Sunday, March 07, 2010

Think on these things...

My mind can’t seem to let go of the issues raised by my last post. Why do authors feel the need to write, and readers the urge to read, stories of graphic violence, inhumanity, torture and humiliation? What is there in the dark recesses of the human mind that gravitates to such topics to the point that such stories make it to print, apparently to avidly-waiting audiences?

For many years I have pointedly avoided most ‘based-on-a-true story,’ made for television movies because of their single-minded focus on personal violation or pain of one sort or another. To me, that is not entertainment by any stretch of the imagination. I read, I go to movies, I watch television (albeit rarely for the last two) to escape, to be entertained or informed, to forget the horrors of real life that are paraded on 24/7 news channels. I don’t need authors or movie makers to tell me that mankind continues to inflict unspeakable horrors on other human beings, or on animals for that matter. I know that; I share the pain of that reality every day. Why does our society seem so intent on wallowing in such grotesqueness?

I love to read mystery novels, but pointing out there is a dead body in the next room is a far cry from the graphic close-ups of CSI and its many off-spring, each pushing to outdo the other with ever more violent and bloody means of dispatch. As I mentioned last week, I was half-way through Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, geek that I am rather enjoying his incorporation of computer sleuthing in the intricate mystery he was weaving, when I was confronted with multiple graphic rape scenes, horrific serial killings, and torture. I set the book aside in disgust for several days before forcing myself to try again to find a kernel of redemption in the story that would justify the accolades his writing has received. I found the same issue with Reggie Nadelson’s Artie Cohen mysteries – they are awash in graphic death, including dismemberment of children. Much of what comes out of Hollywood is no better. My husband and I tried to watch the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and were horrified by the vicious torture scenes. We stopped trying to understand when they turned to the mutilation of children. This is quality film making?

What I find most disturbing about these and myriad other popular novels and movies, next to the notion that the audience for such material is apparently large and growing, is that they all begin with a writer who imagines such atrocities, creating those worlds of terror on paper. Language is too beautiful, too powerful, too all-pervasive to be used for such base means. Each of the novels and movies I referenced could have been told without the gratuitous and nauseating scenes, and the impact of the story would not have been lessened.

Lest I be accused of condoning censorship, that is not my case at all. My concern, as a writer, is at the creative level. I love language, the sound of words, the rhythm of a well-crafted phrase, the subtle twist of meaning in a skillfully constructed paragraph. I work very hard at my craft, striving to created stories that are intelligent, meaningful and entertaining. Where is the answer to this disconnect I face in relating to those who produce work that dehumanizes individuals, debases life, and glorifies violence?

Buddha said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” I would extend that to the words we write and share as well. Why would I want to share anything less than beautiful?

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