Containment Culture as Reflected in NBC’s “Hannibal “

In the years following the attacks of September 11th, Cold War culture has permeated every aspect of popular culture. By highlighting paranoia within the government as well as persecution of those who deviate from social norms, NBC’s Hannibal (2013-2015) exemplifies the Cold War mindset through a focus on forensic psychology and sociopathic serial killers. The show follows the investigation of various serial killers with a focus on the Chesapeake Ripper, a relentless serial killer who has avoided capture for the last ten years. The main characters are Will Graham, a special investigator; Jack Crawford, the director of the FBI’s Behavioral Science department; and Hannibal Lector, a psychiatrist whose duty is oversee the mental sanity of Will Graham. Each of these characters represent a certain aspect of containment culture.

In the show, Graham possesses the unique ability to place himself in the mind of serial killers and reenact the murders in order to create a psychological profile. This ability is unique to Graham which makes it very poorly understood. Because of this, many people within the FBI question Will and eventually leads to his incarceration. He is mistrusted by his peers and colleagues despite his honest reputation with them because of the word of another man (Lector) whose abilities are seen as conventional and conforming. Much like in the Cold War, deviation from the norm is dangerous. His ability, despite its usefulness and benefits, casts him into the category of “other” and therefore makes him a threat to what the FBI believes is essential to preserving peace and safety for the team, town, and country.

Like Will Graham, Jack Crawford represents another aspect of containment culture: paranoia. As the show progresses, Jack is unable to determine who he can trust even going as far to say that he “can’t trust anyone”. He is overly cautious of those around him; he is skeptical of both Graham and Lector because he believes that either one or both of them is the Chesapeake Ripper. He does not trust the judgement of those superior to him because he believes in a certain measurement of federal corruption. He does not trust his wife because she withheld that she is dying of cancer from him. His inability to trust results in over caution creating an individualized version of Cold War “us versus them” ideology. He believes that he is alone in his battles and therefore schemes and plays games to receive information by any means possible. It is this paranoia and constant questioning that eventually leaves to his death.

Unlike Graham and Crawford, Lector is unfamiliar. The characters in the show often make comments about his mysterious past and relative unapproachableness. The unfamiliarity of Lector allows him to permeate every aspect of the FBI’s behavior science unit. He is a main contributor to Jack’s paranoia as well as an instigator of the prejudice against Will. He diagnoses Will and speaks to Jack about psychological issues under the guise of friendship. Lector’s intelligence is alluring to various characters in the show but his mystery also makes him suspicious. As the instigator of paranoia and suspicion, the attitudes towards Lector mirror those towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Cold War culture has become increasingly popular in the media. Television series such as Hannibal demonstrate the ways that the United States as a country has changed in the wake of the unknown.

**Warning graphic content

Hannibal Season Two Trailer:


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