lecter, rexamining the Graham-Lecter relationship. With this retro-focus, Hannibal reflects a desire we have to explore the origins of the monster-human relationship. One reason we return to stories in general is because we are trying to explain our own experiences. It’s a very biblical exercise: the Hebrew Bible was composed by a group trying to understand how they ended up conquered and in exile under Babylonian rule. The Gospel narratives were created by groups trying to understand their life years after the Jesus-event and to explain why Jesus had not returned to save them as promised. In both situations, narratives are used to understand tragedies and how those tragedies inform a group’s present and shape their future. The same can be said for our fascination with Lecter.
American society has been trying to understand terrorism and audiences are still working on emotional and psychological consequences of September 11, 2001. Our cannon, our scriptures if you will, are the narratives we place in books, on TV, and in films. The resurrection of Lecter offers a means to continue wrestling with the consequences of terrorism. With continued terrorist events, this need for an explain of the whys, hows, and what nows increase. Part of the problem is that we want enemies that are so obviously evil that they stand apart from the crowd. We want to be able to objectify the enemy, to pick the enemy out in a crowd, to know for certain that that person is THE enemy, without any doubts. Unfortunately, this is far from our current reality. We are coming to terms with the fact that those who most want to cause harm live among us. Not only do they live with us, these beings blend in with us. How do we then catch them?
This is where Chief of Detectives Springfield and Dr. Chilton come in. Both Springfield and Chilton want to rely on methods of objective identification: sight, psychological diagnosis, observable craziness, data collection, etc. Chilton especially wants the notoriety that goes along with unlocking the secrets of the psychopath/sociopath brain. In other words, he wants fame. However, neither of these men’s methods lends itself to understanding or finding the monster. Their desires can actually lead to further harm, especially when we develop beliefs concerning how a monster should act when it is in our “control”. It is much easier to contain our fear of the monster when there is an easy way to identify the monster and if we believe we can control it. Graham shows us that this approach is flawed.
Graham’s approach is entirely human and based on the interrelationship of human beings to truly know and understand each other. This knowledge and understanding is what makes him able to catch Lecter (both in Red Dragon and NBC’s Hannibal). However, this is an uncomfortable concept to swallow: we need to understand the monster? Understanding implies some sense of closeness, a thought we may more often associate with friendship, which creates even more discomfort when thinking about how to approach the monster. We have to become close to the monster, makes friends with the monster, if we have any hope over overcoming the monster. In short, we have to let the monster into our world completely. The monster is already there whether we like it or not, and no amount of ignoring that fact will change it.
Red Dragon and NBC’s Hannibal show us that we also have a high likelihood of becoming the very monster we chase. We begin to share behaviors with him because we operate on the same plane of existence. This likeness make fear of the “other” difficult: how do you fear what you yourself have become? While we rely on monsters to create stability in society, according to scholarship on the monster, we tend to ignore Edward Ingebretsen‘s warning that those who pursue the monster very often become confused with the monster. This idea adds another dimension of disease because we want to believe that we are not, nor will we ever be, like the monster. As long as we try to keep the monstrous human in an objective place (like Springfield and Chilton) we risk more harm.
We have to remember too that the monster is a monstrous human, a double of ourselves. The monstrous human needs us in order to survive just as much as we need him. If this is the case, then what is the monstrous human doubling? What is Lecter reflecting in Graham? This leads to questions of whether or not we can change the monstrous human’s doubling of humanity by changing what humanity desires. If we do, what will the monster double–love or hate, evil or goodness?
We need Lecter, not because he is good entertainment, but because he helps us as we try to get a handle on the existence of the monstrous in society. He can, paradoxically, offer us solutions to the very problem we seek to answer. Of course, to discover these solutions we have to get close to the monster. Since we can’t necessarily buddy up with terrorists, we can become engrossed in a television show that offers a way for us to think about the monstrous human through Graham’s story. Graham gives us the trick: to catch the monster, we have to let the monster in.