HANNIBAL AD PORTAS Richard Armitage!

That's Hannibal Barca of 2nd Punic War fame...There is a pretty nice Hannibal docudrama starring the fabulous Alexander Siddig whom Armitage fans might recognize as baddie Zahir Sharq from Strikeback

That’s Hannibal Barca of 2nd Punic War fame…There is a pretty nice Hannibal docudrama starring the fabulous Alexander Siddig (handy Armitage connection:  fans might recognize Siddig as baddie Zahir Sharq from Strikeback: Afghanistan)

HANNIBAL AD PORTAS!!….Hannibal is at the gates!!  This was a cry that struck fear into the hearts of the Romans when the Carthaginian general did the unthinkable:  He crossed the Alps and invaded Roman Italy!!  For fifteen years, from 218 – 203 BC Hannibal, his army and his famous war elephants maruaded around Italy, rarely enticing the Romans into open battle, but causing mayhem and panic nonetheless.  Hannibal became a boogeyman and the phrase HANNIBAL AD PORTAS sent a generation of Roman children running for the shelter of their beds.

I thought it quite apropos in light of the recent news that Richard Armitage will join the season three cast of the NBC drama Hannibal.  In this case, the drama centers around the serial killer Hannibal Lecter, a character featured in a series of novels by Thomas Harris, and most recently adapted into a television series by Bryan Fuller et al.  That Richard Armitage would play the role of Francis Dolarhyde aka The Tooth Fairy, a vicious serial killer, caused something of a stir throughout Armitageworld, including many reactions that ranged from ambivalence to downright aversion.  HANNIBAL AD PORTAS!! indeed.

My personal reaction was neither ambivalent or averse.  I was intrigued.  Excited even.   I love the exhilarating adrenaline rush that being scared produces.  Some people ski Double Black Diamonds (seriously dude, one word: avalanche.), I watch scary movies.  I don’t tend to like gory films, although I’ve seen the “classics”  (Halloween, Friday the Thirteenth, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc).  Rather, I love the buildup of creepy, edge of your seat ghost stories like The Sixth Sense or Stir of Echoes (Which is why I was totally pulling for the rumor about Richard Armitage in The Mystery of Casa Matusita to be true…IMDb lists the film as “In Development” so who knows?).  I also thoroughly enjoyed The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001) and The Red Dragon (2002).  There is some violence and some gore in all of them, but it is used as a plot device, not the entire plot. (Although I grant you…the bit with Ray Liotta and the brain in Hannibal was truly disturbing.)  I have not watched Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal as yet, but not because I have any underlying issue with the content…I’ve made my way through Dexter and The Walking Dead with little trouble. Truthfully, I just don’t like watching episode by episode network television anymore (Damn you Netflix and your whole series streaming!  You’ve ruined me for week to week network programming!!).  Richard Armitage taking on the role of a quiet guy/serial killer?  I’m all in.

Then I learned that many of my fellow fans…some of whom I know very well…were expressing varying degrees of ambivalence and aversion to the series and the role.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past week.  I wondered why the thought of this role, that bothers others so much, only intrigues me.  I’m not a violent person by nature.  My husband, who grew up in West Philadelphia, laughs at me because I have never, EVER hit someone with the intention of hurting them.  Goofing around with a sock in the arm?  Sure.  Punching someone in the face?  Never.  (Upon instruction, he informed me once that if I ever actually made a fist and hit someone I’d only break my thumb since I tucked it inside my fingers…thanks dear!)  You’d be correct if you calculated that I’ve also never shot, stabbed, sliced or dismembered anyone either.  I diligently teach my children, “we do not hit” (or shoot, stab or dismember) as a means of conflict resolution.  I have not been the victim of violent crime (neither though, I hazard to guess have the majority of people averse to the Hannibal role been affected directly by a serial killer).  My sort of detachment puzzled me.

Upon reflection, I suppose that part of my lack of sensitivity comes from the material I study.  Violence was a regular, ingrained component of the ancient world.  With none of the notions of sanctity of life that came with the spread of Judaeo-Christian traditions, life was precarious…frequently at the whim of one or another invading army, marauding barbarian or anyone more powerful whose way one stepped into.  Horrible death was all in a day’s reality for many in the ancient world.

