A Moment of Silence From Satire

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

IFC today announced that the latest episode of Documentary Now would be delayed because it contains scenes of gun violence similar to the horrifying imagery from Roanoke that spilled onto the internet yesterday. (USA postponed last night’s finale of Mr. Robot for the same reason.) Instead of “Dronez”—a Documentary Now episode that spoofs the series Vice News and sees Fred Armisen and Bill Hader playing journalists trying to track down a Mexican cartel leader—IFC will air “Kunuk Uncovered,” a parody of famed 1920s documentary Nanook of the North. The episode was already widely available online (IFC had been streaming “Dronez” on YouTube for weeks as a promo), but networks are clearly choosing to err on the side of caution.

Such delays are hardly a new phenomenon.

After the Columbine massacre, two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s third season (“Earshot” and “Graduation Day, Part 2”) were delayed for months because they featured scenes of high school students wielding weaponry. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller asked NBC to pull an episode of his show’s first season  because it featured a plot about child murderers he felt was too close for comfort.

But while those two examples were more inspired by vague story similarities to unsettling news events, it’s also the visceral imagery of the Roanoke shooting that poses a problem. After two incredibly distressing videos shot from the point of view of the murderer were briefly posted online, the idea of any kind of first-person perspective on gun-violence feels difficult to reconcile. Documentary Now is a very funny show, and the last thing it wants is for viewers to take it remotely seriously: The core joke is that the material being parodied is so self-serious in the first place. But still, pulling an episode that features quite a few (intentionally over-the-top) gun battles, shot through a (fake) documentarian’s camera, seems like absolutely the right call.