Why Hannibal has a Huge Female Fanbase
NBC ‘s show Hannibal recently renewed for a second season, might be running on the will of a female fanbase. With a writer, Bryan Fuller, whose shows usually end in cancellation in the first two season (Pushing Daises and Dead Like Me), Hannibal has found a way to tap into viewership that only ABC Family and the WB seem to cater to. But how does a crime procedural show that tops Games of Thrones in excessive, post-modern art installation-esque, gore attract the attention of this audience:
An Empathy Disorder
Thursday to Thursday, we watch as Will Graham, a man with an Empathy Disorder, (because that’s the sort of person who’d be looking at pictures of human corpse totem-poles, and the FBI would be totally comfortable with that) is psychologically beaten with the horror of a world that’s inhabitants are 2 serial killers for every 1 civilian. Ironically, Hannibal is the only comfort Will Graham can find that isn’t part of his dog pack.
An Empathy Disorder is female bait. Why?
Empathy is something that is stereotypically feminine. Especially when it gets you into trouble, as all the women in 1940s-50s films find out with their mysterious heart conditions/illnesses that end their lives when too much empathic emotion overwhelms them (Les Diaboligues, Letter from an Unknown Women, the entire genre of the Woman’s Film).
This psychological victimization of men, the reversal of media tropes, becomes a safe zone for women to play out problems that stereotypically connected to women (something that Suzette Chan from the goes into in “Supernatural” bodies: Writing subjugation and resistance onto Sam and Dean Winchester” in the online journal Transformative Works and Cultures). That’s why shows like the WB’s Supernatural keep getting renewed with small, concentrated audience of female viewers.
Hannibal Lecter is a Feminist
In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal is the only male character that does not objectify Clarice Starling, and seems to respect her skills as a FBI agent without expecting a hand-job. And atypical of the serial killer, his female body count is rather low and those outliers never carry any sexualized violence. This carries on in the television adaptation, with his only onscreen female body count the carbon copy of Clarice in Miriam Lass (great foreshadowing), and only out of desperation of being caught after she sees his Wounded Man drawing (the piece of art that helps Will in the book Red Dragon unveil Hannibal’s darker side).
The feminist Hannibal Lector has strangely attracted women even when he’s portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in a muzzle. Now that Mads Mikkelsen (a Dannish sex-god,whose often at the top of those Danes’ s sexiest man alive breed of polls) plays him as a more timely suave, will attract all that perverse attraction that lends itself to the Hannibal character.
The Hurt/Comfort Plotline
Fandom’s swift pickup of Hannibal, and the hurt/comfort plotline (any show that depends on one character getting “hurt”, and the other one “comforting” to keep the character progression and plot moving; for example, Supernatural, arcs of The X-Files, episodes of Star Trek, Grey’s Anatomy, etc have all relied on this type of storytelling) has made the show into trending female fanfare.
For Hannibal, this looks like Will struggling through another psychological blow ever episode, and then Hannibal (or any other body on hand) helps put Will together again for the next grime murder scene. It moves the plot along considering the show doesn’t actually follow the investigation step by step.
Shows that rely on the Hurt/Comfort plot, tend to gather female viewers (just ask Camille Bacon-Smith, an academic writer, who happens to think the Hurt/Comfort plotline is a secret weapon in gaining female audiences). Hannibal just happens to be a show that looks like a rip-off of HBO’s Dexter with a twisted procedural cop show plot and graphic gore, but really it’s more comparable to Grey’s Anatomy or any soap opera where someone hides their terminal cancer.
And on the topic of terminal cancer…
The Female Cast
For supporting characters, Freddie Lounds, Abigial Hobbs, Special Agent Katz, and Bella Crawford are all pretty round and dynamic and interesting. The cast is allowed to be smart, pretty, rude, sometimes disgusting, and altogether entertaining with lives that can be imagined in the non-diegetic (Lounds is reading Fifty Shades of Grey in a bubble bath while Hobbs is eating E. L. James and grinding her bones into bathroom grout).
My beef only comes down to Dr. Alana Bloom, who the writers forgot to develop (maybe they accidentally elbowed the delete button, and figured nobody really cared that much anyways). All we know of the therapist, is really only if she’s romantically available to Will Graham, a huge travesty in feminist media.
The show is ultimately running on the exhaust of fannish activities. Viewership and fandom might be considered two different things, but with ratings pretty low for Hannibal the renewal just might be traceable to the very loud and growing fandom.
In a time when television programing is being threatened (and eventually will be devoured by) Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon’s original programing, a show of quality being canceled over ratings is going to hit harder considering the cancellation history of these big television players. NBC is probably trying to get some quality credit with a pretty bland line-up (Chicago Fire, Parenthood, the ever dying Community), and will appreciate even a demographic that has been historically marginalized.
If NBC’s Hannibal creative team can keep this up, they could easily ride on the viewership and support of a strong female fanbase.
What do you think? Leave a comment.