As I thought more about it, I realized that there might even be a reason closer to home that fictional content like Hannibal doesn’t strike me as awful as it might others.  In the summer of 1991 I had just graduated from college and was living in Milwaukee.  In July of that year, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested.  I, along with the rest of Milwaukee…later the nation, watched in mute horror as the full magnitude of Dahmer’s depravity was revealed.  A serial murderer with a predilection for necrophilia, dismemberment and cannibalism, Jeff Dahmer had been living and hunting among us for decades.

Jeffrey Dahmer at his trial in 1992

Jeffrey Dahmer at his trial in 1992

Looking at pictures of him today still turns my stomach, but if one didn’t know who he was, what he’d done, there is nothing superficial that says “cannibalistic serial killer.”  He looked pretty much like any other thirty year old guy hitting the bar scene on a Saturday night.  In fact, there is every possibility that my path crossed with Dahmer’s on any number of occasions from 1990-91 since his favorite “hunting ground” happened to be very near the neighborhood in which my friends and I hung out.   Being female, we were never in any danger from Dahmer, whose victims were exclusively young men, but the reality of it all is chilling nonetheless.  I frequently passed his apartment building when I decided not to take the freeway to my bestie’s house, completely oblivious to what was going on inside of it.

The scene of his crimes has long since been demolished…the lot is maintained as “vacant greenspace” by a private developer.  Jeffrey Dahmer is long since dead…sentenced to life in prison, he was beaten to death by another inmate in 1994.  Even though all of the physical evidence of his crimes has been cleaned away, the impact of them remains.  What I learned from the whole thing, perhaps what has somewhat desensitized me to fictional accounts of such events, is that true horror lives and walks undetected among us every single day.  Maybe a fifth row seat for the real thing makes television incarnations played by actors less troubling to me somehow?  I don’t really know.

Essentially, when it comes to Hannibal, each person must decide for his or herself what personal tolerance is.  Watch or don’t watch…it is totally up to the individual, and not a reflection of the depth of commitment to the career of Richard Armitage or a measure of the quality of one’s fandom.   This seems a simple thing, yet I was dismayed to see that once again rancor emerged in discussions of the role and people’s views of it.

Over the course of my 2-1/2 years in Armitageworld, I have seen this wide divide open again and again.  The topic doesn’t really seem to matter.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against energetic discussions of both sides of a subject.  On the contrary, diverse opinions and lively debate are qualities of a vital community.  What would we talk about if we all agreed about everything?   I guess my basic point is that it is neither a moral failing to appear in or to enjoy a show like Hannibal, nor is it a triumph of virtue to abhor it, and it serves absolutely no purpose to rip one another apart via social media on this or any other topic.

Come this summer I’ll be watching Richard Armitage in Hannibal…maybe I’ll see you at the watercooler!

“si vis amari ama”

 (if you wish to be loved, love)

….Seneca

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39 comments on “HANNIBAL AD PORTAS Richard Armitage!

  1. Servetus says:

    I moved to Madison in August of that summer … i didn’t realize that Dahmer had been killed in prison. I can’t say I paid much attention to it — the main memory I have from that period is watching Jimmy Connors’ amazing trip through the US Open, and the Anita Hill hearings …

    And I think one thing that’s great about this role (no matter how I end up feeling about it, or what I watch, or don’t watch, and I’m sure I’ll at least try) is that it will expand his fandom to people who *are* more friendly to roles like this and our perspectives will once again be broadened. That’s really great. I don’t get why people would question each other’s moral integrity over a tv show, either.

    • obscura says:

      It wasn’t something one could avoid in Milwaukee at the time. I think part of what made it even worse was that it emerged during the investigation that a mishandled police call cost a 19 year old his life and left Dahmer undetected long enough to kill four more young men.

      I agree about the expansion of diversity in the fandom the role will bring – there must be a Latin quote there somewhere 😉

      • Servetus says:

        Whatever the reverse of e pluribus unum is … I’m too lazy to look up noun declensions tonight 🙂

      • Servetus says:

        it occurs to me to say — the omnipresent reminder of (past) violence in Madison for me was the fact that one of the Army Math Research Center bombers had (after being released from prison) opened a food cart called Loose Juice in front of Memorial Library. I found it oddly paradoxical — my folks hadn’t even let me to apply to go college there because of that, and about once a week I bought a smoothie named after Dick Gregory from Karl Armstrong.

        • obscura says:

          What are the odds of that I wonder? As of 2010 that cart was still in business BTW….I don’t know if that reflects a huge capacity to put the past behind them, or a short memory.

