Benjamin Cheah’s latest piece has a lot of food for thought. Click the link to read the rest, future writers:
‘Dark’ is an oft-seen descriptor for books, comics, movies, games and television shows these days. These media are usually packed with violence, swearing, sex scenes and the like. But does that really make a story dark?
As I made my way through old runs of the Punisher — specifically the MAX runs, the runs filled to the max with violence and gore and obscenities and random sex — I must say that the answer is no.
Violence does not make a story dark. It only makes it bloody.
Swearing does not make a story dark. It only makes it obscene.
Sex does not make a story dark. It only makes it steamy.
Violence, swearing and sex do not make a story dark. The story may be very obscene and very violent, but it does not mean that the story is dark.
Violence, swearing and sex are merely actions. What makes a story dark is not mere actions, but what it says about humanity. To me, a dark story explores humanity at its basest. It plumbs the shadows of the human heart to reveal the demons within. It peels off the gilded mask to expose the squirming maggots beneath. It shines a light on the underbelly of society to warn the audience of the existence of monsters in men’s clothing.
It’s not enough to emphasise violence, swearing and sex. These actions come from the darkest impulses of human nature, but if these depictions are divorced from characters and the setting, then they merely become superficial indulgence. They reveal themselves as the workings of a mind that feasts on spectacle, not a mind that penetrates the shadows of the heart. Once these depictions cross the line and become gratuitous, they become over-the-top.
This doesn’t necessarily make the story bad, only that it is not dark.