Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On story-telling...

Peter Suderman can't decide:
Part of me thinks this is a problem; action movies train us not to react with horror to these sorts of events. But I also wonder if it isn’t natural, a release of some sort, a way to indulge violent urges without resorting to real violence, or a way for human beings to understand the daily, life-and-death struggle for existence — long before movies, human stories revolved around death and violence, and often involved heroes who slayed all those in their way. For whatever reason, we, as a species, seem to be drawn in by narratives of calamity, destruction, and bloodshed.
It is difficult, isn't it? Add to violent movies the violence (and easy re-birth) we find in video games. There we can kill and be killed with ever more gruesome detail and reality, and still only ever pay that easy price of beginning at the last save-point. Is this merely the natural continuation of these "narratives of calamity" or have we moved beyond even that, into a society so numbed-down to violence that tragedies occur around us without giving us any pause at all?

Change the channel: no more Mumbai. Or watch the drama unravel, distant and detached. We die yet we still have eight more lives and the possibility of parole...We can always change the channel and watch something funny to revive us, wipe this dark knowledge from us.

I'm not about to advocate any actual action we can take as a State to curb this, but I do think it's important for individuals within this society to teach our children to be compassionate, empathetic beings. This cuts to the heart of the question of community in my mind.

Yes, since we could speak and dance we have had narratives of death to accompany us. Legends of heroes and gods and devils told in songs or whispers around the campfire. But perhaps therein lies the rub. Perhaps the way these stories are told changes the way they are heard, or the way we learn to listen changes the way we act, speak, pass the stories on. Perhaps the campfire shines a different light on these tales than the glow of an LCD screen.

Have we lost some sense of reverence for the dead? As an avid reader of fantasy as a child, I used to ponder the difference, the moral and physical difference, of killing someone with a gun, at a distance, and killing someone with a sword or a spear, up close. That seemed like it would be much harder, much more personal. You would need to touch your enemy, feel his skin. All your senses would participate.

Then, too, the difference of shooting someone dead and dropping a bomb on them from the sky, and now from an office somewhere in Colorado. It's the same death, but more remote. It's the same death, but not necessarily the same kill. The same story, but not necessarily the same story.

We are telling our stories now in theatres and on television screens, where nothing is sacred. Perhaps that is the real tragedy modernity has placed upon our backs. We have forgotten what it means to tell a story, but not the means to tell it.