          • Servetus says:

            It was a gutsy move, and I don’t necessarily think that Karl Armstrong became less radical after prison, or even necessarily more pacifist. (There’s a great book about this called Rads from which I learned a lot.) The Madison Left was never a crowd of people I aspired to hang with. OTOH the Armstrongs (his little brother was involved too) were not much like the rest of the bombers — they were small people, not from the East Coast social elites, from a working class family in Madison, they went to Madison East HS, Karl was a sort of marginal student hanging on by his fingernails, he might even have not been enrolled anymore when they did the bombing, their parents stayed there all through the aftermath of the thing, and I’m guessing he felt like it was “home.” Then again Madison has changed so much since then. After they set it off and drove away, they watched the cloud of smoke from a hill at the west end of town — which was then Midvale Boulevard, i.e., the Hilldale Mall.

          • obscura says:

            “Home” has an interesting pull. Given the current state of affairs, I wonder if he is still in residence…I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to find out.

          • Servetus says:

            I remember reading in the NYT a few years ago that the younger brother had died. There was a bar on the east side where you could supposedly catch them playing pool in their spare time.

            Wow. He was arrested for drug trafficking. http://willystreetblog.com/wp/2012/05/26/a-terrorist-gave-me-lemonade/ Geez.

  2. sparkhouse1 says:

    Nicely put. It has been fascinating to read everyone’s views and feelings since the news broke. I’ll be watching this summer. I’m intensely interested in this role now.

    • obscura says:

      I think each person’s opinion is equally valid…up to the point that immorality vs piety starts to be invoked. That’s just silly to me…it’s a TV show for goodness sake.

      The discussion of the program may well be as interesting as the show itself 🙂

  3. jholland says:

    It’s always disturbing when you realize that something so horrible went down so near to you. I tend to think of these violent crimes in the abstract, but you’re right, true horror does live and walk among us. I can’t say that anyone of Dahmer’s notoriety has been in my vicinity, although you never do know. Within the past decade of living in this town, two little girls were murdered, by separate men, one of them whose body was found in an abandoned car in the woods not one mile from my house. I can completely understand why some of Armitage’s fans will steer clear of this role, but I’m like you… kind of inexplicably drawn to the topic despite being a completely non-violent person.

    • obscura says:

      I wonder if I haven’t pushed it to the abstract as a defense mechanism because deep consideration of the reality is just too horrible…IDK

      Yep…I have no doubt that many will give it a pass, and that is perfectly fine. Then again, I had thought that I would HATE Strikeback, and John Porter emerged as one of my favorite chaRActers. *shrugs*

  4. Perry says:

    All I can add, besides agreement that everyone has decide for herself whether to watch Hannibal is,
    Son of Sam.

  5. linnetmoss says:

    Great post. I wonder if Thomas Harris had a classical education and chose the name “Hannibal” for that little echo of fear? I am still trying to get up the courage to watch “The Cook, the Thief His Wife and Her Lover” which has gore and cannibalism in it, but also My Guy. I am a completist who wants to see everything he has done, but I don’t know if I can manage that one.

    • obscura says:

      Harris IMDb bio credits him as graduating from Baylor with a degree in English, it’s not unlikely that he bumped up against Hannibal in the liberal arts…I cover him in every HIS 101 survey.

      It is a conundrum…to watch or not to watch?

  6. Guylty says:

    Oh goodness, don’t mention Dahmer. It’s those RL (court) cases that made the news all over the world that have me gag at the thought of their crimes. Dahmer, that German guy, and the Russian “beast”. Awful stuff.
    Interesting to know that you are an ice-cold horror queen, Obscura! I would not have pegged you as such, but I think your explanation sounds pretty logical – the antics of the “antiques” certainly are full of gore and blood, and maybe there is a certain habituation effect in it. I am glad to hear, though, that “MiniMe” and “Showbiz Son” are growing up without dismemberment and stabbing on their instruction schedules.

    • obscura says:

      I don’t know about full on Ice Cold…chilly maybe, but I will fully cop to a certain lack of squeemishness…(I also grew up in the farming cycle where back in the day, people butchered their own animals and didnt mind spectators, for what that’s worth) I never thought I’d watch TWD, but I find the character interaction and pathos worth the chore of looking away for the particularly gory bits.

      MiniMe prefers “Dance Mom’s, but I’ve had moments of concern with Showbiz Son. (I like that….I think I’ll steal it 🙂 ) There was a window there where his obsession with forensic crime documentaries had me wondering if he was studying to be a forensic scientist or a serial killer…it’s the always the quiet ones!

