‘Hannibal’ And The Hypocrisy Of Censorship

Hannibal gets away with a lot of stuff, but certain things are still a no-no on network television.

During the last three-and-a-half years of Hannibal, we’ve seen some pretty shocking things: a human mushroom garden, a man made into a cello, a totem pole of people, a man crawl out of a horse, and many more disturbing images. One of my favorite stories that showrunner Bryan Fuller has relayed in a number of interviews (like this one) is about how he was initially told that he could not show the two kneeling, nude, angels in “Coquilles” (Season 1, Episode 5) — not because of the flayed backs, but because their butt cracks were visible. The solution? To add more blood to cover the cracks. Thus, we enter into the backwards world of American broadcast standards and practices.

Angelmaker’s victims, “Coquilles.”

While many other countries are more relaxed when it comes to showing nudity on television and downplaying violence, America is the opposite. In the United States, showing a nipple or a butt crack on network television is a big no-no, but we can show someone cut into thinly sliced pieces and put on display. What’s even more ridiculous is that famous pieces of art have been altered or blurred on Hannibal, such as Botticelli’s La Primavera (Season 3, Episode 2) and Leonardo De Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (Season 3, Episode 1).

The censorship of things of a sexual nature is not just limited to images, but may also include verbal exchanges, apparently when discussing certain actions. People may recall that in “Contorno,” (Season 3, Episode 5) Mason made a statement that shocked fans simply because it made it on the air (even Fuller was surprised); the line was “Spitters are quitters, and you don’t strike me as a quitter.” At the San Diego Comic Con Hannibal Pannibal earlier this month, the moderator asked Fuller if he had any trouble getting that line on the show, to which Fuller said no.

What makes this so absurd, and kind of problematic if you ask me, is that in Season 2, Episode 10 (“Naka-choko”), when Mason is discussing Margot with Hannibal, he refers to Margot’s sexual habits as “button-stitching.” At the Pannibal, Fuller said that he had an extensive email exchange, trying to find a term he could use for a lesbian sex act. According to a tweet Fuller made when the episode initially aired, “button-stitching” had replaced “muff-diving,” which was in the book, Hannibal. Apparently, Fuller wasn’t allowed to use any euphemism for lesbian oral sex.

So, we cannot discuss lesbian oral sex, but it’s acceptable for a male character to allude to an oral sex act, performed on a man by a female character. Talk about a double standard, and a patriarchal one at that. One has to wonder if the “spitters are quitters” line had been referencing two men, if Fuller would have had as much trouble getting it on air as he had with the lesbian oral sex euphemism. (I suspect he would have.)

To be honest, I was quite surprised that Fuller and director Vincenzo Natali were able to get the sex scene between Alana and Margot on television. I am willing to bet that had it been a sex scene between two male characters, it would not have made it on air. There seems to be an additional double standard (what are we at now, quadruple standard?), when factoring in gay/bisexual/pansexual men.

It is utterly ludicrous that something as normal as certain unclothed body parts and the mention of sexual acts that occur between same-sex partners is seen as bad, on network television, but that murder and cannibalism is perfectly acceptable. Where’s the logic?