      • Guylty says:

        … or the ones with weird mothers…
        Ha, only kidding, of course! Kind of topical, though, I suppose. But you are right – we are otherwise so far removed from death and blood, no doubt we are overly sensitive these days. Ok, not too sensitive when it comes to cold-blooded murder, of course. That is *not* part of the natural cycle of life.
        Oh, and please use Showbiz Son – you are already Showbiz Mom, so that fits the bill. 😉

  7. obscura says:

    No, murder in the real world is completely and utterly abhorrent. I was thinking today, vis a vis sensitivity, about the typical 19th century Irish wake where the deceased is laid out in the home for a period of days. I can’t even imagine!

    • Leigh says:

      When my daughter expressed interest in crime scene analysis, I told her, “Well, first you have to learn not to barf, but never give up the reflex.” Real life can be so inexpessibly gruesome, even without the smells and textures, such as the photo of the burnt bodies of Boko Haran’s victims.

      • obscura says:

        So true…I do find myself much more sensitive to sound and smell than I am to sight. I vividly recall an episode years back when my husband shot a deer and we saved some money by having the meat delivered in big batches that “we” would wrap into individual packages. “We” ended up being me, and I will never forget my revulsion at the smell of that fresh ground venison. It wasn’t tainted in any way …just gamey and SO fresh! I avoid venison to this day because of it.

        While I may be relatively impervious to the visual of television violence, I’ve no doubt the the full sensory overload of real violence would overwhelm me. I give kudos to all the first responders who can deal with it in order to effect rescue and bring aid!

  8. Esther says:

    Very well said, Obscura! And I will be watching as well. I can assure you I have no serial killer tendencies myself either when I tell you I watched the first two Hannibal episodes last weekend and actually found it quite good! Yes, I found them awfully bloody and it creeped me out (not really huge on being creeped out) BUT I found the storytelling compelling + I like Hugh Dancy… so yeah, I will definitely watch RA in this (and just cover my eyes if some things get too awful to actually see). And I’ll watch the rest of the series as well (in small installments).

    And yikes on you being so ‘close’ to Dahmer… Yes, real life has awful horrors too, just look at the world around us! What Boko Haram does is sickening and yesterday I was reminded yet again how large scale horror can get in real life when I watched “The Eichmann Show” about the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichman, the orchestrator of the death of 6 million jews, and gypsies, and homosexuals… Horror isn’t only in bloody murder, it can be in cold calculation as well,

    • obscura says:

      Hi Esther…thanks for commenting.

      It’s an interesting question…why, when the world around us is full of evidence of such atrocities, are we still attracted to it in fictional form? It’s not a new thing…material culture and literature indicate an interest in the macabre that goes back millennia. I wonder if it isn’t how our psyche seeks to check the damage of the real. That is, these real life horrors are so awful, and so uncontrolled, perhaps in fictionalizing them we are trying to understand and control the horror and our reaction to it?

      I don’t really know, but the whole topic has brought some fascinating questions to the fore, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the conversations about RA’s latest role will bring!

      • Leigh says:

        Yes, “these real life horrors are so awful, and so uncontrolled, perhaps in fictionalizing them we are trying to understand and control the horror and our reaction to it”, I believe this is what is happening. There is an addiction to the adrenaline rush, but there is also the impulse to control it, to handle the reaction to horror in a practice setting, where we know that it is fiction. I knew a fan of horror who loved all of the vampire, mummy, Frankenstein, etc. movies but fled the room when his mother’s bandages were being changed. All that practice and reality still frightened him.

  9. Hariclea says:

    ah very interesting to read this 🙂 i wouldn’t have pegged you for an adrenaline junkie 😉 Well, not a junkie but you know what i mean 🙂 I’m going to start slow and read the book, i’ve already watched S1 so i know where they come from. I do have problems with the concept of it but we’ll see if those will prevent me from watching it again, i’ll know more after i read the book:-)
    This discussion is definitely one to be continued ( and isn’t that a good thing, i guess the best of RA is he’s not going for very straight forward things and we’ll always have interesting things to discuss, i’m grateful for it!)

    • obscura says:

      LoL…adrenaline junky!! That’s a giod one (my idea of danger sport is descending spiral stairs! Srsly…those stairs from the St. Peter’s cupola are hairy!!!)

      I’m very much looking forward to the discussions that RA’s inhabitation of Dolarhyde (or is it vice versa?) is sure to spark.

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